Darling Brew has built a reputation for quality around its slow brewing process, creating a wide range of craft beers loved for their flavour and unique characteristics
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Moving away from his clothing retail background in 2010, Kevin Wood, Managing Director of Darling Brew, began an exciting venture into the relatively unknown world of South African craft beer brewing.
Darling Brew was inspired by a trip around Africa in October, 2007, originally with the sole purpose of seeing as much wildlife as possible with an undecided return date; however, an unexpected discovery three days into the trip, Wood stumbled into an idea to bring to life in Darling.
“When we first began, it was like being sat at the bottom of a cliff for a couple of years, finding our feet while we figured out how to make our way up,” explains Wood. “We have been particularly successful in gaining an invaluable understanding of the processes that make the industry thrive; it has been a very interesting ride so far.”
The Company keeps a relatively small product line in order to focus on the produce it is selling. With six core products in its range and four seasonal beers each season, Darling Brew is extremely focused on its research and development (R&D) which enables focus on the brand.
“It is important to keep a key focus on the brand as I believe your core range is always going to provide the majority of your turnover,” affirms Wood. “I always think that through developing new products, we keep ourselves competitive by establishing a new bottle that could potentially knock one of our core range off its pedestal.”
Bringing attention to wildlife
At Darling Brew, the Company’s branding has a recognisably contemporary design, with the aim of bringing people’s attention to the plethora of endangered wildlife in Southern Africa. By not just focusing on the bigger and more popular animals such as the elephant - which is regularly publicised - it is drawing attention to the smaller animals that need supporting.
“We have found a brilliant way of drawing attention to these animals through our branding,” continues Wood. “Each beer has a unique characteristic which is based around the endangered animal that it honours and supports, providing the much needed publicity and education required to make a difference.”
Branding is often something that isn’t utilised properly by companies, particularly those in the craft beer industry that will usually tend to focus on creating a shock tactic, whereas Darling Brewery is designed with the purpose of protecting the environment; in 2016 becoming the first in Africa to bring out a carbon neutral beer named Blood Serpent.
“Because of our surrounding wildlife platform, we have also involved ourselves in a few projects, for example one of our beers is named Thunder Bird, after the southern ground hornbill which is listed as endangered presently,” describes Wood. “We are working with Mabula Lodge, where there is a PHD student focused on the Southern Ground Hornbill, and to aid her research we donate a proportion of our profits on Thunder Bird to her project.”
Investment in expertise
The Company has come a very long way in a relatively short space of time, having to gain vast amounts of expertise and experience in the industry in order to gain the high standing in the industry that it holds now.
“Investing in a state-of-the-art brewery has been the biggest and best decision we could have made to drive the Company forward,” Wood adds. “When we started out the most viable option was using a small turnkey brewery; however, our contract quickly grew and was becoming unsustainable in the limited space we had.
“We had done our homework on the best possible options available to us, and now that we are able to control not only the recipe but also the quality, it has made huge improvements to the production of consistently high standards.”
When it comes to producing quality always, Darling Brew has honed in on achieving this with the equipment it now uses which eliminates imperfections in consistency. This has been achieved through years of hard work and dedication to perfecting processes.
Wood continues: “It has never been about finding a quick fix for us, you can’t just fling in ingredients and hope that it comes out okay, you’ll still need to work incredibly hard at all times.”
The fact that Darling Brew isn’t located in a first world country has posed great challenges during the past seven years, particularly when it came to collating the right skills in terms of brewing. The managerial side was naturally easier to establish, however being a relatively new Company in the craft brewing industry - as opposed to the industrial brewing - there was and is a much smaller well of information to dip into.
“In my experience, we have found that industrial brewers tend to be the engineers of the trade, whereas craft brewing is focused a lot more on creativity and innovation,” continues Wood. “I believe things are getting a little easier now in terms of the ability to up-skill as the industry is experiencing good growth.”
A huge plus point for Darling Brew is the location, now as one of the biggest craft breweries located in South Africa, its two biggest competitors are city based, differing greatly from the beauty that the Company has to offer its visitors.
“It’s become a bit of a David and Goliath situation between us and the competition,” describes Wood. “Our service as a smaller company is something that we particularly pride ourselves on, alongside the key drivers of location, quality and branding.”
The current strategy for Darling Brewery when looking to the future, is to become iconic on the world stage, however, achieving this will most definitely be the pinnacle to be reached as part of a long-term plan for the Company.
“It is only recently that we have attempted to export out to Shanghai and Hong Kong, in the past two weeks to be exact, so we are certainly on the right path to achieve our goals in the next three to five years,” concludes Wood. “However at present we haven’t established 80 percent of our core business, so before we can expand we must truly cement ourselves and our reputation in South Africa. Of course focusing on our international journey and building a new brewery upcountry in time will make us more profitable, but to get there we will continue to work on the processes that have brought us success so far and increase in scale as we go.”