Umqombothi is an African home-brewed beer that is made from maize, malt, sorghum, yeast and water. The tan-coloured beer is thick and creamy with a sour aroma and, although the taste is strong, it has less alcohol than a store-bought beer.
Umqombothi is brewed to celebrate important events, but the brewing of the beer is just as important as drinking it.
The ingredients are all mixed in a potjie pot, along with 4 litres of water, and left until the mixture starts to ferment. A small amount of the water is placed to one side, while the rest carries on cooking over an open fire.
Once the mixture has cooked and cooled, it is poured into a plastic tub. The liquid that was removed is added back and stirred with a traditional spoon called an ipini. The tub is then covered with a lid and a blanket, and put in a warm place until ready to drink.
One of the ways to test if the brew is ready is to light a match next to the tub. If the match stays lit, the ingredients need to ferment some more. If the match goes out quickly, then it is ready for the next stage.
The mixture is filtered through a strainer, and the maize solids that are squeezed out are fed to chickens. The beer is then poured into a communal drum called a gogogo for friends and family to share.
Umqombothi is famous in South Africa, and people even sing about its unique qualities. Yvonne Chaka Chaka refers to it as the “magic African beer” in her song, Umqombothi.
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