The Oxford Companion to Beer definition of Africa, traditional brewing
Africa, Traditional Brewing In, has a long history. The ancient Egyptians brewed beer and tribes throughout the African continent also brewed beer long before any European settlers brought their brewing techniques to Africa. Beer in Africa today has two main influences: tribal traditions passed down for centuries and European settlement. Europeans, especially the Dutch and British, brought different techniques and expertise to brewing starting in the 15th and 16th centuries. Traditional tribal brewing methods are, however, still a strong part of African brewing culture.
Traditional brewing methods have remained an important activity throughout Africa despite commercial breweries producing variations of traditional African beers. It is still a key aspect of the rural economy, where traditional beer is brewed for local markets. It is also brewed for all varieties of ceremonial and cultural occasions and gatherings.
Traditional brews go by many different names depending on the location. Southern Africa has chibuku, umqombothi, utshwala, joala, and doro, depending on the subregion, and western Africa shakparo. Kenya has chang’aa, Botswana khadi, Central Africa Republic hydromel, and Ethiopia araque, katila, and talla. Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi all have chibuku shake-shake (a commercial variety made from sorghum and maize). In Zimbabwe, shake-shake is called “scud.” Uganda has tonto, mwenge, murumba, marwa, kweete, and musooli. Ghana has pito, burukutu, and akpeteshie.
By any name, sorghum beer is the traditional beer of Africa. It is also referred to as opaque beer because of its cloudiness. It is made both rurally and commercially throughout the continent. Tribes continue to make their own varieties, using locally available ingredients for additional flavor. Commercial breweries also make different varieties depending on the subregion.
Historically, the Bantu-speaking tribes carried the art of brewing sorghum with them as they migrated south. Women were the traditional brewers of African beers and men the traditional consumers. Even today, women prepare the traditional brews for the market, weddings, ceremonies, and other celebrations.