Over the years, beer drinking has become more than just savouring a refreshing beverage at the end of the day with the gents at the bar—it has become a culture. More effort has been put into making beers that leave a memorable taste in your mouth, and make you want more quality in taste. What distinguishes craft beer from your run-of-the-mill beer is the fact that is has been made with a little more attention to detail, and the manufacturing process involves way more experimentation, which is what gives it that distinctive and rich flavour.  

If there is anyone who knows a lot about brewing the perfect craft beer, with an African flair, it’s Lethukuthula Tshabangu of Ukhamba Beerworx. Having begun his love affair with craft beer while working as a bartender in Cape Town, Lethu has created an authentically African craft beer brand that captures the essence and taste of African tradition. Growing up in Tsholotsho, Southern Zimbabwe, he used to watch his paternal and maternal grandmothers brewing umqombothi. “I was always fascinated by the process,” says Lethu, who decided at a very young age that herding cows, and working towards the realisation of someone else’s dream, was not the life for him—He wanted more. “I was quite curious as a child, always asking annoying questions such as ‘why are we supposed to work for white people and the never the other way round?’”

 

“Beer is my ticket to freedom" – Lethu Tshabangu 

 

It was at his job at a bar that sold craft beer that he fully immersed himself in learning more about beer. He embarked on a journey of improving his brewing skills and decided to work towards establishing his own brand. Ukhamba Beerworx was founded on the principles of authenticity, tradition, and passion. Meeting his wife, Noluyanda, was an aligning of the stars as she had been taught how to brew umqombothi when she was a little girl living in the Eastern Cape. Together the founded Ukhamba Beerworx and have been committed to providing only the best taste and experience. “My job is to create recipes, sources ingredients, and brew the beer.” This may seem simple, but it requires a lot of time, concentration, and effort. But, for Lethu, it hardly ever feels arduous because it is something that he is passionate about. “It’s always easier when you love what you do,” says Lethu, who is always looking for ways to improve his craft—pun intended!

Ukhamba is the Zulu word for the clay pot from which many Nguni tribes drink traditional beer. Lethu’s grandfather used to refer to any time of beer as Ukhamba because of its association with alcohol. “I liked the word so when I started brewing and had the dream of starting my own brewery, that was the first word that came to mind. I also liked it because it’s commonly used in most Nguni languages, and I wanted to claim my spot in the beer culture as a Nguni man.”

 

"I wanted to claim my spot in the beer culture as a Nguni man."

 

Ukhamba Beerworx currently produces three beers, namely:

 

Utywala Sorghum Saison

“A refreshing farmhouse Ale, with an African twist. Tart and fruity nose with a crisp mouth-eel.”

Utywala is their flagship beer and is most consistent with their brand. It is made with the same ingredient (sorghum or amabele) that is used to make umqombothi. “It is designed to capture the essence of umqombothi. It is light and easy to drink, and is the darling for most of our customers.”

 

 State Capture IPA

“All the citrus- grapefruit flavours in the all-day IPA were all put together by us without an exterior influence.”

Ukhamba’s State Capture is social commentary in a bottle—it is designed to capture the state of the nation. And according to Lethu, it is not as bitter as traditional IPAs and is full of flavour.

 

Pursuit of Hoppiness

“A perfect marriage of roasty chocolate and lightly spicy malt flavours with citrus hops aroma.” 

This one is a beautiful Cascadian ale, or black IPA, perfect for those with an affinity for dark beers.

 

Ukhamba's most current offering, Black Honey Vol. 1, is a collaboration with Devil's Peak Brewing Company

 

For Lethu to be running the first black-owned brewery in the Western Cape is no small achievement. It shows the amount of courage and determination he has as an African man. He could have easily chosen to come to Jozi where it would have been easier but he chose to create space for himself, and other black people, to flourish. “Opening the first black-owned brewery in the Western Cape, and probably the second in the country, was a huge thing; but the most humbling experience was the turnout of our people at our opening day event.”

It is not only the beer that soothes the soul and warms the heart, the space itself is certainly something to write home about. It is so affirming to find a space that is by black people, for black people—especially in a city like Cape Town. The energy at Ukhamba Beerworx is life-giving in a city that others people of colour with its exclusionary setup. 


You can find Ukhamba Beerworx at 145 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock. For more information, visit https://www.ukhambabeerworx.co.za/