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EEnjoying a distinctly subtropical climate over most of the province, KwaZulu-Natal’s wine-route tours are still in their infancy – although vineyards on the higher, cooler slopes of the Central Drakensberg now support at least 3 wineries. However, the province’s climate is perfect for growing the ingredients for beer, so it offers a fabulous beer tour!
Following the KZN beer route is not just about drinking beer (although it goes without saying that you’ll be tipping many a tankard – make sure there’s a designated driver!) It also about discovering the history behind the brew and the art of beermaking from exceptional brew masters at 8 of the province’s breweries.
Start off at the Khangela Brewery in Durban, well known for umqombothi, a traditional African beer made from maize, maize malt, sorghum malt – which gives it its distinctive flavour – yeast and water.
Then head 24km down the South Coast on the M4. Near the town of Amanzimtoti lies the South African Breweries (SAB) Prospecton brewery, one of the most modern in the southern hemisphere. SAB is a direct subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, and the Prospecton plant offers daily tours on which you’ll learn all about the brewing and packaging process, followed by a pint in the pub. Book in advance, and you could also enjoy a beer-tasting session.
Heading inland on the N3, in the Durban residential suburb of Westville, the Firkin Hophouse Micro Brewery and Pub sits atop the Pavilion shopping mall, where lagers, ales and stouts are available on tap, along with its speciality brews, Foxx Lager and Foxx Red Ale.
A little further along the route from Durban to Pietermaritzburg you’ll find the beautiful Valley of a Thousand Hills, in which the Shongweni Brewery is nestled. It boasts 5 premium handcrafted beers. Tours of the facility are popular and include tastings.
Forming part of the Midlands Meander arts and crafts route, the Nottingham Road Brewing Company – found in the grounds of Rawdon’s Country Hotel, about 60km past Pietermaritzburg on the N3 and R103 – creates naturally brewed ales and lagers using spring water from a well on site, as well as quality hops and malted barley. Look out for quirky names like the Whistling Weasel Pale Ale and Pie-Eyed Possum Pilsner.
Then head back into Pietermaritzburg on the N3 and turn north-east onto the R33 and then the R614. The Wartburger Brauhaus in the town of Wartburg, 35km from Pietermaritzburg – which has a large population of German speakers – follows the dictates of the famed Reinheitsgebot (the ‘purity law’ that governs traditional German beer-making) to create freshly brewed beer every week. Using imported ingredients from Germany, Swiss and Bavarian brewing partners produce Wartburg Brauhaus Helles, described as midway between a pilsner and a lager.
The coal-mining town of Dundee further north in the province, often at the centre of fierce conflicts between Boer, Brit and Zulu during the wars of the 19th Century, attracts many war-history fans to the Battlefields Route. But you can also taste a different beer, while you’re here.
Dundee is home to iJuba-United National Brewery, which produces and distributes a mild sorghum beer that is one of the most popular commercial brews in the country. Known as iJuba (‘dove’ in isiZulu), the beer is made using traditional Zulu brewing methods. Also sample its Nini-Nanini – sorghum beer with a banana or pineapple flavour.
However, Dundee might be a little off the beaten track if you’re based in Durban or Pietermaritzburg. Your final stop is well worth the effort, though, so don’t skip it.
Head north up the coast from Durban or Pietermaritzburg on the N2 (reached from either city via the N3), turn off at Exit 277 (about 110km from Durban), and drive 30km inland to Eshowe.
Zulu Blonde Beer was born at Eshowe’s Zululand Brewery, founded in 1997 by the Chennells family. This flagship beer was launched internationally in 2010 to supply 800 pubs for the JD Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival. Out of 50 different ales, Zulu Blonde was voted No. 1 and sold out in the first week of the 3-week festival.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Best time to visit
Any time of year, but summers (November to February) are hot and thirsty, so this makes it an ideal time to tour. If, however, the roar of a fire and companionship in a cosy pub sounds appealing, rather do it in winter (June to August).
Around the area
The Midlands Meander art and craft route features more than 200 places to visit and browse for books, wooden items, rugs, furniture, curios, foodstuffs and loads more. The coasts north and south of Durban, as well as the city itself, are plentifully supplied with beach, water-sport and adventure activities, with game parks and nature reserves in between.
Tours to do
A KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander tour.
Self-driving allows you to visit the KZN Beer Tour destinations in any order you choose, while stopping whenever you like to explore other attractions.
Length of stay
With the exception of Dundee, you could visit all the other stops on the tour over a long weekend – but you could just as easily spend a week or 2 exploring KwaZulu-Natal in detail and stopping at all the beery attractions along the way.
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