200 year-old malt varieties. A 400 year-old beer scene. And a brewery with a freshwater spring.
As home to the oldest commercial brewery in South Africa, our Newlands Brewery in Cape Town, pours centuries of brewing expertise into every bottle. Here’s a look at how this one-of-a-kind operation that brews beloved favorites like Castle Lager and Carling Black Label, continues to make history as it celebrates 200 years.
It starts with a love story
Newlands history goes all the way back to 1652, when Dutch navigator Jan van Riebeeck arrived on the Cape, setting up a waystation for trading. But what’s a waystation without beer? Exactly. So naturally, Jan built a brewery at the refreshment station.
Five years later, 1657 Pieter Visage was granted the first brewing license in Newlands, along the banks of the Liesbeek River, which would become the primary water source for the operation. But by the 1670s, the land had transformed into a vineyard and later a distillery.
The region’s brewing scene consisted of small farm breweries for 150 years – until Jacob Letterstedt arrived in Cape Town. He started work as a gardener for Newlands widower, Maria Dreyer, but horticulture led to love, and the two were married. By the mid-1800s, Jacob was building the Mariendahl Brewery in Newlands, naming it after his wife.
Fast forward almost 30 years. Jacob’s daughter Lydia and her husband leased the operation to Anders Ohlsson in 1888. In 1889 Anders officially purchased The Mariendahl Brewery, along with the same freshwater spring rights that remain today.
South African Breweries (SAB) purchased Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries in 1956, but Anders’ legacy can still be seen today, in a conifer tree that he planted (known as the “turn around tree” where horsecarts used to turn around at the brewery) which was preserved during the construction of the current SAB warehouse. The original Mariendahl Brewery and original cellars are now a well-preserved heritage building, and serve as the “heart” of the operation and home to the craft brewery, Newlands Spring.
Where ancient recipes and fresh new flavors meet
Remember Jacob Letterstedt, who turned his love for gardening into a love for beer-making? In a tribute to the founder, our Newlands brewers developed Jacob’s Pale Ale, a traditional, rich ale loosely based off Jacob’s handwritten recipe that was discovered hidden in a book inside a storeroom.
But the historical homages don’t end there. In honor of its anniversary, Newlands Spring Brewery Co. created “The 200” a free-style ale with a creamy, mango and citrus flavor with peppery undertones, using a malt variety that dates back to 1824.
“It all started with our spring water and celebrating its unique characteristics,” said head brewer Warren Wiese. “The recipe was created to mimic the conditions a brewer would have encountered all those years ago, using carefully selected local and heritage, barley, hops and yeasts with ties to country’s rich historical past.”
Although COVID-19 had other plans for the anniversary brew, and operations are temporarily paused, the Newlands Spring team eagerly awaits releasing ‘The 200' in 2021.
In addition to Jacob’s Pale Ale and The 200, Newlands Spring Brewing Company also produces three standard craft beers – Tribute Lager, Mountain Weiss and Passionate Blonde – as well as ad hoc specialty brews released seasonally.
Protecting the past and Newlands future
Water from the Newlands spring has been used to brew millions of beers over the past 400 years. But it’s also been a vital water source for the local community - one that the SAB team rigorously protects. Along with being one of AB InBev’s most efficient breweries when it comes to water usage, the Newlands team also is making meaningful changes to sustain this historic brewery and its natural resources for future generations.
- Water Conservation: In partnership with the Friends of the Liesbeek Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to rehabilitating, enhancing and conserving the river, the team provides financial contributions, and takes part in river clean-ups and helps remove invasive plants.
- Drought Relief: During the worst drought in Cape Town’s history (2017-2018), Newlands Brewery, in partnership with the municipality, opened up a dedicated spring water collection point for the public which allowed people to collect water for free.
- Renewable Energy: The addition of new solar panels on the brewery roof has Newlands on its way to producing 25,000 kWh of energy a day!
- Plastic Reduction: The team is currently testing a line of plastic-free packaging, using only recyclable products, glass bottles and cardboard packaging.
Like beer, Newlands Brewery has withstood the tests of time. With its passionate team and commitment to preserving its history, we can’t wait to see what they brew up next for the beer-lovers of South Africa!