Eastern Cape-born female brewer taps into craft
Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela shatters stereotypes
Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela is used to seeing puzzled expressions on people’s faces when they ask to see the brewmaster at Brewsters Craft in Johannesburg.
And when she tells them that she brews the beer herself, they then often ask to speak to the owner.
“I tell them ‘that is me as well’ and they just have that puzzled look on their faces once again,” she said.
That is what it is like for Nxusani-Mawela, who works in an industry that is traditionally seen as a man’s world.
Brewmaster Nxusani-Mawela, 35, who was born in Butterworth, is the first black woman in South Africa to establish a microbrewery.
“As a female brewer you always have to be on your toes,” she said.
“People always question if you know what you are doing.”
While these experiences have lessened over the years, Nxusani-Mawela said it was something that should not happen at all.
“It is a male-dominated industry and it is difficult, but that stereotype is being broken down.”
She said even in the past, advertising for beer was always centred around men.
“Thankfully companies are changing that approach as well.”
But being a woman in the industry also had advantages.
“Some people actually take more of an interest in my beers – they want to try it because I am a woman.”
Entering the industry happened by chance – Nxusani-Mawela stumbled across a microbiology stand during an open day at the then-Rand Afrikaans University when she was in grade 11.
Little did she know then that her future would be all about beer.
“I always liked biology and science, but I never knew you could study and start a career on what we eat and drink.”
After high school, Nxusani-Mawela got a bursary to do her BSc at Wits, later finishing her Honours in microbiology at the University of Pretoria.
Following an 18-month apprenticeship at SAB, where she earned the title of brewer, she opened her own brewery in 2015.
She said people thought she was crazy to leave the comforts of an SAB job.
“It was a difficult decision, but looking back it was the best choice to make.
“My parents initially wanted me to become a doctor but, after explaining that I could get a job at SAB, they started to understand.”
Nxusani-Mawela said she still had an aunt who wished she had ventured into medicine.
“One day I will do my PhD for my aunt just to make her happy,” she jokingly said.
Nxusani-Mawela hoped to see more women and black people joining the industry.
“I have dedicated a lot of time to be a part of this change that I hope to see.”
She trains aspiring brewers and often hosts science exhibitions at Eastern Cape schools.
“You need to start an interest in microbiology at a young age and the exhibitions are the perfect way to do this.
“I would never have been exposed to microbiology if I had stayed in the Eastern Cape.
“Luckily, my parents could afford to send me to boarding school in Johannesburg.
“I hope that status quo changes and I just want to be part of it.”
Nxusani-Mawela said it was great to have been part of the craft beer trend.
“But you find now that some of those breweries are closing down.
“This just means the brands that have survived offer quality beer and will last.”
With the first beer brewed thousands of years ago by women, SAB is launching a beer designed and brewed entirely by women from various walks of life, and Nxusani-Mawela is overseeing the process.
The beer will be available on August 13 in Johannesburg.
SAB and AB InBev’s corporate reputation manager Pranisha Maharaj said they wanted to make a beer that embodied the characteristics of strong, independent women.
“We gave the public a chance to vote for ingredients and then we put the results into the hands of a team of talented women to create both the beer and its packaging.”