What is behind the name of Africa’s popular traditional drink?
A pint of beer is popular the world over, and nowhere is this more true than in Africa where its many enthusiasts have long been able to sample the delights of the continent’s own special variety.
Traditional African beer is regarded by many as the region’s official thirst-quencher and those looking for the best way to satisfy their thirst can easily spot it by the brand name of Chibuku.
These days, the tasty liquid refreshment continues to play a central role in rural communal events and a number of social events and gatherings such as weddings. However, the African variation of the product has a slightly denser quality which might at first seem unusual to some consumers expecting the clearer variety, though the official advice to ‘shake it’ might be a good ice-breaker as well as a practical way to enjoy it all the more.
Its unique consistency means that it is more than just a drink, as it contains sediment which can settle at the bottom of the glass. A good shake every now and then does no harm, and for that reason, it is also known as “Sheki Sheki,” which translates to “Shake Shake”. Chibuku is clearly not your typical beer and the ultra-popular beverage would not have it any other way.
For the record, those ingredients which refuse to settle, at the bottom of the bottle, and which give it that special shakeable quality are the finest maize and sorghum, the same components which have witnessed hard-working rural women labouring over fire wood and steaming mud pots to deliver the legendary national brew.
Chibuku, which has its roots in Zambia, has become a new sensation in the countries where it is now being marketed, but it has in fact been around since the 1960s, when Max Heinrich, a white-skinned settler in what was then Rhodesia, was struck with the idea of building upon the long-standing African tradition.
Meanwhile, the popularity of Chibuku — its name is an African variation of the phrase “by the book” — has grown from its initial market in Zambia to include Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana, where it has often been the first choice of consumers on a tight budget, though there are now clear signs that the emerging middle class are opting for it, because of the taste.
One possibly little-known fact is that the Chibuku name in much of Africa actually belongs solely and exclusively to the parent company of National Breweries Plc. This is the same in other six countries such as : Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda and where the product is marketed. According to Franz Schepping, technical director of AB InBevZambian Operations, National Breweries, Chibuku has now developed its own highly unique character, with the taste varying from sweet to sour depending on its age, the conditions to which it is exposed and the maturity stage of the beer. “It ferments once produced, hence the range in alcohol by volume, with some consumers choosing to enjoy more mature Chibuku, and others opting to drink it just a few days after production,” he says, also pointing out that importantly, it is the whole kernel maize with sorghum malt used to produce Chibuku that helps to give it its rich, smooth flavour.
Chibuku’s popularity in Zambia, its home, is demonstrated by the construction of a new National Breweries factory in Lusaka, the largest in Africa. According to officials from the brewery, it is set to increase capacity from one million hectolitres of Chibuku per year to 1.5 million hectolitres, with the option to expand to 2.5 million hectolitres. National Breweries is a subsidiary of ABInBev. Its staff of some 200 people help to produce the opaque beer in cartons, PET bottles and returnable plastic bottles.
This pan-African brand of beer made by various brewers across Africa is in part successful because of the commercial brewing process which has systems in place to ensure a consistent and quality product that is safe for consumers.
Annabelle Degroot, managing director of National Breweries, stresses that Chibuku is one of Zambia’s major exports: “With it now being available in ten markets across the African continent with more to follow, it is a definite success – a truly pan-African beverage that encapsulates the history and spirit of Africa.”