We all know that Africa is famous for agricultural products such as cocoa, palm oil and coffee, but certainly not everyone knows that African beer also plays an important part in the continent's culture. African beer is not made from water, hops, yeast and malted barley, but from sorghum, an indigenous plant that can survive high temperatures, and maize, flavoured with hibiscus, banana and cassava root.
Usually brewed by women and consumed by men, beer was brewed by ancient Egyptians and tribes throughout Africa even before the arrival of Europeans settlers in the 15th century, who then introduced their brewing techniques and recipes to Africans. While some of these were adopted by locals, Europeans only adopted African techniques centuries later, when Guinness for example fused the best from both continents.
Beer drinking in Africa is highly ritualized, especially by ethnic groups such as the Zulu, who offer it to guests and ancestors in beautiful richly decorated ceramic beer pots handmade by Zulu women, which vary from region to region. Since beer is also consumed daily, and not just as part of rituals, Africa’s beer market is expected to grow faster than that of any other part of the world, also thanks to urbanization and population growth.
Consumption of beer in Africa is monopolised by global companies such as Heineken, SABMiller, Castel and Diageo, with the African market monopolising some of their global marketing strategies in return. In 2007, the African continent actually surpassed Ireland as the second-largest market for Guinness worldwide, which then introduced Guinness Africa Special, made with local herbs and spices, and brewed with maize or sorghum rather than barley.
It is remarkable that global brands are trying to use local ingredients to produce beer, including Heineken, which works with local farmers to increase their crop yields and always sources locally.
By Maria D'Innocenzo