Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beer Brewin’

I once read that the arrival of tea on England’s shores helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. Before tea, the beverage of choice was beer, and beer-drinking was not exactly a happy accompaniment to working with machinery. Tea was. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but one thing that is true is that beer and other alcoholic beverages have been with us humans for a long, long time. In fact, our ancestors may have imbibed even more than present-day Australians. And before that very same Industrial Revolution, there was only one manner of beer and alcohol production. Whether it was brewed by monks or farmers or city-dwellers, your alcohol was home-brewed. As we all know, home-brew persists to this very day.

I, myself, have married into a celebrated homebrew tradition. My husband hails from the foothills of North Carolina – a place known for MerleFest, car racing and moonshine. In fact, he swears it was moonshine production that inspired the car racing that would become NASCAR, as moonshine brewers outraced the cops in their souped-up cars, and then began, as boys will do, to race each other.

Africa also has its indigenous brews. Talking with Zimbabweans, I don’t think I’ve heard of a grain or fruit that isn’t made into some sort of beer or liquor. What do marula fruit, mazhanje (a.k.a. loquats), palm tree sap, sorghum, millet and maize all have in common? They all can be made into alcohol. Typically this home-brewing occurs in rural areas, while urbanites drink one of several locally-bottled beers (Bohlingers, Lion, Castle, Zambezi), or the cheap favorite, Chibuku, made from sorghum and maize and sold in barrel-shaped containers. These containers are called Scuds – a name bestowed upon the product during the first Gulf War, when some (likely drunk) chap noticed that the shape of a Chibuku resembled that of a Scud missile. Strange, but true. As the economic situation here has deteriorated, the price of a Scud has rocketed out of many people’s price range (and by people, I mean men), and more and more people (and by people, I mean their wives) have begun to brew beer – even in urban areas.

With a lot of help from our housekeeper, Dorothy, this weekend we brewed chikokiyana, or one-day beer. I’m not going to write up a proper recipe (really, who among you is going to try this?), but here, for your reference, is the basic idea.

First you bring about eight cups of water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, you mix together four wooden spoonfuls of mealie meal (the finely ground cornmeal used to make sadza) with some water to make a thin gruel. Stir, breaking up any lumps, and then pour the paste into the boiling water. Stir again, partially cover, turn the heat down to medium-high, and keep the pot at a low boil for 15 minutes.

Let the gruel cool for about five minutes, and then add another four cups or so of cold water. Stir once again to break up any lumps. Next, pour the mixture into your pfuko – the traditional round, chevron-decorated bowl with a narrow neck that is used just for this purpose. In a small bowl, mix together ½ cup raw sugar, ½ cup active dry yeast and 1½ cups chimera (fermented ground millet, or zviyo). Add to the pfuko and stir. Cover, and let sit in a warm place overnight.

Twenty-four hours later, remove the cover and watch the beer’s effervescent bubbles sputter and pop. Give the brew a stir, and then drink it straight from the pfuku. Or, if you are me, pour yourself a small glass. Chikokiyana is gritty, sour and yeasty – in other words, an extremely acquired taste. I could only get down about three sips; my husband four. Dorothy’s cousin downed the rest during the course of one day.

Apparently, you can also make a non-alcoholic version of this beverage, called mahewu by simply omitting the yeast. There is also a version of beer that is brewed for seven days and that, we hear, tastes a good bit milder than chikokiyana. I think I’ll stick to moonshine. And stay away from heavy machinery.

*Note: In keeping with the spirit of this post, I wrote it having drunk two beers (Phoenix, if you must know, the famous beer of Mauritius) on an empty stomach. Please excuse all resulting typos and errors of judgment.


Anita said...

Nice one Carolyn. I had half a mind to try my hand at it till I can\me to the end comments!

Whatever we have at hand, we'll try to make into alcohol!

But cherry wine is a good thing - any tips there?

jacob said...

i tried posting a comment yesterday, but technology sucks i guess. i tried my hand at a home brew about five months back, and it turned out awful. but your post makes me wanna try again:-)
will be back for more inspiration. lovely pictures and recipes throughout.

Carolyn said...

Anita - This was my first attempt at making alcohol of any sort, so, I am no help with ideas for making cherry wine. Sounds like it would be good, though! I’m planning on going home for a month in April, and there is a fruit winery nearby: I notice they have a cherry wine - maybe I can do some investigating for you!

Jacob - I suspect technology wasn’t the problem, but me being slow with my comment moderation! I’m glad to have you as a new reader, and hope you comment again! Let me know how your next home-brew attempt turns out.

Jeanne said...

You're a braver woman than I! The brew looks very much like an acquired taste ;-) But a great post and kudos to you for your (brief) brewing career!

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