Beer was born in the Fertile Crescent, but it was honed and perfected in Africa, the continent where traditional brewing has continued uninterrupted ever since.
In Africa, and especially South Africa, SAB is to beer what Microsoft is to computers
The ancient Egyptians had a separate hieroglyph for ‘brewer.’ This maker perfect sense if you consider all the pyramid building they accomplished. I mean, nowadays, nine holes of golf on a sunny day is enough to send your average hack racing down to the pub for a quaff. It’s quite surprising that the Egyptians, after a hard day’s work—and boy were their days’ work hard—didn’t decide to replace King Tut with the brewer as the object of their laborious adoration. History may have taken a distinctly more convivial turn if they had.
As a matter of fact, the earliest records of fermentation, circa 10,000 BC, are from Sumeria, which was in the northern regions of the Middle East, in the area of modern Iraq. But some zymologists and even early Greek historians agree that the fermentation process was honed and perfected in Egypt, on the African continent, before following the belligerent anti-clockwise sweep of civilization around the Mediterranean Sea. Ironically, the only beer found in Egypt today is, for religious reasons, non-alcoholic.
Whereas the Greeks and Romans frowned upon beer as a poor substitute for their fermented grape juice, African societies continued to brew and savor the rich and cultured beverage whose properties were supposed to elevate the drinker’s soul and no doubt liven up many a moonlit tribal gathering.
There are literally as many varieties of traditional African beer as there are tribes and clans in Africa. Some of the more popular strains are brewed using mielie (maize/corn) meal, others with sour milk (maas).
The tropical central African climate yields a particularly sanguine form of fermentable cereal known as sorghum. Sorghum beers differ widely, however, not only from region to region, but between neighboring households. Each family has its own traditional brewing methods, its secret recipes, and the beer produced is used in rituals ranging from weddings to medicine to ancestor worship.
To this day, even urban Africans mark a special occasion by slaughtering a goat and drinking sorghum beer. For some occasions, Western-style ‘clear’ beer just won’t do. The sorghum beer, brewed almost exclusively by women, is usually transported over vast distances by rural relatives who still practice the traditional brewing methods. And in the Johannesburg gold mining hostels, the call for sorghum beer is so great that mine unions order that the women be accommodated near them to provide the inimitable, indigenous homebrew.