It's called Zulu Blonde, and was pitted against 45 other brews in the 19-day Wetherspoon Real Ale festival in London. It walked away with first prize.
About an hour and half’s drive from Durban, in the town of Eshowe, is where you'll find its home – The Zululand Brewery. This small brewery is attached to a lively and welcoming hotel, The George Hotel. Attached to the hotel is the Happy George Bar. This is important information, because at the time of writing, the Happy George Bar was the only place you were able to find Zulu Blonde on tap.
As avid beer drinkers, and on a mission to sample all of SA's local brews, my partner and I were not going to be put off by the seven and a half hour journey from Jo’burg to Eshowe. We packed our bags, dropped off the parrot, and set off.
Many hours later, after listening to only two CDs the entire way (said partner forgot to bring the iPod), we arrived, tired, somewhat grumpy and very thirsty, at the Happy George Bar.
We took our seats at the bar counter and placed our order for two pints of Zulu Blonde.
“Sorry,” the barman said, “we're all out.”
We stared blankly at the man for some time. Out? Obviously the locals thought highly of the brew. As we soon found out, the Happy George had been host to a local band the evening before, during which time the taps had run dry.
By a horrible stroke of misfortune, the replacement batch was not up to scratch, so it couldn't be served.
Although gutted that the beer we had travelled approximately 700 km to taste was not available, our grief was short-lived. As it turned out, the brewery produces four other very fine beers, a pilsner, a pale ale, a bitter and a porter.
Shortly into our second pint, our host, and owner of Zululand Breweries, Richard Chennells, arrived. He's a hard man to miss. His passion for life is evident in everything he does, from brewing to throwing a good party (which, as the night progressed, we discovered he was very good at). But underneath the boisterous exterior lies a deep respect and love for Zululand and its people.
One of the main functions of the brewery is to attract people to Eshowe and uplift the area and its people. Much to our surprise, we discovered that Eshowe is quite a hotspot for international tourists, most of whom come and stay while volunteering for one of the many community projects that the Chennells family support.
Although the success of Zululand Breweries has been largely due to Richard’s committed nature, it all began with his father, Graham. Graham spent years tinkering and trying to perfect a homebrew he called ‘Zulu Blonde’. The problem faced, as experienced by many home brewers, was that the consistency of the brew could sometimes be called into question. Having decided early on that beer and the brewery were essential to the success of the George Hotel and building the business, Richard headed off to the US to study at the American Brewers Guild.
He also visited many of the best breweries in the world (some 200 or so of them), searching for the criteria for a successful beer. From brewing 150-litre batches, starting at 5 am and finishing at around 10 pm, in the ‘back yard’ brewery to now brewing 50 000 litres at a time and being in 750 pubs across the UK, it would seem that they found the missing ingredient they were looking for.
Although we never got to taste the beer that ultimately made this brewery, a trip to Zululand Breweries with a stop-over at The George Hotel is highly recommended. You’ll be heartily welcomed by both the owners and the patrons, and judging from our experience, you’ll be guaranteed an evening of fine beer and entertainment.
For more information on Zululand Brewery and their award winning beer, click here.