Umqombothi is a traditional South African beer brewed with maize and sorghum. Although Umqombothi has a low alcohol content when compared to commercially produced beer (you can never really know with homebrews) folklore would have it that the shorter a woman’s temper, the more potent her brew.

Ting the brewers treat

Halfway through the fermentation process on the 2nd day of brewing, the porridge you cook as part of the umqombothi brewing process is called ting and is a South African delicacy on its own.
A bowl of this tangy fermented porridge is the brewers treat. With just a little sugar a warm bowl of ting is a little like mageu; sour, delicious and absolutely lip-smacking. Be careful not to get carried away because that would mean less umqombithi at the end.

Watch the video below for a thorough tutorial on making your own umqombothi.

Ingredients:

  • 5 kg mealie meal
  • 2 kg umthombo wombila (maize malt)
  • 4 kg umthombo wamabele (wheat malt)
  • Cold water
  • Boiling water

It takes 4 days to make umqombothi using this recipe but don’t worry, your life won’t come to a standstill. Let’s get started.

Method:

Day 1

  1. Mix 5 kg mealie meal, 2 kg maize malt and 1 kg wheat malt in the 25 lt bucket.
  2. Add cold water to reach ¾ level of the bucket and add 1 kettle of boiling water.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and place lid on the bucket.
  4. Leave the mixture to ferment overnight on a mat in a warm room.

Day 2

  1. The mixture should be slightly foamy at the top due to fermentation.
  2. Stir the mixture to mix the ingredients resting at the bottom of the bucket.
  3. Fill the large pot with some water and heat it to boiling point.
  4. Slowly add the fermented mixture to the boiling water until it forms the same texture as that of porridge.
  5. Repeat step 5  until all the fermented contents of the bucket are cooked.
  6. Leave the cooked porridge in the large container  and allow to cool for the rest of the day and overnight.

Day 3

  1. Add the remaining 3 kg wheat malt to the cold porridge mixture and stir the ingredients together.
  2. Leave the cold porridge and wheat malt mix in the large container to ferment overnight on a mat in a warm room.

Day 4

  1. On the morning of day 4, the mixture should have a thick, rich foamy layer on top.
  2. Stir the ingredients and brace yourself for one last bout of hard labour.
  3. Ivovo is a woven sieve and it is ideal for brewing umqombothi. Fill it with the mixture and twist to strain the liquid into the second large container.
  4. Empty the sieve of the grains and repeat step 3 until all the mixture is strained.
  5. Leave to ferment for the rest of the day. The beer will be ready to serve in the evening at the earliest but is best served the following morning.

Tips:

  • Cooking the porridge mix for umqombothi on an electric stove will skyrocket your electricity bill. It is cheaper to use a wooden fire to cook.
  • If you cook the mixture on an open flame, coat the exterior of the pot with mud or a soapy paste to make it easy to clean when you are finished using it.
  • Place the bucket or container on a mat to prevent contact with the cold floor which slows down      fermentation. Also, the mat will keep the floor clean.
  • Ask someone to help you handle the large pot of hot porridge on Day 2 to avoid burn accidents.
  • Invite friends to help you on Day 4. Straining umqombothi is a lot of work but it’s a good way to hang out with the girls and catch up on gossip.
  • My aunt thinks this is an insult to people who have perfected the craft of making umqombothi but I will share this tip with you anyway. If you are not sure that things are going as they should be on the morning of Day 4, add 1 lt of Juba or Joburg Beer to the cold porridge and wheat malt mix. Juba and Joburg Beer are the commercial versions of umqombothi. This will get your brewing process back on track.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make umqombothi.

NOTES:

  • You need these utensils:
  • 25 lt bucket
  • 2 Imiphongolo (Large containers for liquids, 40 lt or so. You can use buckets if you don’t have large containers.)
  • The largest pot you have in your house
  • Ivovo (sieve)
  • Ukhamba (calabash) to serve the beer

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Video by Ntokozo and Mduduzi Miya ( A blog like no other)