Brewing a beer revolution in Africa

By Roderick Macleod
Africa Business Report

  • Published
Media caption,

Oscar Olsen, the "beer hunter", says he wants to bring a beer revolution to Africa

Beer may be big business in Africa, but it is a sector dominated by multinationals and Oscar Olsen is taking them on.

Hailing from the pint-sized island of Mauritius, Mr Olsen, much like the ales and lagers he brews, is not what you would expect.

For someone who calls himself a professional "beer hunter" he is surprisingly slim and fit.

He is also one of those rare people who has managed to turn a genuine passion into a thriving business.

"I learnt from my parents that you need to make your passion your job because the day you have an issue or problems, you need that passion to drive you out of an issue."

Mr Olsen, 37, is the proud owner of Mauritius's only microbrewery and beer house, which is aptly, and humorously, named the Flying Dodo Brewing Company.

Image source, The Flying Dodo Brewing Co
Image caption,
Oscar Olsen (right) with the Mauritian Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell at the opening of Flying Dodo Brewery in 2012

Phoenix v Dodo

For over 40 years the only beer made and widely distributed in Mauritius was Phoenix Lager.

"I thought this was funny, as if to be a brewery in Mauritius you had to be named after a bird, so that is why I took the name 'Dodo'," Mr Olsen says with a wry grin.

"We are very small, we have limited amount of money in order to compete with the others, we took the name from a different angle."

Mr Olsen's love of beer started just after high school, when he and his friends would tour around the island sampling the limited number of beers on offer.

Image source, The Flying Dodo Brewing Co
Image caption,
Some $2.5m has been invested in the Flying Dodo Brewing Company

But it was while studying abroad that his idea of becoming a brewery owner began to truly ferment.

"In America it just happened I was living where there was a big beer festival, and in Germany I stayed in Franken, and that area is known for breweries," he says.

"I had 350 different breweries all around me. Life made it that it had to be my passion."

Leap of faith

Once back on home soil, and fuelled by his frustration with the continuing lack of beer diversity on the island, he decided to set up the Flying Dodo Brewing Company.

It all started with the Lambic Beer House in 2009, a bespoke beer restaurant and shop, which imports over 400 beers and is run out of a small colonial-era house in the country's capital city, Port Louis.

In 2011, Mr Olsen took the leap of opening his own brewery, investing $2.5m (£1.5m) in the project, with the construction of a dedicated brewery in a newly built shopping centre just outside of Port Louis, costing around $800,000.

Image source, The Flying Dodo Brewing Company
Image caption,
Mr Olsen says if he was living in Europe it would have been harder to start his business

In June 2012, the brewery drew its first draught and while he admits he may have lost some hair and a few local rupees at first, it has been a glass half-full kind of journey.

African opportunities

"If I was living in Europe this project of mine would have been difficult because it exists already there.

"And that is the nice thing with Africa - it is still, for a lot of things, virgin territory, and those with ideas that are willing to do something can achieve a lot of things here," Mr Olsen says.

"Mauritius I'd say is a good place to start a business. Of course we have hurdles, and there are lots of things that us Mauritians get really irritated with but overall I'm quite happy to do it here."

Image source, The Flying Dodo Brewing Co
Image caption,
Mr Olsen says he wants to help other countries in Africa to make craft beer

The market across Africa is dominated by the likes of SAB Miller and Guinness, but Mr Olsen hopes to change this by exporting his passion and expertise across the continent.

"It is a niche market and we are going to stay as a niche product.

"The idea is to really bring a revolution across the whole of Africa. We want people to see what we have done here and use us to help them go into Africa and use this knowledge and technology, because we bring the technology along, and really do the same things there."

Mr Olsen says he has been approached by several like-minded entrepreneurs, mostly from East Africa, to set up similar beer-orientated projects.

"The brewing community is a small community and it's all about helping each other and this is what we want, to help other countries in Africa to make craft beer. And this is our kick, this is passion.

"We already have five other projects that we are with throughout Africa - people who have seen what we have done here, and they wanted to import the idea to their country and we have helped them to do this."

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