The local brewery making umqombothi cool again

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The local brewery making umqombothi cool again

Ukhamba Beerworx is known for their delicious local craft beer, including their umqombothi-style Utywala Sorghum Saison. As the brand prepares to open in an exciting new location, we chat to brewer Lethu Tshabangu, one of the brains behind Cape Town’s first black-owned brewery, to find out what drives them and what we can expect from the new spot.

1. Start by telling us a little of your backstory. Who are the people behind Ukhamba? How did you start the brewery?

In 2013 I got what was supposed to be temporary job at the Waterfront Food Market at the bar that sells craft beer. It was my first encounter with craft beer. I was curious about the hype around it, so I spent some time on the internet researching. Mostly it was to help myself get answers to questions that my customers asked every day. I fell in love with the culture. When I noticed that modern beer as we know it has its origin in different European countries, I felt the need for an African brewery that tells African stories through beer. I wanted to have something different for foreigners who visit Africa and something that hits home for local people. I started home-brewing in 2014. I also met Noluyanda Roxwana at that time and she was a keen home-brewer, too. We dated and pursued the Ukhamba Beerworx idea together. In 2015 we got the chance to join the Brewers Co-op. At the co-op I met some of the best brewers in the country and I improved my brewing skills. We registered Ukhamba Beerworx – Nolu created the structure of it all on the admin side while I brewed. In 2017, we moved into old Riot Beer brewery at the Palms Lifestyle Centre. That was our first brewery and we’ve been growing since then but not without turns and twists and a lot of fails and lessons.

2. I love the distinct South African characteristics of your brand – why is this identity so important to you?

The idea behind Ukhamba Beerworx has always been to build an African-rooted brand, we create beer for the African palate using local ingredients to create special brews that are unique and an experience to the rest of the world. The clay pot (ukhamba) symbolises sharing and community.

3. Word on the street is that you’re moving into the new Maker’s Landing space. What can you tell us about this new space? What can visitors expect to find at this new taproom?

We are so excited to be part of Maker’s Landing, it’s a great initiative by the V&A Waterfront. At Maker’s Landing we will have a brewery, distillery, coffee roastery, bakery, chocolate factory and a number of restaurants with amazing offerings. The diversity of vendors there is a true representation of the cultural melting pot that Cape Town is.

4. Can you tell us about each of the beers available? What makes them each so unique?

We will have iBhiya Premium Lager on offer, which is an easy-drinking beer, perfect for our hot summers.

Utywala Sorghum Saison is our modern version of umqombothi (traditional beer) brewed with sorghum (amabele) and a special yeast to capture the essence of umqombothi.

State Capture IPA is a beautiful pale ale made with the local Southern Passion hop.

We will also have special beers every month. One of them being our Pursuit of Happiness Black IPA and the Banana Bread Ale. There is also an exciting project that I won’t say much about now. Watch this space…

5. What advice would you have for someone who wanted to make it in the craft beer space? What have been some important lessons you’ve learned since opening up?

Advice to anyone who wants to go onto craft beer: first one is DON’T, it is a very tough industry. It’s definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme. Craft beer is much more a culture than is a product, fall in love with the culture and you’ll always find your way. Don’t be afraid to be unique, the world may just be waiting for that little idea of yours. And lastly, fall in love with the process.

To keep up with Ukhamba, follow them on Instagram and make sure to visit them at the newly-opened Maker’s Landing at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Maker’s Landing is a ground-breaking new concept by the Waterfront that seeks to showcase and celebrate an authentically South African food industry.


Jess Spiro Article by: Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.

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