Ancient Grains: Brewing Traditional African Beer at Home

This style has more in common with the beer shown in ancient hieroglyphics than with the beers in your fridge—a thick, sour, opaque brew enjoyed while it is still actively fermenting. This is traditional African beer, and it has gone largely unchanged for centuries. Just how many centuries, nobody is quite sure, but one thing is certain—the sorghum-based beer is in danger of extinction, at least in South Africa. With young people increasingly moving to cities for jobs and associating traditional beer with the rural living of their grandparents, the techniques of brewing umqombothi, as it is generally known in South Africa, are being lost.

Beer writer Lucy Corne delves into the history and processes of brewing traditional umqombothi, with a focus on recreating this historical brew at home. Although the processes often rely more on gut feel and “rule of thumb,” the seminar will try to tackle the basic science behind the brew. The talk concludes with a look at how South African craft brewers are attempting to modernize umqombothi and marry it with their own more modern beers.

Learning Objectives

  • Hear how to brew traditional African sorghum beer at home
  • Discover why this beer style may be an endangered species
  • Learn what it tastes like and how brewers are trying to modernize it

About the Speaker

Lucy Corne is a beer writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She started “The Brewmistress” blog in 2011 and became editor of On Tap magazine—South Africa’s only beer magazine—in 2016. Lucy is the founder of the African Beer Cup, the continent’s biggest beer competition, and was the first Certified Cicerone in Africa. Originally from the United Kingdom, Lucy is fascinated by traditional African beers and the stories behind them.

Access premium member content for $4.99/month. Join Now

AHA Member-Only Content

Access premium member content for $4.99/month

Join for $4.99

Already a member?