Sorghum beer is a popular alcoholic beverage in South Africa. It is made from sorghum malt and typically home brewed. Sorghum malt is also used in China to make distilled beverages like kaoliang and maoti. Commercial brewing of sorghum beer began in the US in the mid 2000s.
The Sorghum family of grasses is found in the warmer climates of Africa, Asia, and the American South. Sorghum grasses are used primarily for grain, which can be used in much the same way as barley grain can to produce malt. Sorghum malt can then be used to produce mash that can be brewed into a gluten-free beer. The steps for brewing sorghum are similar to those used in brewing other beers. In Africa, it is traditionally made by women and most likely originated among the Zulu tribe.
Historically, sorghum beer was a popular drink among mostly black South Africans. This was due to an alcohol prohibition law imposed on blacks during the government’s policy of apartheid. Sorghum beer was the only alcoholic beverage exempted from the prohibition.
It may be that exemption existed in part because in some regions brewing the beer had long been associated with a burial ceremony surrounding the unveiling of the departed’s headstone. The women of the community prepared the beer prior to the unveiling.
In the malting process, the grain is first separated and dried. It is then soaked in water until the grain begins to sprout. The grain is then dried again. The resulting malt consists of the germinated cereal grain.
The malted sorghum grain is mixed in equal parts with unprocessed Sorghum grain. Other grains, such as rice, and yeast may also be added. The grains are added to a kettle of water and boiled to a starch. The liquid is then transferred to another pot and left to ferment for several days.
The resulting beer is from one to eight percent alcohol. It is a cloudy pinkish-brown and has a sour, fruity flavor. Since the brewing process results in lactic acid fermentation, sorghum beer is gluten free.
Brewing companies in the US began producing sorghum beer in 2006. Some use a mixture of sorghum and rice. The Anheuser-Bush company of St. Louis, Missouri was the first to nationally distribute the beer. The beverage is popular among health conscious people because of its low carbohydrate content. Those with wheat allergies can also enjoy the beer.