Meet A… Brewer
JC Steyn is the general manager-slash-head brewer over at the Devils Peak Brewing Company.
“As well as janitor and maintenance manager.” he’s quick to add.
Okay, so the guy is busy, still, that’s not too bad a gig. Working in a brewery is the dream right? Well, kind of, but not when you need to be at work first thing New Year’s morning.
“That was probably the worst day of my life,” says JC. “I thought I was literally going to die.”
Otherwise it’s all smiles juggling the tasting and testing duties in order to come up with the Devil’s Peak Brewing Company’s beers.
Growing up in Durbanville, JC studied winemaking in Stellenbosch and then went on to work at Signal Hill Winery and Dornier for about a decade. It was while working as head winemaker and viticulture manager there that JC started to yearn for the city’s lights.
“I lived in Newlands at the time, but had to stay on the farm during harvest and would go out of my mind. I’m a city boy.”
You look at all your craft breweries in the states and you’ll notice how important a sense of place is. There’s a revival happening in Woodstock, and JC enjoys the fast pace of town and discovering all the hidden gems that Cape Town has to offer.
But what business does a winemaker have making beer?
“The fermentation side is similar. The brewing side is actually more structured with beer. Everything has to follow a process from beginning to end. You need to replicate every step. Wine is a lot about your vintage conditions, or blaming the vintage conditions: rain, heat, season… all these things determine your wine.”
Beer is a lot more consistent.
“Good brewing is a marriage between art and science. Taking an artistic concept and then using science to get it to where you want it. You have to be able to repeat a process in order to ensure that everything is done right.”
Still the beers change. Take the Devil’s Peak Golden Ale for example.
“You release a beer with the intentions of how you want it to be, but then you see how the market reacts and then tweak it over time. Two years ago the Golden Ale was a lot fruiter and a bit more bitter, but because we’re a lager nation not everyone likes fruity and bitter beers. We needed a crowd pleaser, and while it’s still an American Golden Ale in style, it has changed since inception.”
JC wants to help usher beer into a place previously reserved for wines. Beer tours, beer guides, beer lists at restaurants… that type of thing.
Sure he loves wine, grew up with wine, studied wine, but craft beer now has the same opportunity, and is having the same effect on people, in a way that wasn’t the case ten years ago. It used to be that a certain green bottled beer was the most exotic beer you could order. Now craft has a whole culture around it and is a balls out statement of beer making machismo.
“I’d like it to go as big as it can. We’ll grow as the market grows. We’ve got the basement downstairs that we could expand into – make that our packaging facility and storage – and if we max out here we could go to Johannesburg. We’re already sending so much beer up there at the moment.”
Last question – What’s your favourite beer?
“The Black Rye IPA. Definitely!”
Read more about JC’s approach to brewing here.