Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

How to make Umqombothi (Zulu beer)

Not everyone is happy about the banning of alcohol sales during lockdown, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become a hobby brewer and explore a bit of South African heritage while you’re at it. Arguably the easiest beer to make is Umqombothi, a thousand-year’s old brew that has sustained folks through thick and thin.

how to make umqombothi zulu beer - How to make Umqombothi (Zulu beer)

Umqombothi, or sorghum beer, is as old as the African hills and as beloved as ubuntu. It has been brewed in various forms and given different names across the continent (In Burkina Faso it’s called dolo, in Nigeria, pito and in Zimbabwe ingwebu, the Ndebele word for ‘froth’), but it shares a couple of basic ingredients – sorghum, maize and sometimes millet – that, once fermented, result in a nutritious, heady, hoppy beer that bears little resemblance to commercial beer but is much cheaper and quicker to make at home.

When and where to serve umqombothi

Umqombothi is not only for sipping fireside, it is a traditional drink that is made in advance for serving at important celebrations and it is believed to assist in communication with the amadlozi, or ancestors.

It is traditionally brewed by matriarchs to welcome their sons home after initiation and served at weddings, funerals and important community meetings. Nowadays it[s making an appearance in city shebeens while beer-brewing enthusiasts across the world are trying their hand at this opaque beer in an effort to hop on the trend.

Tips for making Umqombothi

  • Try your local grocery store, or health shops, for supplies. Or use equal amounts of maize meal and course sorghum following the method described below.
  • Using more maize malt will produce a lighter-coloured beer with a mellow flavour while using more sorghum will produce a stronger-tasting, darker beer.
  • You can add a cup of sugar to the final mix to increase fermentation.
  • Ensure all equipment and utensils are squeaky clean so you don’t ruin your brew.
  • The longer you ferment it, the higher the alcohol content will be, but don’t expect it to go much higher than 5% and it will go off if you keep it too long. Five days is normally the maximum time.
  • Use the solids – called izinzipho – left over from the brewing for your next batch of umqombothi to speed up the fermentation process. Or, feed it to the chickens.
  • It is considered rude to drink umqombothi while standing up.

Umqombothi is an essential part of South African food and drink heritage, and well worth mastering and passing on to your kids. And as the lockdown continues, don’t forget to cheers the amadlozi with your first sip so they can impart their wisdom for us to get through this difficult time.

Is it legal to make your own alcohol during lockdown?

The National Disaster Act doesn’t implicitly forbid you from making your own alcoholic drinks, but as with all actions involving alcohol, moderation is key. You can make your own supply, but making to sell is strictly forbidden and will land you in hot water with the law.

Umqombothi Recipe

5 from 1 vote

Recipe by Laura SwanepoelCourse: DrinksCuisine: South AfricaDifficulty: Medium

Prep time

20

minutes

Cooking time

1

hour 

Resting Time

2 days

Total time

1

hour 

20

minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 kg maize meal

  • 2 kg sorghum

  • 6 litres water

Method

  • Combine maize meal sorghum with six litres of boiling water and mix until it is a smooth paste. Leave this to ferment for two days, in a warm, dark place.
  • After day two, scoop out two cups of the fermented mixture and set aside. Mix the remaining paste with two litres of boiling water in a pot, and place on the stove. Simmer, stirring often, for about an hour then let it cool.
  • Then place this mix back in your bucket, add the two cups of fermented paste and stir, finally adding another 1kg of sorghum to the mix.
  • The next day the mixture should be bubbling nicely, which means your beer is ready. Strain it through a sieve, chill and enjoy.

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DISCLAIMER: We not advocate the abuse of alcoholic beverages and it is expected that if you try the recipes and/or other material provided on this website, you do so responsibly, with moderation and with caution.

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