Did you know that the (current) second largest brewery in the world started right here in South Africa? I sure didn’t – until my husband and I went through the tour at SAB World of Beer. We joined a very fun and interesting group of people through a Meetup, which made the whole experience even better.
The tour at SAB World of Beer is touted as the “Number One Tourist Attraction” in Johannesburg. I might phrase that differently. I’d probably call it “The Most Popular Tourist Attraction” in Johannesburg, simply because – well, people like to drink, and South Africans really like to drink beer. I’m not particularly fond of beer, but I wanted to experience the tour anyway and meet up with some cool people.
SAB World of Beer is in the unassuming suburb of Newtown, and we might have missed the building if we weren’t actually looking for it. That being said, the building is well-kept and it’s clear that the beer industry is going strong – no matter what.
I won’t go into much detail for the people who haven’t done this and would like to. We went through the building with our guide, Mabusi – he briefly covered the history of beer in the world, but more specifically covered the history of beer in Africa. The history of beer on this continent goes all the way back to when African tribes began brewing sorghum beer (also known as umqombothi in the Xhosa language) thousands of years ago. Our tour group even got the chance to taste umqombothi. Mabusi then moved onto describing the techniques that SABMiller uses today to make their beers.
After getting through the informational part of the tour, we moved on to everyone’s favorite part – the tasting.
The tour group was divided into tables of three people each. Mabusi then starting handing out the cold brews, one brand at a time. Each table got one beer (per brand) to share. SABMiller owns and sells six different brands in this country: Castle, Castle Lite, Castle Milk Stout, Carling Black Label, Peroni, and Pilsner Urquell. So…anyone in the group who found themselves sitting solo at a table would have also found themselves quite “happy” by the time they had finished tasting six beers. Both Peroni and Pilsner Urquell are made outside of South Africa, which leads to a higher price tag than the other brands.
After the tasting, there’s an option to head to The Tap Room, a restaurant inside the World of Beer. At this point, the group was feeling pretty congenial, so we all joined up at a table on the sunny balcony for more conversation, pub-style food, and most importantly – more “happy juice”. Since everyone was given two vouchers for free beverages at the restaurant, it didn’t take much to convince us to hang around. Giving people who already have a buzz a couple of vouchers for free beer is a sure-fire way to generate more business. I’ve got to hand it to SABMiller – it’s a brilliant marketing gimmick.
By the end of the afternoon, I came to understand why the tour is so popular. It’s very reasonably priced: the tour is 105 ZAR for those not participating in the tasting and 160 ZAR for those tasting. 160 ZAR will get you: free off-street parking, a tour with a guide, a sampling of beer in a souvenir glass (even those not paying the extra 55 rand get this), a tasting of six different brands, and two vouchers for free beverages at the restaurant.
For any Americans out there considering a visit to South Africa, 160 ZAR is the equivalent of 11 USD. 11 bucks. I consider that a steal, even for someone making rands. If you find yourself searching for something to do on a weekend, head on over to World of Beer. But you should probably line up an Uber ride if you end up sitting by yourself at the tasting table.
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