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Innovation, sustainability and efficiency in beer making

Four basic ingredients go into creating beer: barley, hops, yeast and water.

South African Breweries (SAB) has adopted a sustainable approach to acquiring and using these raw materials and continues to look at ways of improving upon current measures. A study done by SAB, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit found that more than 80% of water required in the beer-making process is used in the production of raw materials, namely barley and hops.

Mindful of water being a precious commodity, SAB has adopted a water-saving strategy that is aimed at making more beer using less water.

SAB always strives to ensure that water resources are secured jointly for local communities and for the brewing business. Water is conserved where possible, used optimally and recycled when the opportunity arises.



Water-saving measures aimed to see water usage cut by 25% per hectolitre of beer between 2008 and 2015.  To manage water usage more effectively, three projects have been put in place: the Strategic Water Partners’ Network, Innovating Through Irrigation, and Project Eden – Promoting Water Research.  

SAB has also developed, in partnership with the University of the Free State, an innovative, scientific alternative to barley irrigation that aims to reduce the total water footprint of the crop. The Precision Irrigation Programme is being run in the Northern Cape region of Douglas.

Precision Irrigation is a water-scheduling computer programme that calculates the amount of water required to produce optimum crop yields in different soil types.

Within its first year of operation, the programme had realised a 48%, or 19.2-million hectolitre, water saving. Since then the project has been extended from its pilot status to be applied across 12 822ha of land in the province. This move, in turn, has financially benefited 100 small-scale and 180 commercial barley farmers in the Northern Cape region due to reduced irrigation costs and lower production costs, which speaks to SAB’s collaborative approach to working with its suppliers.

SAB’s hop farms have been developing and growing hops in South Africa for more than 80 years, under disease-free conditions. As a result several local varietals have emerged with qualities better suited to local climates.

International brewers have shown particular interest in local hop availability as a potential supplement during the northern hemisphere off-season. In terms of SAB’s innovative approach to local hop production, the female hop plant is used in the brewing process while the male is used to cross disease-resistant varieties with locally adapted breeding stock.

Some of the hop varietals used by SAB include: Southern Brewer – developed in the 1970s; Southern Promise – a dual-purpose hop with a woody, earthy fragrance; Southern Dawn – a more aromatic version of Southern Promise; Southern Aroma – with a floral and herbal nose; Southern Passion – a flavoursome blend of passion fruit, red berries and sweet fruits; and African Queen, launched in May 2015 following 12 years in development.



Barley, which is malted, is an important raw material used in the making of beer. In June 2015 SAB announced a R700-million investment in a new maltings plant in Alrode, Gauteng, to support the local economy and drive job creation.

Construction of the new plant, which will produce 130 000 tonnes of malted barley per annum on completion, has commenced. The expansion will allow SAB to reduce the amount of malted barley it imports, and to grow the local agricultural sector by supporting private, previously disadvantaged farmers.

“The new maltings plant will have significant cost-saving and growth benefits for SAB. It makes good financial sense to undertake this investment. It will allow us to reduce our exposure to volatile international markets and to replace a significant share of our imported malt and barley with local barley,” says SAB MD Mauricio Leyva.

At the moment, SAB sources around 65% of its barley from within South Africa. Once the new maltings plant is operational, this will increase to more than 90%.

As part of its commitment to sustainability, SAB aims to continue working together with local communities, suppliers, governments, consumers and beyond, to develop shared opportunities that will benefit everyone. 



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