Newlands’ gold lies in its spring beer

A statue of Charles Glass outside the Newlands Brewery.

While there have been many changes at the Newlands Brewery over the past two centuries, one ingredient has remained the same in the making of its beer – its natural spring water, which flows through Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain.

The Newlands Brewery, a historic institution in the southern suburbs, will celebrate its 200th birthday next year.

The first commercial brewery was the original Mariendahl Brewery built by Swedish fugitive Jacob Letterstedt in 1859.

When he arrived in Cape Town, fleeing his creditors, he started working as a gardener for Louwvliet and Questenburg farm owner Maria Dreyer. The two eventually married. He named the brewery Mariendahl which means “for Maria”.

Before his death, he returned to Sweden and left the land to his daughter, Lydia, who sold it to Anders Ohlsson.

Mr Ohlsson initially leased the Mariendahl Brewery before buying it in 1889 for 3 500 pounds.

The land housing the Newlands Rugby Stadium was bought in the same year by the Western Province Rugby Union for 2 500 pounds.

With the purchase of the breweries came access rights to two springs on the mountain, which the Newlands Brewery continues to use today as part of its beer-making process.

Newlands Brewery tour guide Andile Majola said Mr Ohlsson was responsible for the formation of the Ohlsson’s Cape Brewing Company. Its flagship beer, Lion Lager, was pulled from the market in the late 1990s, early 2000s due to a drop in sales.

Mr Majola said they officially re-introduced Lion Lager beer in 2016 as they wanted another proudly South African beer on the books before the Anheuser-Busch InBev take over.

Mr Majola said Charles Glass, who many believed was a fictional character created by their marketing team, was instrumental in the formation of the South African Breweries (SAB).

Mr Glass arrived in South Africa in 1888 from the UK and came here to make his money in gold but soon found that there was more money to be made in beer and started brewing.

He started Castle Breweries as a company in Johannesburg which expanded across the country.

In 1895 Charles Glass’s Castle merged with Union Breweries – one of the larger breweries in KwaZulu-Natal – which gave birth to South African Breweries (SAB) which turns 124 years old this year.

“Charles Glass always had his eye on property in Newlands because of the spring water but had to wait a while before becoming part of the family,” said Mr Majola.

In 1956, SAB bought out Ohlsson’s Cape Brewing Company and Newlands Brewery became part of its stable. SAB merged with the Miller Brewing Company making it the second largest brewering company in the world as SABMiller.

When SAB took ownership in 1956, the original buildings – the old Malt House, Oast House and Mariendahl Tower Brewery – still stood proud. In the early 1990s SAB undertook a major renovation of the historic buildings and in October 1995, these buildings were granted national heritage status and stand as monuments to a proud tradition dating back to 1820.

In 2015 the Mariendahl Brewery was re-established and now brews its own craft beers. Once exclusive to the tap, Newlands Spring Brewing Co. is now available in bottle.

Mr Majola said the old Castle Brewery could still be found today in Woodstock but these days it’s an office block.

AB InBev took over SAB in 2016 for a final price of R1.4 trillion and now hold around a 33% market share of beer around the world.