SOUTH Africa’s burgeoning craft beer industry has been thrust onto the global map with a Stellenbosch-based brewer winning the best lager prize at the 2014 Global Craft Beer Award contest in Germany.

Stellenbrau Brewery’s Craven Craft Lager won gold in the lager category at a ceremony in Berlin last Friday.

Stellenbrau owner Deon Engelbrecht said his lager had beaten about 38 other entries — many of which were German — after being judged by a panel of 36 members.

Mr Engelbrecht said Stellenbrau would expand its brewery over the next few months, allowing it to export its beers.

The local craft beer market had good growth prospects, despite having to contend with South African Breweries (SAB) and expensive (in rand terms) raw material imports from Germany.

Kiera Senst, secretary-general of the Global Association of Craft Beer Brewers, which hosts the event, said three entries from South Africa was "a great many, considering the distance".

"We’re really pleased to have so many breweries participating internationally this year — it really makes the judging process and the competition special," Ms Senst said ahead of the ceremony last week.

"I would say that South Africa is definitely on the radar — people know that it’s getting hot down there and that the scene is definitely something worth looking into."

She said there were "lots of good breweries and lots of creativity happening — even if the brewery names may not be well known in Europe yet".

The South African craft beer industry has been fuelled in recent years by beer festivals and by a growing number of restaurants and bars offering the often unique products.

However, craft beers are estimated to account for less than 1% of the market in South Africa, which is dominated by SAB.