‘Beer Is Art’ Is Helping South Africans Discover The Joys Of Brewing

Food & Drink

Documentary Filmmaker Obakeng Malope is behind a campaign that’s aim is to help people with an unlikely source: beer.

With high unemployment in her home country of South Africa, Malope turned to collaborating with breweries from around the world to raise money to get brewing training and business skills for young South Africans who may not think of brewery work as a viable career path. Thus began the “Beer is Art” campaign, which has worked with American breweries like Montclair Brewery in New Jersey, Postdoc Brewery in Washington, Gentile Brewery in Massachusetts, Ebb and Flow Fermentations and Vine Street Brewery in Missouri and Torque Brewery in Canada thus far with new developments on the horizon.

I spoke to Malope about her goals for the project and what she hopes these collaborations can do to help the young people of South Africa.

How did you get into beer?

I have always had a fascination with beer. Even when I was touring the world with film festivals as a filmmaker, I would always check out the beer scene in the country that I would be visiting (I was impressed by the U.K. beer scene). Finally I could not hold the burn and desire any more. I took classes with Brewster’s Craft (which was run by Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, South Africa’s first Black female Brewmaster) in which I learned introduction to beer, yeast maturation and micro brewing. From there I have learned brewing through visiting breweries here in South Africa whereby the South African beer community is always ready and willing to teach the skills they know to enthusiastic people like me.

My big break came when I saw an advert on Facebook whereby they were advertising The Road to 100 Cicerone Certification Program. I applied and I was enrolled. The road to 100 was a fellowship by an American woman named Eugenia Brown. She took 100 women of color in USA, Canada and there were two South Africans. We were taught by beer educators and big people in the beer industry who are women as well. It was her wish and idea of getting us women of color in the beer industry. I was so inspired after that I started “Beer is Art.”

What is Beer is Art, what is its purpose?

I founded “Beer is Art” seeing that the youth over 21 are unemployed here in South Africa. Beer is Art teaches beer brewing, licensing, Cicerone beer education training, beer podcasting, starting your own beer brand, starting your own brewery and beer and food pairings. The purpose is to teach people to turn beer into a career. We want to use beer to empower and change peoples lives through entrepreneurship.

How is brewing beer raising funds from what you do?

We partake in collaboration brews. A collaboration brew means that a brewery brews a beer, labels it with the “Beer is Art” label to alert the consumers that a portion of the sales of the beer will be donated to “Beer is Art.” The funds will be used to remunerate the beer educators who are professionals and do this for a living. Also we don’t want to teach the youth brewing and let them go, they need a brewing license and it is expensive, plus brewery visits, brewing equipment to train with and books that requires funds as well.

Why is it important to get the community involved in beer?

It is important to get the community involved because my community has always been brewing beer. They have been brewing traditional sorghum beer. My community from the village where I was born know where to get the traditional herbs and berries in the mountains to infuse in the beer. They have indigenous beer knowledge to teach the students about beer. The South African beer scene is full of people who are passionate about beer. So for us we are still teaching the youth to make beer but we are not going to make them normal beer makers. They will make beers that tell a story, whatever story they want to tell.

How is beer a global beverage and what does that mean to you?

I did not think of beer as a global drink before “Beer is Art” because other religions don’t approve beer like the religion of Islam to be specific. But I met a brewer who lives in New York and originally is from Iran. Did you know that the earliest known evidence of beer brewing was uncovered by a team of researchers in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran? This information made me more certain that beer has always been a global drink. It was widely consumed it brought people from different cultures together. Beer residues was found in the graves of Kings and Queens in Egypt. Beer has always been there.

To reach out to Malope about helping or learning more, visit here.

Interview edited for clarity and context

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