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The Science Of Making Beer - A Woman's Touch

Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela’s brewing company Brewsters Craft has been hit hard by the first and second ban of alcohol sales during the South African lockdown. Thankfully, it’s all systems go now that the ban has been lifted under Level 2.


Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela.

When she started her company in 2015, Apiwe had a very specific vision about celebrating women in brewing that she still holds fast. “A brewster is a term used for a female brewer and Brewsters Craft is a majority black female-owned and operated company,” Apiwe explains.

It’s certainly no coincidence then that her head brewer is a woman. “We pride ourselves on being an all women brewing team. Our head brewer Yamkela Mbakaza is also a brewster and she is currently completing her Diploma in Brewing and will start her Master Brewer qualification thereafter.”


Apiwe (left) with Yamkela Mbakaza.

Apiwe herself is a Master Brewer – a qualification that’s no easy feat. As a brewer, it’s the pinnacle of professional brewing qualifications, while the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) calls their Master Brewer qualification  the world’s highest level of recognition for one’s “competence in the technical management of the brewing production process, through a combination of knowledge and experience”.

After completing her Honours Degree in  Microbiology and Biotechnology from the University of Pretoria, Apiwe started making beer professionally in 2007 when she started out at South African Breweries. “I have since perfected the skill of making beer. I have completed a few brewing qualifications such as a Diploma in Brewing from the IBD, National Diploma in Clear Fermented Beverages, through FoodBev SETA and, in 2015, completed the Master Brewer qualification through the IBD.” 

Apiwe is clearly taking on the stereotypes about women in brewing. “The biggest stereotype is that brewing and beer are only for men. I am changing this notion by employing mainly women to help introduce more women into the industry.”

She is passionate about brewing. This much is clear when she starts talking about why she loves it: “I got into brewing through the love and appreciation of science involved during the process. From plant breeding of barley and hops to their growing by agriculture scientists, to the agro-processing of malting the barley so its suitable for brewing... and the science of biochemistry and chemistry involved in wort production, science of microbiology and biotechnology in fermentation and alcohol production. The mathematics, physics and engineering principles that are utilised within the brewing process – it’s amazing.”

Brewsters Craft does contract manufacturing, but they’ve recently launched their very own beer and cider brand, Tolokazi, which includes an alcohol-free beer. “When we started, our focus was on contract manufacturing. However, people kept asking why we don’t have our own brand as well. So at the end of 2019, we finally launched our own brand, which initially carried the Brewsters name. Early this year we decided to give the house brand  a different name and unique branding. I had a few names that we looked at and Tolokazi was chosen as the one. Tolokazi is actually my clan name. Clan names are like family names and have more significance and are more respected by the Xhosa people than a surname. Tolo is the clan name and women from that clan name are called Tolokazi."


Tolokazi beer range.

“For me this brand name is not only about celebrating my clan and the women brewers from my lineage, but also a celebration of all female brewers on the continent. In the villages and townships, the female brewer is often called by her clan name (think Madlamini in the Yvonne Chaka Chaka song [Umqombothi])."

The Tolokazi brand is proudly African. “We want to celebrate Africa and showcase to the world the greatness of our continent, and all the products we make will have an element of that. We use indigenous African ingredients, like our pilsner uses sorghum as part of the grain bill, our lager and African pale ale uses only South African hops. We use rooibos in our cider and our new creation, the non-alcoholic brew, uses hibiscus.”

Apiwe wanted the brand to look modern and world-class. “I wanted a design that celebrates Africa and women in Africa. My brief to the designer was that I wanted a modern, world-class African design. We are planning to take this brand globally and I wanted something that can stand against other brands on a global stage, and still be uniquely and proudly African.”

Brewsters Craft offers more services over and above contract manufacturing. These include training (they’re accredited with the Foodbev SETA), consulting and quality control via an in-house laboratory. 

If you’d like to sip on some Tolokazi beer or cider, you can buy it from craftcorner or Best Craft Beer.


Author: Leanne Feris