Katrine Anker-Nilssen meets the two ladies behind Clockwork Brewhouse…
Megan Gemmell, with an Honours Degree in Biochemistry and a Master’s Degree in Microbiology, grew up in Pietermaritzburg and discovered her love of brewing at university. She took it to a commercial level in 2014, becoming a full time brewer three years later with her Clockwork Brewhouse. This is when her partner in crime, Londy Mbanjwa, came onboard. “Londy always has a smile on her face and is willing to go the extra mile – running a brewery means rolling with whatever the brewhouse throws at you on the day. She is an absolute asset to the business and an amazing person to be around,” says Megan.
Londy has two boys, Abenathi and Ayabonga, and also grew up in Pietermaritzburg. But her home is in Elandskop just outside of Howick – where she lives with her sisters and their children when she is not at work during the week. “Megan has been a sister, a friend and a boss to me. She has taught me the A-Z of brewing, from how a label needs to look on a bottle in order to catch your eye, to maintaining proper cleaning and sanitation on brew and bottling days, to pouring the perfect pint.”
Megan and Londy have a core range of beers, but love experimenting with different ingredients and new brewing techniques and styles – it keeps their passion and interest alive. One of their more talked about beers is a Peanut Butter Porter, and they recently won a gold medal at the African Beer Cup for their Syrah Grape Berliner Weisse – where the grapes were handpicked and hand squeezed, creating a beer-wine hybrid.
Clockwork Brewhouse joined forces with the 1000 Hills Chef School and Brewery in 2020 – but kept their own brand, beers and recipes. With the onsite restaurant and tap room Clockwork is now a destination brewery, and being at a chef school, where Megan is also the brewing lecturer, has allowed easier access to interesting brewing ingredients – such as hibiscus, vanilla pods and a beautiful variety of fruit.
Growth is always a good thing, but Megan and Londy have no intention to expand so much that they are no longer able to be actively involved in brewing. They don’t want to be stuck in an office, but stay on the brewery floor doing what they love.
Women in the brewing industry
Women have been actively brewing since ancient times; it is only in the last 150 years or so that it became more male-dominated. From the mid-18th century many women were barred from participating in alcohol production.
Thankfully that is no longer an issue, and many women are re- entering the field as brewers. Says Megan; “There is a common misconception that you need to have a particular physical strength in order to do the job. There is no doubt it is an active job, where you are on your feet a lot, with plenty of heavy lifting, but it is nothing a woman can’t handle. Who needs gym when you run a brewery!”
The Clockwork ladies get a lot of respect and support from others in the industry and from their customers, which is fundamental for the growth of their business.