A warm welcome
Take a tour of the SAB World of Beer, and you’ll quickly discover why it has twice been named the number one tourist attraction in South Africa. This intriguing, entertaining and interactive journey explores the rich history of beer, uncovering the important role beer has played culturally, socially and economically across space and time.
Pensioners and students with a valid student card: R95
Children under the age of 17: R35
School tours are available at R35 per pupil
Beer tasting: R95
Tour and beer tasting package: R160
Red bus: R100
The SAB World of Beer is open seven days a week from 10am until 6pm. The last tour is at 5pm, except for Sundays and Mondays, when the last tour is at 4pm. We run tours every hour on the hour and bookings are essential.
We are open on public holidays.
The journey begins
The lights fade, and soon hundreds of beer bottles flicker into life, casting a green glow across the room. This kaleidoscopic matrix provides the backdrop for an introductory video, which gives you a glimpse into the wonderful world of beer you are about to enter.
Beer dates back to the dawn of civilisation, and has been part of social life ever since. The Hathor’s Hall exhibit takes you through the earliest accounts of beer drinking and culture among the ancient civilisations of the world. Discover how the Egyptians and Mesopotamians enjoyed their beer, and how brewing spread to Africa and Europe.
The secrets of ancient beer
Beer is as old as the dawn of civilisation, and has been a part of social life ever since. People in the ancient world drank beer as daily fare, gave offerings of beer to their gods, received beer as wages and enjoyed sharing beer during special occasions and festivals.
In fact, beer was so central to ancient life that some archaeologists think that beer brewing may have played a part in the development of agriculture about 10 000 years ago. From these origins, the enjoyment of barley beer and its refreshing qualities have spread across the world.
Beer was probably discovered independently by many ancient cultures. However, a beer drinking scene carved on a 6 000-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablet is the earliest known evidence of beer. Mesopotamia is a region between the Tigres and Euphrates rivers, in what is known today as Iraq. Ancient Mesopotamian beer was a sweet, thick brew made from malted barley, dates and honey. Because it was unfiltered, people used straws to penetrate the layer of solids that floated on top of the beer.
Egyptians, like many other ancient peoples, believed that beer was invented by the gods. In ancient Egypt, the goddess Hathor was called the “Inventress of Brewing”. She was also associated with singing, dancing, love and general merriment. As a goddess, Hathor took on many forms, but often she was represented as a lion or a gentle cow. Each year, Egyptians danced and drank beer at a festival to honour Hathor at her temples at Philae, Edfu, Esna and Dendera.
Beer in Ancient Egypt – which first appeared some 5,000 years ago – was sweet, strained and a staple of life. It was made in households and in huge quantities in temples and palace breweries. Because Egyptian beer was made from fermented malted barley or wheat bread, breweries were often equipped with their own bakeries. The most detailed painting of ancient Egyptian brewing scenes are on an Old Kingdom wall in the Tomb of Ti, a high official in the pharaoh’s court, who was buried in the royal city of Saqqara.
The Tomb of Ti
Grain is drawn from the stores (A), measured (B), and then registered (C). The grain is then pounded (D), ground on a grinding stone (E), and the resulting meal is sieved (F).
Special bread is made for brewing. First, the grain is moistened (G). Then, the dough is kneaded (H) and worked into an oblong load (I). A worker carries a tray of these prepared loaves to the brewer (J). The loaves are placed in moulds and stacked up and heated only slightly – the centres are left uncooked (K). Liquid is added to the bread (L) and, while still in the mould, the bread is placed on a stand and broken up by hand (M).
Yeast and perhaps a flavouring substance is added (N) at the beginning of fermentation. A brewery official supervises the work (O). A pair of workers strains the beer (P). Other workers fill (Q) and seal (R) the jars. The authenticity is guaranteed by stamping the wet clay on the stopper, probably with a personal or royal seal (S).
About 4 000 years ago Nubia was an important and sophisticated African civilisation in what is today southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The riches of ancient Africa – gold, ebony, ivory and leopard skins – were traded through Nubia into Egypt. Bitter-tasting Nubian beer was also traded along the Nile and was prized above all other beers by Egyptian pharaohs. Many aspects of ancient Nubian culture survive today, including the practice of making beer from sorghum, the grain used to prepare traditional African beer.
The spread of barley and beer
Barley farming and beer making began in the fertile lands of the Near East about 10 000 years ago. From this area, grain agriculture and beer brewing spread to Africa and Europe.Close
Beer in Africa
The smell of wood and thatch fills the air as you walk into the African boma, and subtle lighting creates the illusion of a pink sunset in the corner of the room. Take a seat on one of the many tree stumps lined up in front of the screen and enjoy a short film exploring the role of beer in African culture.
Beer in Africa dates back thousands of years and has been an integral part of social and cultural life for just as long.
In South Africa, traditional beer is made with sorghum and is known as umqombothi in Xhosa, as the associations between umqombothi and the Eastern Cape, where Xhosa is spoken, are strong. Umqombothi is made from maize, maize malt, crushed sorghum malt, yeast and water and is rich in vitamin B. It has a distinctly sour aroma, a thick and gritty consistency and a uniquely bitter flavour.
Although preparation methods differ from region to region, the process is always women’s work. An open fire and (as with other beers) patience are essential ingredients – the process takes several days to complete and can be physically demanding, especially the straining.
Once the beer-making process is complete, the final product is poured into a large calabash or ukhamba and shared communally.
The social and cultural associations of umqombothi are powerful, and the drink features prominently at weddings, funerals, rites of passage, and at various official meetings. It also plays a crucial role in communing with the ancestors and, prior to drinking, some beer is always spilt on the ground so that the ancestors don’t go thirsty.
Traditional recipes continue to be passed down from generation to generation, particularly in rural areas, despite the commercial production of sorghum beer today.
This part of the tour explores the production of umqombothi in detail, with Nobantu, the finest beer maker in a small village in rural KwaZulu-Natal, taking you through the process one step at a time. Be sure to sample the brew after the film.Close
Beer in Europe
Learn how world-renowned brewmaster Josef Groll, living amid the stone streets and arcades of Bohemia, situated in present-day Czech Republic, created the world’s first clear, golden beer. He inspired others to follow suit, and soon the rest of the world learnt of the crisp, clean pleasure of lager and pilsener beers.
Brewing ales and stouts
Today beer and ale are interchangeable terms in many parts of the world, but in the 15th and 16th centuries ale was an unhopped beverage for regular consumption, while beer referred to new, hopped liquors. Stout, another type of brew, contains roasted barley malt which gives it a darker colour.
As towns developed in medieval Europe, alehouses – simple places that made and sold ale – quickly followed, with brewing usually carried out by women called alewives. Because ale deteriorated quickly, only limited quantities could be made at one time and supplies often ran out. Later, during the 18th century, the industrial revolution transformed brewing from a small cottage industry to a large-scale manufacturing process.
English drinking houses
Although the origins of the English drinking house are obscure, it has long played an important role in the social life of English people. In medieval England, the alehouse was the centre of public life for ordinary people. Farmers, craftsmen, artisans, labourers and servants could meet and socialise at the alehouse, sup on basic drink and food, and find simple accommodation. People could also buy refreshment at the alehouse door, filling buckets and barrels to take home or to work.
Those that were well-off usually frequented more fashionable inns and taverns – which served wine as well as beer, and provided a welcoming place for the upper classes to meet, trade, gossip and discuss politics. Eventually, these establishments evolved into the public house (pub) of today.
Hospitality of the monasteries
In medieval Europe, many monasteries brewed their own beer. It was safer (and more enjoyable) than the uncertain qualities of the drinking water. Because monasteries were often the only inns for pilgrims or travellers, they usually made beer for guests as well.
Typically, monasteries would produce a strong beer for the monks and aristocratic visitors, and a weaker brew for humbler guests. Monasteries also brewed beer for church festivals and celebrations, which would continue as long as there was beer. Today, this tradition continues, as a small number of monasteries in Europe still make (and sell) their own special beers.
Flemish and Dutch traditions
In Holland and the Low Countries, beer was the basic beverage consumed by a majority of the population, and was served at many social occasions, including parties, feasts, weddings and funerals. Although beer was mainly for local refreshment, brewers also sold or distributed their beer well beyond the area in which they were based.
In the 15th century, the Flemish exported hopped beer across the channel to the English, before introducing the hop plant itself to England a century later. The development of the brewing industry in the port cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries meanwhile, was tied to the demand for rations for seamen, and to the export of beer to the East and West Indies.
The German bierstube
For centuries, Germans have been known for their enjoyment of beer. The German bierstube (beer tavern) was born in the 1600s and quickly became an integral part of German life. In summer the tree-shaded beer garden, built originally in the 19th century to keep underground beer cellars cooler, became a place for social entertainment and relaxation – a pleasant way to while away a Sunday afternoon with family and friends.
Oktoberfest, Munich’s annual beer festival that began in 1810 at King Ludwig I’s wedding, attracts millions of participants every year. Today, many regions and cities still produce unique beer, and sampling the local brew remains as important a part of German life as tasting the local sausage.
Long, cool fermentation
Ales are beers made with a “top-fermenting” yeast that rises during the fermentation process. Other beers, known as lagers, are made with a yeast that sinks to the bottom during fermentation, producing a naturally clearer beer.
This method of bottom fermentation was known in Bavaria as early as the 15th century, but was not widely adopted for many years because the beer had to be stored in a very cool environment to mature properly. Until the 19th century these lager beers – after lager, the German word for storage – were only made where there were natural caves that could keep the maturing beer cold.
During the 19th century, however, with the introduction of industrial refrigeration, it became possible to produce lager beers virtually anywhere. Today, lagers are the dominant style of beer throughout the world.
The golden lager of Pilsen
Light amber-coloured beers have their roots in Pilsen, a city in the Czech Republic, where a lager called Pilsner was first brewed in 1842 by Frantisek Poupe. Pilsners took advantage of the newly-perfected cool, bottom-fermenting lager technology.
They were pale gold, clear, well-hopped and very refreshing – and were an immediate success. Previously all beers were either dark or somewhat hazy. The clarity of Pilsners also complemented the mass-produced Bohemian glassware that had begun to replace stoneware and pewter drinking vessels at that time.
The fame of the new lager quickly spread to the rest of Europe. Today the majority of the world’s beers are golden lagers that are a distant derivation of the Pilsner style.
Louis Pasteur: The father of brewing science
The great French scientist Louis Pasteur is considered the father of brewing science. Although brewing dates back to prehistory, it was not until 1857 that Pasteur scientifically explained the role of brewer’s yeast in fermentation.
Pasteur also discovered the microbes that cause some beers to spoil – a mystery that had baffled brewers for thousands of years – and found that they could be killed with heat through the process now known as pasteurisation. Pasteur’s discoveries led to the development of modern brewing technology. Today, all major breweries have laboratories that monitor the microbiological state of the process and product.Close
After all that history, it’s time to learn a little bit about the natural ingredients used to brew SAB beers: barley and hops. In our Green Fields greenhouse, which is flooded with natural light, you’ll get the chance to see, smell and taste these up close. Look outside and you’ll see the SAB water fountain – the third fundamental ingredient – and, beyond it, the bustling streets of Newtown.
Our roots in nature
Our beers are made from three major natural ingredients: malted barley, hops and water. Because beer is best when made from quality ingredients, we use only the finest barley, aromatic hops and the purest water to brew our beers.
In nature, hops grow in the summer and barley in the winter. Both are harvested once a year. In this unique greenhouse setting, however, barley and hops are growing together year-round. Here, new young crops of barley and hops are planted and then harvested every few weeks, so that the full growth cycle of each plant is always on display. The hop plants are cuttings from bines in the George area of the south-western Cape, and the barley plants begin their life as seeds from Caledon.
Malted barley: The building block of beer
Malt – barley that has been allowed to sprout and is then kiln-dried – is beer’s primary raw ingredient. Malt contributes to the body, colour, aroma and ultimate flavour of beer. At SAB, only two-row barley malt is used.
Barley grows best in cool, moist conditions, which means that South Africa’s climate is slightly warmer than barley usually prefers. But special hardy types of barley – Clipper, Stirling and Schooner – are now grown with great success near Caledon, in the Western Cape. SAB, in partnership with South African barley farmers, pioneered the development of these better crops. Today, the majority of the malted barley used at SAB comes from the Caledon region, while limited quantities of other malt is imported for special flavouring.
Hops: For a refreshing flavour
Hops – the green, cone-shaped fruits of the female hop bine – produce beer’s distinctive bitterness and aroma. Oils and resins in the hop cones create this special, refreshing flavour and even help to naturally preserve beer.
SAB’s hops are grown near George in the south-western Cape. In the spring, shoots emerge from the perennial hop plant’s rootstock and grow remarkably fast – up to 100mm in a day, climbing to a height of five to six metres in a season.
Since the length of the summer day in South Africa is several hours shorter than in other hop-growing countries, our hop growers use artificial lighting to simulate a longer day, adding between three to four hours of growing light.Close
Beer in the Cape
Beer first arrived in South Africa through the harbours of Cape Town, the main stopover on the trade route between Europe and the East Indies. Peter Visagie, a small sailor from Antwerp, is said to have successfully brewed South Africa’s first clear beer in 1658, only six years after Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope.
Table Bay: Refreshment centre for sailing ships
European clear beer first came to South Africa in the 1650s with the sailing ships of the Dutch East India Company. Table Bay was a stopover point on the trade route between Europe and the East Indies, and rations of beer were often on board – or in need – for seamen.
In 1658, Peter Visagie, a sailor from Antwerp, is said to have successfully brewed South Africa’s first clear beer. As the population of the Cape increased, the demand for beer for local consumption grew, and in 1696 South Africa’s first brewery was established at Newlands, near springs determined to have “the finest and best water”.
Over the next 200 years, Newlands became the centre of brewing activity in South Africa. Today the importance of the springs continues, as the Newlands Brewery still uses these pure waters to brew beer.
Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries: Gold medal winner
On 8 September 1892, the South African and International Exhibition opened in the diamond mining city of Kimberley. Organised to showcase South African and foreign products, and to stimulate overseas trade and investment, the three-month event attracted 399 950 visitors and revived Kimberley’s then ailing economy.
Among the companies displaying products was Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries Limited. Ohlsson’s won two medals at the exhibition – a gold for beer and a silver for stout. Established in 1889 by Anders Ohlsson with the backing of English capital, Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries Limited quickly acquired and modernised many of the Cape’s older breweries, consolidating the traditions of the industry that had started at Newlands.Close
The tour’s next stop in is the dusty mining town of Johannesburg. The year is 1886 and gold has just been discovered. With the rush of people coming into the city to claim their fortune, breweries soon followed. At this point, it’s time to stop for a half-way half-pint at the Lion Pub. Be sure to take your glass home with you.
The bustling town of Johannesburg in its formative years was alive with possibilities. With the gold rush in full swing, entrepreneurs noticed that local breweries were needed in order to satisfy the ever-growing population. Discover how the beer market blossomed, and learn more about the men responsible for its success today.
When gold is found, breweries follow
When gold was discovered on the Rand in 1886, Johannesburg was open veld. But within months, the diggers who arrived to work the first shallow mines had turned the dusty landscape into a bustling tent camp; two years later, the gold rush had transformed the infant settlement into a sprawling town.
By 1896 Johannesburg, with a population of 102 078, had become the largest city in South Africa.
Along with the diggers’ hunger for gold came a thirst for refreshment – and an opportunity to brew and sell beer. In 1887 Charles Chandler opened Johannesburg’s first brewery; a year later Charles Glass introduced his Castle beer. And although the workings along the Rand quickly changed from drift mines to shaft mines, the demand for a thirst-quenching drink remained. Throughout the 1890s, Johannesburg had more than 200 bars, mostly clustered around Market Square.
The names of these bars reflected the diversity of the population, from the Black Cat Bar to Bon Accord, the Brewer’s Arms, the Norwegian, the Cricketer’s Bar, the Crystal Palace, Eureka, the Kentish Tavern, the Lions Den, Madeira, Nugget Bar and the Star & Garter Bar.
The Castle Brewery and the beginnings of SAB
The origins of SAB can be traced back to Charles Glass and the Castle Brewery he started in Johannesburg in 1888. Glass was a perfectionist and insisted that his brewery sell only the highest quality beer. In 1892 Frederick Mead, a young entrepreneur brewer from Natal, recognised the value of the Castle enterprise and formed a syndicate that bought the small brewery from Glass and his partners.
This group built a larger Castle Brewery to meet the growing demand for beer in Johannesburg, and the expanded brewery soon attracted the interest and financial backing of early Randlords. On 15 May 1895, the South African Breweries Limited was incorporated and in subsequent years was listed on the Johannesburg and London stock exchanges.
Over the next half century, the South African Breweries Limited would grow to become one of the three largest breweries in South Africa. In the early 1950s, heavy taxation had the effect of contracting beer sales, which resulted in consolidation of the brewing industry.
In 1956, the South African Breweries Limited (famous for its Castle beers), Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries Limited (renowned for its Lion beers) and Union Breweries (successor to the original Chandler & Co. brewery) merged their brewing interests into one company operating as the South African Breweries Limited. While the volume of beer produced annually by SAB has increased considerably, the commitment to the legacy of Charles Glass and his reputation for brewing beer of outstanding quality remains.
The cooper’s craft
After beer is brewed, it must be packaged for distribution. This usually meant, until the late 19th century, putting beers in wooden kegs. To maintain a steady supply of kegs, Castle and Ohlsson’s employed their own skilled coopers, who often worked in open sheds or yards adjacent to the main brewery buildings.
The kegs, typically made of American white oak, came in a variety of sizes. Before mechanisation, the coopers constructed these kegs solely by hand, using specialised tools for each step of the process. Today, metal kegs have completely replaced wooden coopered ones.
Now commonly called kegs, each size of wooden beer cask has a specific name:
- Butt (492 litres)
- Puncheon (328 litres)
- Hogshead (246 litres)
- Barrel (164 litres)
- Kilderkin (82 litres)
- Firkin (41 litres)
- Pin (20.5 litres)
Efficient transport and delivery of beer has always been crucial to the success of breweries. In the 1890s in South Africa, beer was distributed to hotels, bars, beer halls, stores and private homes by mule, ox or horse-drawn wagon. These wagons were owned and operated by breweries that maintained stables of mules and horses, and by small transport contractors.
In the 1920s, as motorised vehicles became prevalent, beer was more likely to be delivered by small lorries, and again fleets of both brewery-owned and independently owned vehicles were used. Whether travelling by horse-drawn wagon or truck, the goal remains the same: to deliver fresh beer to its final destination as quickly and smoothly as possible.Close
Before 1962, black people were not allowed to drink or buy “European liquor”, and resorted to making variations of sorghum beer – the only difference being that battery acid was mixed with the brew to increase its potency.
Because of the dangers of this combination, the law was changed on 15 August 1962, allowing people to drink and buy European liquor, but not to sell it. This was often disregarded, and people set up shebeens to sell liquor illegally.
The shebeens of Soweto were a welcome oasis for many South Africans, where “European beer” was sold illegally to patrons in a relaxed, jovial and generally safe environment.
The shebeen: A township oasis
For much of the 20th century, it was illegal for black people in South Africa to drink “European” liquor. This prohibition spawned the “shebeen” – an Irish word brought here by the miners that technically means “an unlicensed house selling alcoholic beverages” – which became a local institution.
After 15 August 1962, the day it became legal to buy (but not sell) liquor, the true value of the shebeen emerged. In the harshness of South African life, the shebeen provided an oasis of hospitality and community.
The shebeener, more often than not a woman of wisdom, warmth and indeterminate age, set the tone, listening to and cajoling customers, giving advice and sometimes credit, and sometimes outwitting the authorities. In her house, despite periodic police harassment, life had a sense of normalcy – a place where friends could meet, share news, discuss politics and relax with a beer and some good music.Close
The Brewing Process
Equipped with some international and local context from the ancient to the more recent past, you pass through the doors of the brewing chambers, and you are greeted by giant replicas of the brewing vats used in the SAB beer making process.
Discover how the basic ingredients of beer are brought together in the brewing process. Follow the journey barley takes through the milling, boiling and lautering phases, and see how it is combined with other essential ingredients to create your favourite brew.
You will encounter the mash tun, where maize, malt and water are mixed. From here, the mash is sent to the lauter (German for “separate”) tun, where the malt husks are separated from the liquid. Spent tusks are used as animal feed – there is no waste at SAB. This section will teach you to appreciate the delicate chemistry of this process. Take the journey and discover how beer transforms from its basic key ingredients into the brew you know and love today.
- Malted barley
Our certified malting grade barley is specially grown by contracted farmers to strict quality standards. The kernel of the unmalted barley seed is hard and tasteless, while the kernel of the malted grain is wholesome and tasty.
During this first step of the malting process, our expert maltsters soak the barley seeds in water for two days to create the ideal conditions to encourage sprouting.
During this second stage of the malting process, cool moist air is fanned through the seeped barley for five days, creating ideal conditions for germination. The kernel becomes modified and naturally occurring enzymes are activated that convert starch to sugar.
In this final stage of malting, the germination process is quenched on its fifth day by fanning the developing grains with hot dry air. This dries, colours and flavours the grains and turns them into malt. The temperature and contact time of the kilning operation is critical.
This is the process by which the rootlets are broken and separated from the malt. At the same time, the malt is cooled down.
- Malt resting period
The malt is allowed to rest for three weeks. Only after this all-important resting period is it delivered to the brewery.
Mashing, wort boiling, lautering
- Milling and crushing
Once the malt grains have been rested, the brewer will prepare them for brewing liquor in a milling process, crushing them in either a dry milling, wet milling or steep conditioned milling process.
During mashing, the milled malt grain, or grist, is mixed with specially prepared and heated brewing liquor in the mash tun for two to three hours, forming the “mash”. Here the brewer optimises the conditions, for the natural enzymes to convert the starch to fermentable sugar, through careful temperature and time control.
The mash is transferred to a lauter tun that sieves and filters the rich, fermentable liquid called wort from the spent husks in a process that takes three hours. The spent husks are used as animal feed.
- Wort boiling
Here, the wort is boiled for one hour to create the ideal conditions in which to add the vital ingredient of beer, the hop, for bittering, flavour and aroma.
Here the newly hopped wort is clarified by sedimentation, when the spent hop components are removed by a gentle swirling effect similar to tea leaves in a tea cup.
Fermentation and maturation
Yeast added to our cooled, clarified and hopped wort, converts the fermentable sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process is carefully temperature controlled to optimise quality and taste to produce “young beer”.
Our young beer is transferred to our sub-zero lagering cellar where its taste quality matures and clarity develops through cold stabilisation.
Here we filter to remove stabilised chill haze and any remaining yeast from the matured beer to produce our consumers’ refreshing bright beer.
Our beers are dusted with the natural carbon dioxide from our fermentation process to create the desired sparkle and effervescence expected by our consumers.
- Bright beer tank
This is the final step in the brewing process when the chilled, filtered and carbonated beer is stored prior to packaging.
Kegging, canning and bottling
Our bright beer is packed into clean bottles and cans, pasteurised for shelf life stability, labelled for consumer appeal and packed for safe warehousing, distribution and trade presentation.Close