As the biggest local brewer rises from the ashes of the hefty alcohol levy with exciting news of the return of the country’s premium local beer, St Louis Export, Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES proposes a toast. He shares why it is of national importance that the ‘Export’ is back
Finally exciting news for patriotic beer lovers! Tinkling in like the heartwarming sounds of the Happy Hour bell announcing the best time of the day during a hot evening in a Gaborone beer joint are news that the Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) has brought back its award-winning local premium beer, St Louis Export after halting its production in 2016.
The St Louis Export is one of the KBL beverages that did not survive the burden of the former president Ian Khama’s punitive alcohol levy that drove beer guzzlers to the more potent spirits because of sky rocketing alcohol prices.
Early this month, after the announcement of the reduction of the alcohol levy, KBL reported how that levy nearly destroyed the country’s favourite beer.
Sefalana Group (holding company for KBL) managing director, Chandra Chauhan said, “Botswana used to be St Louis country, making up to 60% of our sales, but now it’s Carling Black Label”.
He said, “We made our people drink strong substances to get high. At one point, we used to export St Louis to South Africa, but now it’s a dead product”.
During the good old days, when Botswana was St Louis country, when this Special Light was the beer of choice, when it was the perfect thirst quencher for the Kgalagadi heat, KBL in 2009 introduced St Louis Export, which was initially positioned to tap into the premium beer market that preferred a green bottle and attractive labelling.
KBL prided itself in the new beer by selling it with a trendy tagline, ‘Every Glass, World Class’.
St Louis Export later won the coveted international Monde Silver and Gold Awards in 2012 and 2013 respectively, which was a big testament to KBL that they indeed were brewing a world-class beer.
In 2012, KBL brought the Export lovers at the now defunct O’Hagans Pub for the launch of the draught version of the beer.
The draught was a welcome ‘refreshing taste’ that many Export lovers, including our current Editor, gave the big thumbs up. But as fate would have it, Khama’s alcohol levy and reduced trading hours that were imposed in 2008 proved disastrous for the new ‘Export’ – as its lovers affectionately called it.
In 2016, KBL reported a negative growth of the traditional beer and decided to scrap out Export.
This was, however, during the period of ‘impressive growth’ of the alcoholic fruit beverage category like Redds Vodka Lemon and Core Original.
So many people dumped
It looks like the glorious days are coming back as this evening at Happy Hour, KBL will be re-launching the St Louis Export two years after pulling the plug on its production.
It remains to be seen whether its old customers, who could have possibly acquired new tastes for new entrants lagers like Budweiser that rode on the FIFA World Cup fame, would switch back to their old local premium beer.
The return of the St Louis Export is a welcome development for the cultural identity of the country. Every country prides itself in its favourite beverage.
In southern Africa for instance, the Namibians drink their Windhoek Lager named after their capital city. The Angolans love their Cuca and Cuca Pretta.
The Zambians when they take a break from bootlegged spirits they drink Mosi Lager (named after Mosi-oa-Tunya - better known as Victoria Falls). The Zimbabweans have the Zambezi Lager named after the great Zambezi River.
The South Africans pride themselves in Castle Lager together with the Carling Black Label beer.
In the high mountains of Lesotho, Basotho drink Maluti, While the Swazi in eSwatini have arguably the best beer in Southern Africa, called Sibebe, named after a rock.
On the west coast, along the Indian Ocean throughout the beautiful sandy beaches of Mozambique, 2M Lager (pronounced ‘dois’ M – two for Portuguese) is the country’s favourite beer.
Along the Lake of Stars under the shades of Mango trees in Malawi, Kuchekuche Lager is the national beer that is loved by all.
So in Botswana, the country’s national beer, St Louis Special Light at 3.5 percent alcohol content has been dumped by many beer lovers because it was regarded as just ‘flavoured water’ due to its low alcohol percentage.
The drinkers, who were hard hit with exorbitant beer prices got desperate and opted for more potent beers.
So the return of St Louis Export, which is more potent than the Special Light at 4.7 percent alcohol could wrestle with popular beers like Castle Light and return the pride of Botswana’s local beer.
Botswana can now happily welcome thirsty travellers with a potent refreshing taste of the St Louis Export and boost cultural tourism. And may we please toast to that!