Did you know that South Africa’s beer industry is responsible for employing – directly and indirectly – 249 000 people? It also accounts for R1 of every R79 of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provided R43 billion to the SA Revenue Service coffers for the period under review.



In a media statement released to coincide with National Beer Day on February 4, SA Breweries’ corporate brand director Sphe Vundla announced the results of a report produced by Oxford Economics, an independent economic advisory firm, on the impact of beer and beer brewing to the wider South African economy.

“The results of the study remind us – as we commemorate National Beer Day, how important beer is to our nation. We were really excited to see the study’s finding that beer provides 249 000 people with jobs,” Vundla said. “That means that one in every 66 people work in a job driven by the beer industry.” In a country with a dire unemployment situation Vundla said SAB took pride in creating jobs.

The period under review was between 2015 and 2019 – and the chief executive of the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) Patricia Pillay echoed Vundla’s statement. “The beer industry is a major supplier of local jobs, an economic driver and a large revenue raiser for South Africa, and we are always proud to be a part of events that promote the empowerment and growth of our local beer industry. One such event is the BASA sponsored #SANBeerDay this year, which is especially exciting as we come out of a difficult period of pandemic restrictions which kept us away from doing what we love, and often from who we love.”

So what is National Beer Day? The prime mover behind it is the enthusiastic consumer, and now international beer judge, Lucy Corne, who goes by The Brewmistress as her Twitter handle.

The first #SANBeerDay was in 2017, Corne said. “We began thinking about it in 2016 and what kicked it off is that there’s an international beer day but it’s celebrated in August – which is great for Americans and the northern hemisphere but not so much for us.” The tail end of winter is not exactly the most ideal time to be enjoying beer ... So the first Saturday in February was the date settled on. The first three years the event gained traction and grew nicely by word of mouth and social media posts – but was then impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked what the point of #SANBeerDay was Corne responded that it was simply to celebrate and drink beer – all kinds of beer, craft, commercial, homebrew and even sorghum. “And to drive sales,” she said. “For everyone in hospitality, restaurants as well as pubs and breweries, things quieten down after the festive season rush so this is a way of getting the tills ringing again.”

She also made the point that South Africa is a beer drinking country – 56% of the annual alcohol market is beer with wine and spirits combined comprising 18%. “But there’s this strange thing where people aren’t proud to drink beer! They will happily celebrate drinking wine, so why not have a day to foster a bit of pride in our most popular drink of choice?”

In 2023 for the first time since inception #SANBeerDay was a truly national celebration. There was a diary boasting more than 100 events in all nine provinces. Even the Northern Cape came to the party with a collab between four breweries in Kathu, at the Craft Beer Café. Gauteng pulled out all the stops with no fewer than 17 different events in Johannesburg, three in Centurion and six in Tshwane.

Some of the events were simply offering live music or discounts on beers on tap while others advertised space on the braai grid or a potjiekos competition. Two which stood out this year were the Eshowe Sports Club in KwaZulu-Natal which hosted a Beer Pong competition and pairing that with Bunny Chows, while in Plettenberg Bay Barrington’s laid claim to the national Beer Pong championships since it was the second time of hosting. “We had such a blast at last year’s #SANBeerDay Beer Pong championship, we thought, why not?! Let’s do it again and again and again!” their promo material read. Winners of the championship got to order up a 30 litre party cask of Barrington’s fresh brew at any point during the year of their reign.

Corne attributed this renewed energy for the 2023 #SANBeerDay firstly to the support of the Beer Association of SA. “They put a lot of paid promotion behind it, advertising and being very active on social media. That’s been invaluable in getting places on board marking their own promotions as well as making the greater public aware of national beer day.”

The second factor was the pandemic itself. “It wasn’t as bad as initially predicted for the brewers,” Corne said. “Yes, there was some attrition but it gave people time to reassess their business.” BASA played a big role in helping fund brewers to keep their staff employed, Corne said. “Guys who forged through the pandemic focussed more on catering to their local environment and also on reassessing their product range. That was quite healthy. It gave people time to work on their recipes.”

Also, before Covid Corne admitted that the enthusiasm had waned slightly. “I’d noticed breweries weren’t doing as many promotions or offering special pairings, stuff like that. In general, since the lockdown ended the whole scene has been revitalised. People want to get out and do things after two years and the #SANBeerDay participants wanted whatever they offered to be good and fun!”

Another big part of celebrating #SANBeerDay, Corne said, is that it shared enthusiasm for all beer, not just craft beer.

“We have a mission to get South Africans to see beer differently,” said SAB’s Vundla, echoing Corne’s sentiments. Going forward, the hope was that “South Africans will join us in celebrating the industry’s ongoing contribution to our communities and society at large.”