The African tradition of brewing has been passed down and enjoyed by generation after generation. There is an art to preserving abundant ingredients in the natural environment by fermenting them into drinkable alcohol. It takes time and patience to learn. Not everyone can do it.
Of course, commercial brewing has long replaced homebrew as the African alcohol of choice, but traditions remain, especially for people who can’t afford the high prices of factory-brewed beer or for the devoted connoisseurs who prefer traditional elixirs.
Commercial African breweries are now mostly owned by international corporations, like the case of Stella Beer in Egypt, owned by Carlsburg since the late 1990’s. All the same, notable examples of what were once small local commercial breweries have survived, like Julbrew in The Gambia, and The East Africa Brewing Company that makes Tusker in Kenya.
An alcoholic apple cider is commercially bottled in South Africa that makes its way around the continent and is quite good. I wonder if it’s made with irradiated apples? I haven’t seen any other local fruit ciders yet, but I’ll be there will be a microbrew and microcider movement coming up not too far from now.
In the meantime, I also like to learn how to carry on with recipes that help me use all the bananas when they get too ripe at one time, or make something
African Homebrew Traditions
Selling homebrew is usually the work of women who set up small drinking stalls in local markets or an especially busy part of town. In other places, you have to know who to ask for, as there’s usually only a few people in town who make it.
Palm wine, although wild harvested and not technically a “homebrew,” is nonetheless the most famous African alcohol. Pearly white and rather fizzy, with a pleasant sour note on the finish, palm wine is refreshing. It’s low alcohol content of around 2 to 3 percent increases the longer it has been tapped from the tree. After a day or two, it becomes heavy, strong and sour. Eventually it turns to vinegar and becomes undrinkable.
African traditions abound around the use of “bitters” as an alcoholic aphrodisiac. The dark beverage is sold under different labels, in small or medium sized glass or plastic bottles with labels connoting strength, lust and power. Ghana is famous for its “Waist and Power” bitters, sold by the bottle on the streets of Accra.
Best enjoyed with Coke (and I don’t say that about many things), African bitters are a taste experience not to be missed. Different flavor profiles of woodiness, fragrance, and leaves abound, and for the adventurous who have perhaps tried to make your own bitters at home, we suggest giving African bitters a try.
Other recipes, like that for banana beer, have a longer shelf life. With very little set-up, it’s easy to bottle at home. If you have some empty bottles and access to bottle caps and someone’s bottler (a piece of hardware that’s always included in homebrew kits), you can set up your own home brewery and bottle all kinds of concoctions.
Check out our sections about homebrewing beer with African artisanal grains, making local spirit infusions, and bottling your very own fruit-flavored kombucha.
If you’re interested in trying the local homebrew in your country and you don’t know where to find it, go to a local bar, make friends, and start asking around. We’d love to hear your stories, so please tell us about your adventure in an article for us!