SA's first female Draught Master, Amanda Xulu on how she's dominating the beer industry

Amanda Xulu shows off her pouring skills
Amanda Xulu shows off her pouring skills

When did you first discover your interest in beer brewing?

I’ve always been passionate about our beers and brands, but I think what sparked the love for quality was the attention to detail and meticulous care that goes into the beer making process.

I fell in love with the brewing side of beer after my first tour at our Heineken South Africa brewery in Sedibeng, Midvaal, I instinctively knew I’d found my niche and wanted to explore this space further.

Thereafter how did you find yourself in the industry (which steps did you take)?

I’ll admit that it was by pure luck and probably ‘passion overflow’ that I was discovered by senior management during the launch of Heineken Draught in South Africa.

The Global Draught Master was on the stage demonstrating the ‘Perfect Serve’ to an excited crowd. He randomly asked for people to come up and try to pour a beer and my colleagues cheered for me to try.

My stars were aligned that day as I was able to pour a pretty good beer though I was engulfed by nerves.

My then senior manager approached me about an opportunity to study more about beer quality, the technical intrinsic details and beer pouring techniques that will help our draught customers alleviate common and complex beer problems; while ensuring increased profits simultaneously.

“It’s going to be so much fun!” he said.

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My biggest fear was not having any technical knowledge or educational background (I only completed my Total Quality Management qualification much later) but the Global Draught Master class was really insightful while being laborious to some degree.

Extensive beer knowledge is cascaded from the Global Draught Master before he hands you with you Draught Master manual which you have to know back to front for the exam.

What exactly does being a draft master entail and how did being the first woman draught master in SA make you feel?

A typical day of a Draught Master is spent in the trade with customers handling day to day areas of concern like spillage/wastage, quality calls (taste/colour discrepancies), technical malfunctions of equipment, advise on spatial dynamics for new equipment, food paring options etc.

The bulk of a Draught Master role is centred on internal trainings for our employees, you become a beer ambassador and speak and live beer.

Ultimately, the mandate of a Draught Masters’ role is to brew a beer culture through engagement sessions and trainings with all stakeholders, to also influence beer share by applying a commercial mindset in some of the discussions you have with customers and consumers.

It is a crucial yet fun role especially within this trending digital space of product and brand influencers.

Being awarded the accreditation was one of the best feelings (and being in Amsterdam of course), after a couple of failed trials specifically with profiling the tastes and smells of the different beers.

I didn’t drink alcohol prior to this, so my first beer profiling test was a total mess as I was too intoxicated to tell the different profiles and identify issues lying in the liquid, I soon mastered this art!

Women are doing amazing things and it is a remarkable and humbling feeling to also share that space and be a part of this vigorous movement.

When you're not achieving greatness like becoming a female Draught Master, how do you spend your free time?

I spend most of my time at the gym and following fitness motivators. I really love being fit and healthy, my goal is to tone and sculpt and also to bulk up a bit so I’m doing more resistance training and very little cardio.

I also have a 2 year and a half old toddler who keeps me honest and very active, as well as my husband who I met at the age of 19 to share my journey with.

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I try to sneak in a book club meeting once a month but finishing a book has become onerous with my studies taking lead the past couple of months.

What advice do you have for young women looking to follow in your footsteps?

For a long time I felt I had to explain myself to colleagues and general public when they asked 'why you'? Many people would probably feel less uncomfortable if the role was filled by pants rather than a girl in a dress, who’s always in heels.

I believe girls and women must be apologetic and steadfast in reaching for the stars.

My advice for young women would be to tap into your fears and turn them into fuel, there is also so much power in remaining true to yourself. When you travel the world, you realise that you are on your own, so representing yourself authentically makes you unforgettable to those you meet along your journey.

What's your next big move, do you have anything planned or just going with the flow?

Heineken recently granted me an opportunity to be a Sales Capability Manager but I have not and will not remove my Draught Master hat, I still do draught trainings internally but am less customer facing. I am excited as I am now branching off and opening my world to the sales

operations of the business and equally blessed that I am with a company that continues to make my dreams a reality.

My true passion will always be in the quality space so I am hoping to be the first Trade Brewer at Heineken South Africa, which is a combination of actual beer brewing expertise (you get to trial out and mix your own beers) and a high commercial/business acumen on the field.

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I think that would be exciting because I’ll still have a lot of engagements with different people and would still have the opportunity to impart knowledge.

Were there any challenges you were faced with as a woman in a male-dominated industry? How did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge was self-doubt which made is easy for negativity to permeate my then delicate skin.

I believe a lot of women experience challenges in the workspace especially when they are deliberate about who they are and what they want. I’ve learned that my power lies in what I know, so I really researching and staying updated on the latest trends in my line of work.

I’ve also become less judgemental and hard on myself for things I don’t know and things I cannot do.

I do deal with a lot of egos especially because this is a male dominant industry but I am pleasantly stubborn about ensuring the work gets done effectively so I mostly leave people feeling surprized and hoping to see me again for a draught beer conversation or training.

Where do you find inspiration to keep doing your best every day?

I’m a spiritual person and I have a lot of powerful women from different walks of life that inspire me to want more out of life.

I do not have one specific role model but I always try to draw the finest attributes out of the quality women that lead the pack in South Africa. Having a child also makes one feel more responsible and determined to do better as you always remember who is watching.

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On cloudy days, I always reach out to my family (my mother specifically) who reminds me how proud my late father would have been and equally to remind myself that I need to wear that red graduation gown one day, as I had promised dad.

Besides beer what other drinks do you enjoy?

It’s difficult to answer this question because beer was the very first alcoholic beverage to activate my taste buds, I believe HEINEKEN has premium quality beer that goes down very well on a hot day.

On my inventive days I love my home-made berry smoothie with Strongbow Red Berries cider. Outside of this I am a big fan of cold pressed juices (sounds boring I know).

Lastly, what is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

That I lift heavier weights than my body weight! People are mostly shocked and surprised by my brave and adventurous spirit, I love speed and adrenaline!

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