Two sisters from the Cederberg are brewing up a storm with their premium and wildly popular Nieuw Brew craft beer. From humble beginnings in their anchestoral farm’s old goat quarantine to bitter legal battles with neighbouring farms and saving the region’s endemic fish species, the sister’s journey to here has been all but smooth…

The sale of craft beer in South Africa has exploded. Figures from the 2016 South African Microbreweries Survey has found that the number of microbreweries has increased significantly, growing by 50 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2016.

According to the survey, the total annual production of microbrewed or craft beer in South Africa is around the 20 million litre-mark – still only less than 1 percent of the total South African beer market.

But when it comes to craft beer, it’s not about the size of your kettle, but rather about how often you brew and what your fermentation capacity is. For sisters, Tania (28) and Melanie (30) Nieuwoudt, who hail from the seventh-generation Nieuwoudt farm near Kromrivier in the Cederberg, beer making is as much a science as it is a passion.

What started as as a hobby has grown into a thriving business. The sisters have ambitious plans to expand production from the current 100 litres (160 bottles) to 1 500 litres (or 2 700 bottles) of beer per day. They are involved in every step of the process from brewing to label design.

But Nieuw Brew has a special ingredient. Locals call it soetwater (sweet water). The exceptionally clean, natural spring water is combined with malt, yeast and the highest quality hops to produce a signature range of craft beer that’s unique to the area.

There’s a strong environmental thread running through Nieu Brew’s beers too. Each beer in the range is named after an endemic fish species to help raise awareness of habitat destruction and the need to remove alien species in the Kromriver area. The brewery’s conservation plan includes rehabilitating the river and reintroducing endemic fish species.

The name Nieuw Brew came as a result of a bitter legal battle with their neighbour, distant relative and winemaker, Cederberg. Formerly known as Cederbrew, the sisters were served up a letter from Cederberg Wine Estate’s laywers saying that the name had already been trademarked. But the sisters’ didn’t give up and embarked on a massive social media campaign to raise funds for the exorbitant legal costs.

The ancherstral Kromrivier Farm offers all the warmth and hospitality you’d come to expect from the charming Cederberg region. There’s accommodationin the form of backpackers, self-catering chalets and campsites and if you’re feeling peckish, make sure you stop by the eatery for hearty, traditional lunches and dinners like waterblommetjie-bredie, bobotie or chicken pie. While Nieuw Brew can be found at various stockists across the Western Cape, you’ll find the full range right here on the farm.

Nieuw Brew’s signature range includes the English pale Catfish Ale; the semi-sweet and refreshing Sandfish Weiss; the easy-going, moderately malty Galaxias Blonde and the award-winning Chubbyhead Stout – bitter, thick and delicious with a distinct burnt-coffee flavour. The farm range consist of the Jan Pampoen Pumpkin Ale (with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla) and my personal favourite, the Sarie Marais cherry blonde beer. Visit www.nieuwbrew.co.za for more information.

Quick-fire Q&A with the Cider-sisters

Q:How did your shared interest in beer-making begin?
MN: It happened in parallel. I was busy finishing my PhD thesis on beer studies for my doctorate in food science at Stellenbosch University, while my sister Tania learnt about craft beer while in Sweden as part of her master’s degree studies in logistics. On her return, we both started brewing beer as a hobby. I had to brew a lot of beer for my experiments and we decided that we should start our own microbrewery. After graduating, we used what was left of our bursaries and some ‘family loans’ and bought our brewery equipment that cost in the region of R90 000. With the help of a friend, we set up the brewery in the farm’s old goat quarantine building.

Q: Tell us about your recent legal battle with Cederberg?
TM: We were sued by our wine-making neighbour for our company name, Cederbrew Pty Ltd, being too similar to Cederberg Wines. They had also registered the company name of Cederberg Brewery Pty Ltd. We decided to change our trademark to Nieuw Brew. We hadn’t anticipated the exorbitant legal fees that came with it.

Q: What ingredient in your beer sets you apart from the rest?
MN: Definitely the soetwater! But it’s also because of the high altitude brewing where water boils at lower temperatures. Then most importantly, it’s our recipes.

Q:What does the beer-making process entail?
TN: We start early in the morning. The process of heating and getting things to the correct temperature can be timeous. Bottling is also done in the mornings. Our system is still small, but the basic steps of the brewing process stay the same – we mash, lauter, boil, cool the wort and lastly pump into the fermenters where the yeast will do the rest of the work.

Q: What are the challenges of working with siblings?
MN: Initially, it was challenging as we both had to get accustomed to each other’s style of working. But now, we work together very well because we each bring our own set of skills to the table.

Q: There’s a conservation angle to your beer brewing. What’s it about?
MN: On the farm, we’ve built a weir (dam wall) in the river to start fishing out all alien fish upstream and re-introducing the indigenous fish population. We’ve named our main beer range after these little fish to raise awareness and start conversations around conservation.

Q: You are involved in every process of beer-making, from brewing to labelling. Is it a tough business?
TN: Our system is small and is therefore quite labour intensive. It is tough, but it makes us very “hands-on” during the process and we have control over most aspects. This makes quality control easier.

Q: What do you look for in a well-crafted beer?
MN: I look for a very perfumy, full bodied beer.
TN: I prefer more fuller bodied beers with a nice bitterness to it.