Something’s Brewing in the Food Science and Technology Building at CPUT!

In 2014, a few novice brewers , including staff and students, knocked together a special brew for the national Inter-varsity brewing competition. And they won a prize for their Rooibru. This was an interesting start to what is now an amazing journey for the personnel involved as they have grown, honed and improved their skills in this art  posing as science (or vice versa).

Some history: this entry into fermentation heaven was started off by then South African Breweries donating toward an entry level micro-brewing system. This had been done at a number of Engineering departments at other universities over the years in order to stimulate an interest in brewing among students. And hence also the development of an inter-varsity competition. Placing a unit at a Department of Food Science & Technology was a first in South Africa.

However, staff at the department decided on a  different route to that of previous donated breweries i.e. one built with hygienic design principles in mind. And so it came to pass that an albeit rudimentary, but definitely functional, micro-brewing system was born. And every year, since its inception, CPUT students have been winning awards at the inter-varsity, which included cash, the latter which was then used to improve the brewing system.

In 2014, Rooibru won the “Ben Lamaletie” IBD Intervarsity Beer Brewing Challenge Floating Trophy, the top honour Castle Lager Best Bru Award, as well as the Carling Black Label Champion Lager. In 2015 we won the Best Speciality brew (Tipsy Inyanga), best Label in 2016 and Best Cider (Apple Adventure) in 2017 at the inter-varsity, which included cash which was then used to improve the brewing system.  The Best Lager (Munich Dunkel) was awarded to CPUT in 2018 which is characterized by depth, richness and complexity typical of darker Munich malts with the accompanying Maillard reaction products.

Dr. Keyser on left with Team receiving an award

The first significant change resulted in the brewing system being capable of gravity filtration between the Lauter tun and the Wort kettle. This, together with the installation of a more powerful pump, greatly facilitated this important separation step. From there it consistently grew in functionality. Right now we are on the brink of receiving our upgraded system from benefactors and partners (Robotic Handling Systems and Beckhoff) who had offered to assist with adding a Programmable Logic Controller to better monitor, control and record different elements of the brewing process. The intention is to add as many electronic sensors as possible to the micro-brewing setup over time in order to obtain real-time profiles of what is happening during brewing. This is in keeping with the 4th Industrial Revolution concept as well as the Internet of Things.

CPUT has, in its 2030 grand plan, identified 4IR as a major element of future training and curriculum development. And so has much of the world if you watch science and technology news streams. In tandem with this, the Agrifood Technology Station (ATS) is in the process of putting together a proposal for a 4IR-related project in terms of employing sensor technology more widely in the SMME sector of the food industry to improve efficiency.

Coming back to brewing: as much as brewing is a young element of research being done at CPUT, it is intended that this will be grown in terms of postgraduate study but also as an area where collaboration with micro-brewers can be developed. How about becoming an experimental facility for micro-brewers who can play around with brewing profiles without compromising their own commercial brewing program. Intended areas for collaboration include analytical services (colour, carbon dioxide, enzyme activity, humulones, isohumulones, density, etc.), shelf-life analysis, and also training for entry-level brewers.

Another aspect that has developed significantly over the years is the broadening and deepening of the skills and knowledge-base in terms of our brewing team. From the humble beginnings of Dr Keyser and two MTech students, we presently have the support of three BTech, two Master’s and one Doctoral student. Our most recent focus areas include indigenous brews such as umqombhoti, low alcohol beer as well as improving and extending our range of yeast cultures.

We are also proud of our partnership with the University of Applied Sciences, Osnabruck, Germany who owns a pilot scale brewery. Exchanges thus far resulted in their brewing of our “Rooibru” during a festival, in honor of the late President Mandela, in Osnabruck. Very high praise was heaped on this beer by the fortunate consumers. This news was very pleasing considering that German beer drinkers can rightly be considered discerning.

This is just the start! Keep an eye … hic! …. on this page!!

Larry Dolley (on be half of the Brewing Team)