The Brewing of Kaffir Beer

by Thomas Oxford (Head Brewer, Municipal Brewery, Durban, Natal).  July 1926

The brewing of native beer has always been a domestic custom in the kraals, and the beer is consumed by the whole family; it is considered a food as well as a beverage. Successive official authorities on Native Administrations have always maintained that a reasonable available supply was conducive to the well-being of the native.

The native population of Durban increased rapidly with the development of shipping and industry; the native whose kraal was within a few miles of the town would proceed home at weekends for his beer, or his women-folk would carry it into town for him. Others would manufacture it on the premises of their employer or obtain supplies of European liquor illicitly. Again, the “white trash” keepers of low-class native eating houses would supply various vile concoctions. According to a report by the Chief Constable of Durban to the Transvaal Liquor Commission about 1909, over one hundred drinking dens of this description existed in Durban and the native generally was rapidly degenerating. This intolerable state of affairs called for legislation, and the result was the Beer Act which came into force in Natal, 1909. The Act provides (a) That licenses may be issued to approved persons, and (b) that Town Councils may manufacture and sell beer under a monopoly.

When the Town Council first availed itself of the Act, licenses were granted under (a) to natives. The beer was brewed and sold by the licensee on premises, the property of the Council, evidently with the object of control being exercised as to hours of sale, sanitation, etc. Under this innovation, abuse continued and ultimately the monopoly system (b) was adopted and has continued up to the present time. At the beer halls native trading is encouraged, and native caterers have facilities for cooking and disposing of victuals in a part of the building partitioned from the beer premises. The four beer halls are situated conveniently to where large numbers of natives are employed. All monies accruing are paid into the “Native Administration Fund,” and are expended on housing accommodation and hospitals, etc., for the natives. A clause in the Act restricts the maximum alcohol to 4 per cent., and beer may not be supplied to females or to natives under the age of 15 years. As a fact, in the Durban Brewery, the alcohol is never allowed to exceed 2½ per cent. The working of the Act is in the capable hands of Mr. C. F. Layman, adviser to the Borough Council on Native Administration.

The Brewing and the Malting
The quality of the beer (“Utywala”) as produced and supplied is maintained as closely as is possible to that which the consumer would procure in his native community, and no attempt is made to alter its main characteristics; but we have concentrated on making it uniform, and as free as possible from variations due to difference in grain and to weather. The grain used is the native “Amabele” (Sorghum Vulgare), and un-malted maize meal. This grain appears to malt earlier than barley or maize; small quantities of both we often find in consignments of corn going through the maltings.

Germination proceeds between the temperatures of 70-90° F., steeping occupies 15 to 40 hours, couching 2 days, withering 2 days, drying and curing 2 days. If the couch is turned or disturbed withering begins prematurely, and the corn is badly modified. We work at relatively shallow depths and regulate temperatures by covering or uncovering with boards. With care 75 per cent, of the grain usually germinates; if below this we adjust matters by using less raw grain in the mash.

Mashing: The usual composition of the mash is, raw maize meal 27.8 per cent., raw sorghum 37.6 per cent., and malted sorghum 34.0 per cent. The raw grain mash is run through the machine cold into the tun. The rakes are started, and hot liquor is added from the copper until the required length is reached. Raking is continued 1½ hours and the mash is pumped from the tun to stout wooden vessels. The temperature is now in the vicinity of 175° F.; this is reduced to 155° F. by running in cold liquor and the ground malted corn well roused in. The mash is left standing 8 or 10 hours, during which time it acidifies. This acidity is a requisite characteristic of the beer, and amounts to 0.40 per cent, expressed as acetic acid, and no doubt it is mainly lactic acid. After acidification the mash is boiled by steam coil in the same vessels for two hours, and then let down into shallow wooden coolers. Cooling is effected by cold water attemperators. As the temperature recedes fermentation be gins. This fermentation is not considered to be advantageous, and it is prevented or retarded by scalding and steaming the coolers immediately before dropping the mash from above. We attribute the fermentation at this stage to organisms in the vessels, as it does not occur in the winter months. The cooling usually, occupies 40 to 48 hours. Then finely ground malt to the extent of about 9 lb. per barrel is roused in. This addition of ground malt is the nearest approach we have to pitching. The whole is now dropped to the fermenting vessels below at a temperature of 80° F. The fermenting vessels arc glass-lined steel. The wort must never touch naked iron after acidification; the acid dissolves the iron readily. Vigorous fermentation quickly follows the pitching and the agitation caused by dropping to the fermenting vessels and a distinct crop of yeast is thrown up. This, however, quickly dissipates; if collected it immediately liquefies. At this stage the beer is very glutinous and thick, but as fermentation proceeds it becomes more manageable, and we are able to strain through coarse sieves (about 10 mesh) and later through finer sieves (30 mesh). These sieves are agitated by hand on wooden supports over a trough which leads to the beer store tanks below. All the coarse grain from the strainers is pressed and the filtrate beer run to the store tanks which are air-tight. At this stage the beer is still in an active state of fermentation; the gas, which is generated in the store tanks is therefore retained, and the continuing fermentation maintains the solid matter in suspension, and this is exactly as the consumer demands it. If the suspended matter should settle owing to the cessation of fermentation, the beer would be objected to.

Upon release the beer rapidly deteriorates; complaints and returns are avoided by the brewer being kept in constant touch with the extent of the daily demand. The possession of the monopoly and the availability of excellent information as to the varying spending capacity of the native, are factors of great assistance to the brewer in that it enables him to brew as close as possible to the demand. The beer does not keep, and is not expected to.

From start to finish the actual brewing takes four days. The output is upwards of 60 barrels a day. The original gravity is 1,035°. The alcohol is tested regularly by the Borough Analyst, and found to vary between 2 and 2.40 per cent, by weight.

Mr. E. K. Moritz, a visitor from England, was interested in the process and was good enough to make some microscopic examinations of samples of worts, etc., at different stages. He supplied the following observations:

1. Mash tun wort after acidifying but before boiling had the characteristic silky appearance of heavy saccharobacillus infection. As a fact, it was found to swarm with saccharo-bacilli. No other organisms were found.

2. The yeast outcrop from the un-pitched fermenting wort consisted entirely of active yeast.

3. Sample from un-pitched fermentation taken at 90o F. The sediment consisted mainly of the same active yeast as constituted the outcrop. Some quite small yeast cells and some rods were also found. The yeast found in sample #2 greatly predominated.

4. Sample from fermentation pitched at 6 a.m., and examined at midday.
The sediment consisted of a great many starch cells and of active yeasts of the same kind as in previous samples; also of small yeast cells and of cocci. The cocci were often in groups of considerable size. A few rod-bacteria were also present.

5. Sample of finished beer.
A great deal of yeast of apparently the same kind as found in previous samples, but now beginning to assume typical wild yeast shapes. A great number of rods, cocci of starch cells. No saccharobacilli.

6. “Pitching” Malt.
A maceration was made of this in water and the watery part separated, centrifuged, and sediment examined. Apart from starchv cells the sediment contained many wild yeasts, cocci, some rods, and sarcinae.

The boiling evidently kills the saccharobacilli, for these do not appear subsequent to boiling, but they are no doubt responsible for the main and normal acidification. When the beer acidifies excessively through over-storage, the further acidification is probably due to bacteria in the pitching malt, some derived from the plant and also from the surrounding air.

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