UKZN Team Win Top Prizes in Microbrewery CompetitionAgriculture, Engineering & Science

The UKZN-PMB SAB Intervarsity Brewing Competition Team 2016 (from left): Ms Mbali Mbonambi, Mr Nkosingizwile Xulu, Ms Zikhona Buyeye, Ms Thabiso Mathe, Ms Sandipa Bhikraj, Mr Keletso Makhetha, Ms Heather Tredgold, Mr Leigh Hunter, and Mr Matthew van Wyngaard.The UKZN-PMB SAB Intervarsity Brewing Competition Team 2016 (from left): Ms Mbali Mbonambi, Mr Nkosingizwile Xulu, Ms Zikhona Buyeye, Ms Thabiso Mathe, Ms Sandipa Bhikraj, Mr Keletso Makhetha, Ms Heather Tredgold, Mr Leigh Hunter, and Mr Matthew van Wyngaard.

An interdisciplinary team of UKZN staff and students from the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science on the Pietermaritzburg campus scooped first and second prizes in their respective categories in the South African Breweries (SAB) 9th annual Beer Brewing Challenge.

Their brews, South Malle Trappist Single and Ghenta Belgian Double Mango India Pale Ale, won second and first prizes in the Trappist Single and Fruit Beer categories. Judges described the Trappist Single as a good example of the style with good hops bitterness, and the fruit beer as having a complex flavour profile characterised by a mango flavour followed by hops flavours.

UKZN’s team was organised by Dr Charles Hunter, who facilitated the team’s involvement and liaised with SAB, and assisted with finances.

Mr Matthew van Wyngaard led the team comprising Ms Heather Tredgold, Ms Mbali Mbonambi, Ms Thabiso Mathe, and Mr Keletso Makhetha of the Microbiology Department; Ms Leigh Hunter, Ms Sandipa Bhikraj and Mr Nkosingizwile Xulu of the Chemistry Department, and Ms Zikhona Buyeye of Agricultural Engineering.

Van Wyngaard has been involved in the competition since it was launched in 2007, while Tredgold, Hunter, Bhikraj, and Xulu are ‘repeat offenders,’ having participated before.

Tredgold and van Wyngaard related how the microbrewery was created amid friendly rivalry between Microbiology and Chemical Technology in the early 2000s, when interdepartmental competitions were held and judged by SAB. This led to progress from ‘kit’ brews thanks to a pilot-scale microbrewery sponsored by SAB to brew ‘real’ beer. Thirteen years later, there are now 15 such SAB-sponsored microbrewery systems at tertiary institutions nationally, and postgraduate students at UKZN across multiple disciplines have conducted research on aspects of beer and the brewing process.

Van Wyngaard and Tredgold became involved initially after being part of Microbiology Honours classes and getting the opportunity to develop a recipe and brew a beer on a microbrewery system. This inspired van Wyngaard to develop his skills as a small-scale brewer and he continues to assist with brewing practicals.

‘I believe it is important to pass this knowledge down to successive students and teams, and to encourage team members from previous years to get involved again,’ said van Wyngaard.

‘Having multidisciplinary team members is important to make each brew a more co-operative effort.’

Participation in this competition enables students to demonstrate their brewing expertise and to benchmark themselves against students from other institutions, as well as network with the industry. The teamwork, innovation and creativity required, as well as the vocational training in using an industrial production system, afford students a unique experience of putting theory into practice.

Hunter points out that beer brewing is a good example of an economically important microbial bioprocess and has been used to illustrate and demonstrate important concepts relating to industrial fermentation processes. The micro-brewery serves as a valuable teaching aid for students in relevant disciplines.

Mastering the brewing process allows students to sample and critically assess the fruits of their labours!

Christine Cuénod