The roots of Stellar Brewery can be traced back to the friendship between two schoolboys, which started in 1975 at Grey College in Bloemfontein. And the crafted beer and gin produced by Stellar Brewery in Bloemfontein today, flows with the companionship and loyalty of this friendship that withstood the test of time.
Anton Viljoen is the businessman with a head for numbers. Leon du Toit is the brewer – with more than 25 years’ experience – for whom brewing and fermenting beer is an art, flowing from the heart and soul. Today they are still good friends and respectively Managing Director and Director (Brewing Operations) of Stellar Brewery.
The other team members are Jan Lewtak, an engineer with a doctorate in chemistry, bringing scientific knowledge and knowhow to the table, and SP de Waal, a qualified land surveyor. They both have experience in beer brewing, while Jan is also an expert in distillation.
Between them they have over the years won quite a number of medals at the National Home Brewers Competition, reflecting the quality of the beer and gin produced at the brewery in Bloemfontein.
How it all started
After going to school together at the legendary Grey College in Bloemfontein, Anton Viljoen and Leon du Toit had kept contact over the years. Life took them in different directions, Anton working as an financial Manager for major groups in the South African hospitality industry, Leon working in the IT Department of the University of the Free State for more than twenty years, while also pursuing his brewing goals as a side-line.
Anton had always been very interested in his friend’s special abilities to brew quality beers, and kept on urging him to join him in a venture to start their own brewery. In the meanwhile, he had progressed to Area Financial Manager at a hotel and casino group, working from Bloemfontein. Towards the end of 2011 Anton left the hotel group and entered the local business world.
In 2011 he bought a property in Maasdorp Street in East End in Bloemfontein. In 2013 him and Leon started with the lengthy process to obtain the necessary licensing. Eventually, in the beginning of 2016, everything was ready for Stellar Brewery to produce its first beer, which happened in July of that year.
In that year SP and Jan also joined the team, bringing their respective expertise and passion to the vibrant, young company, which was now set to reach for the stars . . .
What’s in a name
It was probably written in the stars – as the old saying goes – that a brewery creating such fine products would derive its name from the heavens above. On the one hand, the word “stellar” is an adjective, relating to a star or stars, as in a “stellar structure and evolution”. On the other hand, the word is informally used with reference to “featuring or having the quality of a star performer or performers”, also meaning “exceptionally good and outstanding” (according to the Oxford Dictionary).
All these meanings are indeed very relevant when used in connection with Stellar Brewery, the strong bonds of friendship that underlies its philosophy and activities, and the beautiful products produced by its people.
Geared for the future
Stellar Brewery is now geared for expansion. At the complex, plans are underway to transform a part of the existing cellar area into a VIP area, including a cool room, for exclusive clients.
Another plan is to promote the premises as a venue for young and upcoming local music artists to perform. Two stages have already been built.
The Ice Room coincidentally derived its name from an event held here in May 2017. The Fermenters Club of Bloemfontein presented the Industrial Craft Experience (ICE) at the brewery, attended by 200 people. The event, held in late autumn with konkas of fire and hew bales as seating, was a huge success. Three bands performed and all the tickets were sold out. The plan is to organise events like these more regularly.
Stellar is also ready to enter new markets, in the bigger centres in the country as well as overseas.
A bigger focus on boutique, specialist beers is on the table. Jan Lewtak has already brewed an exceptional example, a Russian Imperial Stout with a 10,6% alcohol content, which was aged over four years in a wooden vat. The plan is furthermore to concentrate more on Belgian beers, and on smaller batches.
Meanwhile, the main motivation is still the satisfaction derived from producing premium products, and receiving great feedback from clients, for whom new worlds have opened after tasting this fine craft beer and gin.