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.
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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