For many decades, beer making in South Africa has been dominated by one South African Breweries, a subsidiary of AB InBev. Craft beer which still only accounts for under 1% of the total share of the beer market only became popular in South Africa in the early '80s.
Lebona Moleli, Johannesburg-based entrepreneur and founder of Mohope Brew
“The craft beer industry has experienced phenomenal growth in South Africa since the late 1990s. However, the industry has not fully transformed, and I wanted to play a part in injecting inclusive growth in the industry both from the producer and consumer points of view,” says Lebona Moleli, Johannesburg-based entrepreneur and founder of newly launched craft beer called Mohope.
Craft beer unlike mainstream beer is beer that is produced in an independently-owned microbrewery. Craft brewers have an amazing talent to experiment with different raw materials and processes to come up with exciting palatable beers. “The main producers and consumers of commercial craft beer in South Africa have traditionally been white men and I felt the time was ripe to encourage more discerning Black men and women consumers to participate in the craft beer market,” says Moleli.
Mohope Craft Beer is his brainchild. Moleli is a qualified brewer and an associate member of the UK-based Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD). Moleli worked for a major brewing company in manufacturing and operations before pursuing an exciting career in marketing and advertising. He later ventured into entrepreneurship focusing on marketing, advertising, media and consulting. Mohope Craft Beer is his latest entrepreneurship venture and, by many accounts, it is a delight to the tongue and a joy to the palate.
“The dream of starting my own beer brand goes back to December 2018 when I first experimented my recipe with a homebrew kit. After several trials and experimentation, the Mohope recipe was finally crafted and perfected in July 2019. The first batch was produced in November 2019,” says the ecstatic brewer.
The ‘quality crafted refreshment’, as he calls his Mohope beer, is one that has its roots in his early years growing up amid the kaleidoscopic valleys of Lesotho where he was raised by his paternal grandmother. “My grandmother used to make traditional beer for our ceremonies and as a child I used to watch her execute her craft with passion and precision. I never thought I would work for a commercial brewery. I soon realised there was not much difference between brewing traditional beer and its commercial cousin,” he adds.
Why Mohope? Mohope is a South Sotho word for calabash, a container made from the dried shell of a fruit belonging to the gourd family. In the Sesotho culture and tradition, a calabash is used for serving drinks including water and traditional beer.
“Our premium craft beer is a proudly South African beer that takes its inspiration from Basotho culture and heritage, hence the brand name Mohope. Across the ages, African people have developed a unique culture and tradition and take pride in their arts, crafts, cuisine, couture and drinks. Mohope is an expression and celebration of our African heritage,” he explains.
It is a craft beer brewed with only natural ingredients including malted barley, water, hops and yeast. The beer is brewed under contract manufacturing in a 1,000 litre microbrewery in Johannesburg and is produced under strict quality parameters resulting in a crisp refreshing taste that quenches the toughest African thirst.
Mohope Craft Beer was officially launched in Johannesburg on 1 December 2019 at an event in Vilakazi Precinct in Soweto and was also introduced to craft beer restaurants, pubs, clubs, hotels and some social events. The feedback about the quality, taste and the branding of the product has been phenomenally positive.
The brand awareness and sales in the first four months of launch exceeded expectations. However, like all other businesses in the entertainment and hospitality industries, the business has been affected negatively by Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown.
Moleli says one of the company’s core values as a brand is responsible drinking. He also says they encourage consumers to drink responsibly and discourage alcohol abuse and binge drinking. We were not allowed to manufacture and sell beer for a period of almost five months during the period of the lockdown. During this period when we could not sell our product, we embarked on a marketing campaign to educate the South African public about the danger of alcohol abuse and irresponsible drinking, he explains.
“The lockdown has given us the opportunity to review our business strategy and we will be coming up with new exciting projects post lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic. We want to create employment opportunities, create wealth in our communities whilst we remain a socially responsible corporate citizen,” concludes Moleli.