Beer is one of the world's oldest prepared beverages – possibly dating back to as early as 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed – and while archaeologists speculate that it could have been instrumental in the formation of civilisations, most students would attest that it is most certainly an integral part of student life and one of the core components of a successful student event. Few students at the University of Pretoria (UP) are however aware that we have our very own microbrewery right here on the Hatfield Campus.
South African Breweries (SAB) and the South African Stainless Steel Development Association (SASSDA) have helped to fund the construction of microbreweries at several leading universities across South Africa. These microbreweries serve as valuable teaching aids for students involved in microbiology, chemical technology and engineering programmes. At UP, beer-brewing forms part of a laboratory practical for third-year Biotechnology students and, according to Prof Mike Heydenrych from the Department of Chemical Engineering, the microbrewery provides students with an opportunity to learn important basic aspects of the brewing process and to gain valuable practical experience.
The Tuks microbrewery was constructed in 2004 with funds from SAB and assistance from Mr Moritz Kallmeyer, the master distiller at Drayman's Brewery, who came up with the initial design based on kegs, which are small barrels made from aluminium or steel. The microbrewery was officially opened in February 2005 with a memorable event that was attended by all of the trade brewers from SAB. The first beer to be brewed at the Tuks microbrewery – an American pale ale – was served at the event. Today the brewery produces almost every style of beer imaginable, with a new batch being brewed every week. The beer is mostly used at Campus events and for competition purposes.
The Tuks microbrewery was originally located in a narrow laboratory space under a bridge connecting the ring road to the Engineering II Building, which prompted the name Tuks Trolls and the use of the troll cross as its official symbol (because trolls live under bridges). It was initially operated by Prof Heydenrych, who turned over executive control to Carl Sandrock, also from the Department of Chemical Engineering, in 2011. When the Engineering II Building was renovated in 2014, the microbrewery was moved to new premises and upgraded, and now boasts a walk-in cool room and much more space.
The 2012 brew team in the old brewery
Apart from providing a practical component for some of the courses at the University, the microbrewery has also resulted in the establishment of the UP Brew Club, which currently has about 15 members and regularly competes in brewing competitions, the most notable of which is the annual SAB Intervarsity Brewing Challenge.
In 2008, SAB announced that they would be funding a national competition for all the universities where they had built breweries to encourage responsible beer appreciation among students and to introduce prospective SAB employees to the company. The inaugural competition took place at UP and saw the UP team emerge as the overall winners. Since then the UP team has won at least one of the competition's five categories every year and has won the prize for best beer overall three times. The prize money that they collected from each event has provided a significant portion of the funding for the continued operation of the brewery.
The team started preparing for this year's competition well in advance and are cautiously confident that their entry, which has been maturing (or rather laagering) in the fridge for almost a year now, is going to do very well. 'We decided to enter one of the more technical styles of beer this year, and I have a feeling that we are going to do very well, but we do not want to count our chickens just yet,' says team captain, Harry Wright. This year's Intervarsity Brewing Challenge will take place at SAB's World of Learning in Midrand from 10 to 12 September.
Quite a few students from UP have gone on to pursue careers in the brewing industry as a result of their involvement with the microbrewery, and many more dream of starting their own microbreweries one day. One of these students, Ms Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, who completed her BSc Honours in Microbiology at UP after receiving a bursary from SAB, has in fact become one of the rock stars of the South African brewing industry. She is the first black, female shareholder in a microbrewery in South Africa; the first black South African to be accredited as a training provider by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling; and the first black person to be certified as a beer judge in South Africa through the Beer Judging Certification Program. She has since also started her own company, Brewster's Craft. Ms Nxusani-Mawela is so passionate about brewing that she is trying to get more women involved in the industry. She also stages science exhibitions at schools in an effort to spark an interest in children who might become future brewers and hopes to start South Africa's first beer academy.