Jéanri Nel initially had dreams of being a winemaker, until the brewing bug bit. Now she is one of the country’s top brewers, crafting beer for Hoogeberg Brewing at Signal Gun as part of the Durbanville Wine Valley Route
Why did you decide to study winemaking?
I started studying BSc Human Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch in 2012, transferred to BSc Viticulture and Oenology in the second semester of that year, and finished my degree in 2016.
My goal was to walk out of university at the end of my final year with a degree that was not vague and gave me the possibility to work in various parts of the beverage industry.
Viticulture and oenology offered just that, and I would like to think my degree helped me to be appointed as Hoogeberg Brewing’s brewer, even though it does not always help me to do my current job as a brewer.
The transfer to viticulture and oenology was an easy choice since I grew up in the Vredendal environment, and for a long time I lived on my grandfather’s farm surrounded by vineyards.
One of my earliest memories is driving with my grandfather to the cellar to deliver the season’s grapes.
I am still not sure what made me decide to go for a job as a brewer, but I am glad I did because now I am able to make both wine and beer, even though I still have a lot to learn in both fields.
How do you make beer, and what is the decision process involved?
The definition of beer is an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops. This short definition explains it well.
First you need to decide what type of beer and what recipe you want to brew, for example a lager, a stout or a saison. That will in turn be largely influenced by what you think the consumer would want to drink in a season. You might like to brew a specific type of beer because you like it and want to drink pints of it yourself, but that does not mean the consumer would want to drink it, and therefore it would not sell. In the end that is your goal, to produce a well-balanced beer that sells well.
The recipe mostly consists of malted barley and/or other ingredients, depending on the type of beer.
Brewing consists of three main parts, namely mashing, lautering and boiling, and the main goal is to get all the fermentable and unfermentable sugar and flavours out of the malted barley and/or other ingredients and in liquid form so the liquid rich in sugar and flavours can be fermented in the end.
Tell us about your favourite beer?
There are two that I am particularly proud of and love to drink myself: the Ystervark Lager and the Hefe Weiss.
The Ystervark Lager is probably our most popular beer and biggest seller. It is a golden-coloured, smooth and proper lager. The beer was lagered for 21 days and completely unfiltered as I wanted to make raw, real flavours that pop out.
My Hefe Weiss is a proper German-styled beer in which a significant proportion of malted barley is replaced with malted wheat. It’s a good winter beer and goes well with traditional German dishes.
How difficult is it as a woman brewer in what is still a male-dominated industry?
It was relatively easy to adjust in the industry. I had wonderful help and support from family, friends and colleagues.
Being a male or female doesn’t automatically determine an industry for you. It adds to who you are, and that is all you need.
Do women bring a different touch to making beer?
I believe every single person brings his or her own magic to the table, irrespective of race and gender.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I thrive on personal success and thus challenging myself to reach new goals. – Staff reporter
For a taste of Nel’s beers, visit the tasting room at Signal Gun estate in Cape Town’s Durbanville Wine Valley. Gautengers will have the opportunity to sample her brews at the Women of Wine SA Festival, which takes place at Candlewoods Boutique Venue in Centurion on August 12