With over 100 000 customers served since opening just eight months ago, a silver medal award-winning pale ale, plans in place for on-site production by Christmas and a vision for the Overberg as a craft beer destination, The Brewery at Hemel-en-Aarde Village in Hermanus is brewing up a strategy for future success.
Key to their vision is embracing the maxim “Don’t Compete, Collaborate”.
Inspired by the American tourist town of Bend in Oregon, which has 22 craft breweries despite a population of only 80 000 – the highest micro-brewery per capita in the nation – co-owners, Marc de Maudave Bestel and Brian Brown have a similar vision for the Overberg that is firmly rooted in the belief that it is better to focus on increasing the size of the overall craft beer market, rather than competing for market share.
“Craft breweries in the Overberg should strive for excellence in quality and innovation. That way we can increase the total value and volume of our products and services, and by collaborating as a network, reduce our overall cost of operation. Our goal is to make Hermanus and the Overberg the centre of microbrewing,” says Marc.
He adds that part of this drive for excellence is entering competitions and bringing home medals and trophies, although he remains pragmatic about the silver medal their Hermanus Pale Ale won at the 2019 National Beer Trophy in mid-August.
“For us, as a team and business, it’s another feather in the cap for Hermanus and the Overberg. Our beer was among several that received recognition and this allows us to compare how we are doing,” says Marc, who is equally excited that one of their collaboration partners, Old Potter’s Brewhouse in Greyton, won two gold medals for their Cityslicker and My China beers.
Both breweries are organising the Brewery2Brewery MTB Challenge, a two-day mountain bike event that starts in Greyton on Saturday 5 October, followed by a concert in the evening, and ends in Hermanus on Sunday 6 October with a long 85 km ride between the two towns or a shorter 25 km MTB ride.
“Beers at the National Beer Trophy event are judged out of 50 according to the international Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCO) guide, which outlines every beer style in great detail. In order to win a silver medal, the pass mark is 39/50, and for gold, it’s 41/50. The success of the South African National Beer Trophy is a testament to the progress our craft industry has made. Forty six silver medals and 13 gold medals were awarded,” says Marc.
“We are open to partnerships with other craft brewers,” he adds, pointing out that The Brewery, apart from supporting local Hermanus musicians with 150 days of live music a year, is also a sponsor of the 2019 Civvio Vine to Valley Trail Run Series and was the finish destination for the 2019 Houw Hoek MTB Tour.
Another important part of this collaboration strategy will be on-site brewing before the summer season begins. Currently, The Brewery has a manufacturing partnership with Woodstock Brewery in Cape Town. “We will continue our partnership with Woodstock. If, for example, one of their customers needs a batch, we will be able to brew it for them,” says Marc, who emphasises that both companies will also benefit by negotiating better raw material prices and will be able to leverage their supply chain systems by working together.
It is in the nature of the beer industry to promote collaboration. “There is nothing to hide or protect because it is all out there in the public domain. Anyone can make beer,” he says. Marc believes that the key success factors for any craft brewer are the quality of the ingredients, the skill of the brewmaster, the standard of the equipment used and the consistency of the beer produced.
The final part of the strategy is ensuring constant innovation. “We opened at the height of the season last year and it has been a whirlwind ride since, with great support from the locals who have helped us in ironing out our gremlins,” says Marc. He is grateful to those local residents who have helped them to improve their service and produce a better product, as well as giving them ideas on how to ensure a better overall customer experience.
“We want to provide an exciting and enjoyable destination for customers and to create a strong legacy and brand in the marketplace,” says Brian.
“The Brewery must be a place where customers can come to be uplifted. But we need the whole of Hermanus to be great so that we have a wonderful experience for visitors to our town. This will help to level out the peaks and troughs during the year,” stresses Marc.
Going forward, The Brewery will continue to present a regular calendar of events such as the last Tuesday of the month comedy series which will bring comedians from across South Africa to Hermanus. “But,” says Marc, “we also want to create a bit of theatre with our events. Rather than just have a sit-down dinner for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, for example, we want to provide an experience for the day that our customers will remember.”
For Brian, the future is much more focused on daily operational issues. “Successfully navigating our way through adverse external factors such as a declining economic environment and the consequent impact this will have on the tourism and hospitality industry; the seasonal fluctuations and effects of local politics such as protests, while remaining cash-flow positive and growing the business through our on-site offering and off-site sales channels are the biggest challenges I foresee,” says Brian. On a personal level he notes, “It has been a life-changing experience – both daunting and exciting. It is safe to say that I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I took the leap of faith into this business and the world of hospitality.”