Beer in Africa dates back thousands of years and has been an integral part of social and cultural life for just as long.
In South Africa, traditional beer is made with sorghum and is known as umqombothi, a Xhosa word. Umqombothi is made from maize, maize malt, crushed sorghum malt, yeast and water and is rich in vitamin B. It has a distinctly sour aroma, a thick and gritty consistency and a uniquely bitter flavour.
Although preparation methods differ from region to region, the process is always women’s work. An open fire and patience are essential ingredients; the process takes several days to complete and can be physically demanding. Once the beer is ready, the final product is poured into a large calabash or ukhamba and shared communally.
The social and cultural associations of umqombothi are powerful, and the drink features prominently at weddings, funerals, rites of passage, and at various official meetings. It also plays a crucial role in communing with the ancestors and, prior to drinking, some beer is always spilt on the ground so that the ancestors don’t go thirsty.
Traditional recipes continue to be passed down from generation to generation, particularly in rural areas, despite the commercial production of sorghum beer today.