It was the continent’s biggest beer competition to date. Over 200 beers from 12 different countries were entered in the 2021 African Beer Cup. Africa is largely considered the final frontier of craft beer, but the variety and quality of entries from across the continent proves that beer culture here is growing, and fast.

Although the bulk of entries came from South Africa, home to the continent’s most established craft beer scene, there was no lack of variety from other African nations. With a Belgian tripel from Kenya,  German-style brews from Namibia, an English bitter from northern Botswana and American-style IPAs from across the continent, it’s clear that there is international influence in Africa’s beer industry. But that’s not to say that African brewers aren’t innovating. Entries also featured traditional African grains and alternative fermentables, including sorghum, cassava and millet, as well as African fruits and spices such as mango, Madagascan vanilla and various types of fynbos, a plant family native to the region around Cape Town.

Celebrating Africa

In a bid to further nurture styles unique to the continent, the Beer Association of South Africa sponsored the African Celebration Award, designed to mark the outstanding use of African ingredients in a beer. The inaugural award went to Bature Brewery, Nigeria’s first craft brewery, for their Black Gold imperial stout, which features sorghum and Nigerian coffee. “We have a commitment to turning Nigeria’s amazing grains, flavours and spices into world class beer,” said Bature’s co-founder, Kevin Conroy. “Winning the African celebration Award as well as a gold medal shows that all the effort has paid off!”

Competition director Lucy Corne and BASA’s Troye May introduce the African Celebration Award.

Black Gold was one of 16 gold medallists at the event, with breweries from Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania also scooping up golds. The 16 beers went head to head in a fierce best of show round to determine which would take home the title of Best Beer in Africa. In the end the crown went to Cape Town’s Afro Caribbean Brewing Company for their Space Llama double IPA. “Being a relatively new brewer in the industry, it feels amazing to have won this prestigious award and I’m proud of us as a team,” said Afro Caribbean’s head brewer Rochelle Dunlop. 

Dunlop became interested in beer while working as a waitress at Banana Jam Café, the sister restaurant to Afro Caribbean. After spending her days off apprenticing in the brewery, she eventually began making beer full time and has since become the microbrewery’s head brewer. As well as the gold medal for Space Llama, Afro Caribbean won silver medals for their Dissident Golden Ale and Dragonberry Kaleidoscope, a sour beer featuring dragon fruit and raspberry.

The African Beer Cup team celebrates the end of a successful competition (L-R Sandy Pollock, Lucy Corne, Anaia dos Santos)

Breweries large and small

But the competition wasn’t all about quirkily named craft beers or brews using traditional grains. Any licenced African brewery is eligible to enter, regardless of ownership or size, and the world’s largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, took a total of seven medals. As well as awards for some of their biggest selling lagers, AB InBev also won gold for Jacob’s Pale Ale, an English bitter brewed at Newlands Spring, the megabrewery’s microbrewery in Cape Town.

Many brewers couldn’t attend in person but joined via Zoom and YouTube.

The record number of entries came as something of a surprise considering the tough year beer has had. Sporadic alcohol bans have blighted several African countries, while heavy restrictions on the sale of alcohol have been common across the continent since the pandemic began. But perhaps this contributed to African brewers wanting to celebrate their successes – and they weren’t alone. A number of international companies clearly also see promise in Africa’s beer industry, with sponsorship for the awards coming from Weyermann, Micro Matic, Fermentis, Hopsteiner and of course, BLEFA.

The competition is unique in that every beer entered gets judged twice, a system designed to eliminate any judging errors. Judges are encouraged to give detailed feedback since many breweries operate in countries without qualified beer judges and enter in order to obtain expert analysis on their beers. As the competition grows, the goal is to invite international judges to participate and share their judging expertise. And while local judges will benefit from the wealth of global experience, the guests will doubtless find great value and enjoyment in tasting the increasingly exciting beers Africa has to offer. 

Anheuser-Busch InBev trade brewer Russell Hunt collects gold for Lion Lager. ABI won six medals including two golds.
Niall Cook of Richmond Hill Brewing Company in PE took home three awards, including a gold in the coveted IPA category.
Chintu Patel and Byron Damonze of Craft Dee’s Brewing Co. flew in from Tanzania for the awards.
Devil’s Peak head brewer JC Steyn collected a gold medal for Stoned Vol. 1 Fruit Sour.
Frontier Beer’s Brendan Hart collects a gold for their collab with Hazeldean Brewing Company.
Franschhoek Beer Company’s Chris Greyling takes a gold for their Small Batch Series Session IPA.
L-R Crafty Dee’s brewer Byron Damonze, founders Chintu and Palak Patel & BASA CEO Patricia Pillay.

For a full list of winners, head to the African Beer Cup website.