The changing face of traditional beer in Africa

12 Nov 13

The changing face of traditional beer in Africa

There’s a new beer making its way around Africa, marrying traditional recipes with modern technology.

Chibuku is an opaque beer that is commercially brewed across Africa. While traditional African beer continues to be brewed in villages across the continent Chibuku, unlike many of its counterparts, is based on these traditional recipes.

The beer has been growing in popularity since it was first brewed in what was then known as Rhodesia in 1960. Today it is sold in ten countries and is set to expand further with the introduction of a more modern version of the drink, Chibuku Super.

The Chibuku taste

Depending on the region, Chibuku is brewed with either sorghum or maize. The beer is definitely an acquired taste and has its fair share of fans as well as those who can’t stand its very particular taste and texture.

Chibuku has been described as having a powerful yeast flavour which turns lemony sour and a sloppy porridge-like consistency. Its moniker, “shake shake”, comes from the need to vigorously shake the beer to dissolve the sediment that tends to gather at the bottom of the carton. The brightly coloured one litre carton sells for roughly R10 which makes it a relatively affordably refreshment for the consumer.

A popular beer across Africa

While Chibuku can be found in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda, the product has certain limitations.

Due to its short shelf life the distribution of Chibuku is geographically limited. This is because the brew continues to ferment and after five days the sweetness is replaced completely by sourness, which makes it undrinkable.

The new Chibuku Super

Chibuku Super is the new beer based on the original Chibuku but with added benefits. Through pasteurisation Chibuku Super will have an average 21 day shelf life, which will allow further reach of the product than ever before. The longer it can last, the further it can travel. This also opens the doors to a whole new group of consumers through supermarket chains.

Chibuku Super will also have a fixed alcohol content at 3.5%, unlike Chibuku original whose alcohol content can vary depending on how aged it is. The plastic bottle will also allow more resilience in its packaging. It will come at a slightly higher price than the Chibuku original, and thus should not compete too closely with the original brand.

What this proves is that the beer environment in Africa is changing as traditional recipes are commercialised. With more and more Africans uprooting their rural lives and moving to cities to take up employment and modern lifestyles, traditional African beer seems to be following suit.

Click here to watch a short video on SABMiller's work with the Chibuku brand