Meet the Beer Merchant

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Meet the Beer Merchant
Get In Touch
Meet the Beer Merchant
Get In Touch

In celebration of International Beer Day, we speak to owner of the Beer Merchant, and one of the founders of the ever-popular Cape Town Festival of Beer, Martin Tucker.

Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Your background in beer, how you came to be involved in the industry and your focus now?

I've always been in the hospitality industry and by default, the alcohol industry, since being a barman many years ago as a student and as a waiter before that, and later owning a couple of bars. I was trying to start a nightclub in the Waterfront (which proved unsuccessful, I might add) and whilst awaiting the liquor licence, and various permissions, I was sitting daily and learning about beer from German master brewer, Wolfgang Koedel, at the Paulaner Brauhaus, whilst drinking and discussing beer styles and tasting with him to while away the time. This then led to opening a few of the first craft beer stands at the local markets, starting a beer festival and a draught dispensing venture to eventually coming full circle, moving into the craft beer distribution game and now recently adding an online door to door delivery service.

You’re something of a beer aficionado. Do you have a favourite local brew?

I'm definitely not as educated a judge of beer as some of the qualified BJCP judges, but I like to think I've had enough, with enough knowledgeable people, to know a thing or two. It is completely subjective though and also depends on the time of year, time of day, weather, food pairing... the list goes on. I love the Devil's Peak Good Hope Pale Ale as well as the CBC Amber Weiss and the Franschhoek Stout, but there are many others that are great. These are just more freely available and I find myself drinking them more often.

How do the local Western Cape craft beers compare to the rest of the world?

Some of our local beers, if judged and tasted blind and compared side by side with some of the world's best, would do very well, however, it is a matter of consistency over time and availability, and this is where some have struggled. One batch might be amazing and brewed perfectly to style, then the next is found wanting. When we improve that, we will be right up there. Some breweries do this well, in particular, the larger craft brewers with some of their core products.

How did the Cape Town Festival of Beer get started?

My partners and I thought to ourselves: why are there whisky festivals, wine festivals, beer fests with only one type of beer, and even champagne festivals, but no festivals where lots of beers can be sampled? A place where brewers and importers meet and interact with consumers, and knowledge passed on about home brewing and starting microbreweries, recipe development, malt and hop suppliers and much more? So in 2009, we started planning and in 2010 launched our first Cape Town Festival of Beer. We had our tenth event in November last year and have also done two Johannesburg Festival of Beers. We started with about 1500 people in year one and now have almost 10 000 over 3 days. This year is touch and go with the lockdowns and social distancing, so let's see how it pans out.

What’s next for the festival?

We had some international brewers coming out this year, as well as interesting new angles on the format for tasting and judging, plus diversifying into beer related drinks, that we never had before.

How does the craft beer scene in the Western Cape compare to the rest of the country/world in terms of size, popularity, knowledge? How has is changed since you first got involved.

Craft beer is bigger here than anywhere else in South Africa and I think we have the wine industry to thank for that. Many wine lovers have a tasting background and many wine makers understand the science of fermentation and utilised this and their liquor licences to kick off. However, there are also many home brewers who have gone up a level to starting a business brewing, doing what they love. There are also many lovers of craft and micro-brewed beer all over South Africa and in the smallest places, like Elim, Darling, Parys, Eshowe, Limpopo, etc. We were definitely growing very fast a year or two ago, but think COVID will nip that in the bud and unfortunately make us go backwards and cause a few closures.

How will you celebrate Beer Day this year?

Drinking beer, if I'm allowed to!

For more information on the Cape Town Festival of Beer visit their website