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food / travel

German Brewing Secrets Turn Namibia Into Unlikely Beer-Making Mecca

Windhoek Lager has won eight gold medals since 2005
Windhoek Lager has won eight gold medals since 2005
Sebastian Geisler

Reinheitsgebot is the name of the German Beer Purity Law, which states that only barley, water and hops may go into beer.

Reinheitsgebot is also the best-known German word in Namibia. April 23, marked the 497th anniversary of the proclamation of that law in Bavaria, and in Namibia the anniversary is always cause for celebration. That’s because one of the world’s top beers is brewed in this former German colony in southwest Africa – Windhoek Lager, named after Namibia’s capital city.

Is the beer made in accordance with the German law? “Absolutely!” says master brewer Christian Müller. An African of German heritage, Müller says that German beer has become part of Namibian culture. His pride in Windhoek Lager is matched by the appreciation it gets elsewhere – such as the prestigious international DLG quality test organized by the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (German Agricultural Society), which has earned Windhoek eight gold medals since 2005.

In Germany, Windhoek Lager is mostly known among beer enthusiasts, but there’s a fan base across Europe – and not only because African-German lager beer has curiosity value. "The success of a beer is always determined by its taste," Müller says.

German quality

The law establishing Namibia’s "German Beer Day" was proclaimed in 1516 by Wilhelm IV, Duke of Bavaria. "Every Namibian knows what it is," says Müller.

And the Africans take it very seriously. Each step of the brewing process is carefully watched by workers sitting in front of flat-screen monitors. Müller patrols the halls where the beer, or what will later become beer, makes its way through an impressive system of pipes and huge steel vats. A general rule of thumb in this desert country is – what comes from Germany is quality.

Every year, Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) in Windhoek produces 214 million liters of beer – including the extremely popular Tafel Lager. It also has licenses to brew or distribute well-known brands like Heineken and Guinness, and for the annual German-Namibian Carnival it makes a special beer much enjoyed by merrymakers wearing traditional German dress.

Some 60% of NBL’s production is presently exported to South Africa and over 20 other countries around the world. But the company is in full expansion, producing 20,000 bottles of Windhoek Lager an hour requiring brewery workers to rotate on four shifts.

After the day’s work, everybody gathers at the Felsenkeller tavern in the brewery complex for some freshly tapped beer. "Prost!" (cheers) Müller calls out. That’s another German word everybody knows in Namibia.

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