GHANA’S INCREDIBLE MICROBREWERY

Do you know what sorghum is? Daniel Neilson does and he meets a man who’s making beer with it

On a large plastic sheet weighed down with bricks, a thin layer of a reddish grain is drying under the intense West African heat. Clement Djameh picks it up and plants it in my hand. The tiny red grains have a little tadpole-like tail. The grain is sorghum, a grass crop that grows abundantly across large parts of Africa. It is used for making porridges, couscous and, in this case, beer.

Accra, Ghana. It’s a place full of life and excitement. It’s a tropical jumble that assaults all five senses. The shattering heat, the pulsing music, the smoking grills, the spic’n’span malls, the crashing surf, the cocktail terraces, the chugging exhausts, the pavement hawkers and swish hotels; it all combines to create a frenetic and thrillingly unpredictable city. The unexpected is to be expected so that there is a guy in Accra who is starting a microbrewery using only sorghum I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had to see it.

We meet at a petrol station on the very outskirts of Accra, beyond the posh bits and beyond the shanty towns. We hop into Clement’s old 4×4 and bounce along the rough roads to an old house with a large garden. There’s an old car, a large metal container about the same size as the car, and some greenery. At the house, he opens up a large wooden door to reveal the small brewery. Corny kegs that would be recognised by homebrewers are stacked up on one side. On the kegs are tied little labels: “IPA”,  “Trial beer, Belgian type”, “sorghum lager” and “pito”, a local alcoholic drink. There’s a large refrigerator and a bottling unit and I reckon the brewhouse has a 100-litre capacity. He pours a spectacular wheat beer and we walk into the garden.

“This is sorghum,” he says clasping a leafy eight-foot-high plant. He picks apart the grain head and isolates a little seed. “All of our beer is made from sorghum.” I’m noticeably taken aback. Taking another sip of my wheat beer, I don’t note any discernible difference. I try the lager, again no difference, I try the IPA, same. “You have to use what you have available,” Clement tells me. Sorghum beer is also naturally gluten-free. The potential is astounding.

Sorghum is malted in a similar way to barley: soaking and then drying. Clement malts his own in the metal container in the garden and then dries it under the hot equatorial sun. The whole set-up embodies the adaptable and positive Ghanaian spirit I’ve come to love over the eight annual visits I’ve made.  

The real skill is brewing with it, however. The husk on barley acts as a natural filter when draining the sugary liquid during sparging. Sorghum has no husk, and it is very glutinous. Clement, who trained at Weihenstephaner, is a pioneer in the use of sorghum. Pointing welders in the right direction, he adapted the brewery equipment to deal with this difficult grain and will have to do so again, when his much larger brewhouse arrives later in the year.

I look again at the beer in my glass and delve into its smooth bubbles. This is a beer 40 years in the making. A beer that could tell of trial after trial, set back after set back. It tells of brewing in a country without a constant electricity supply, with no hop merchants, with almost no barley. It reflects the heat of the sun, the torrential downpours of the rainy season, the ground that nurtures the sorghum plant. It tells of the farmers in the north that send the sorghum to Clement, bought for a steady price. It tells of overcoming great adversity, and of love for beer. Forty long years. This beer I have in my hand is bursting with more than hop aromas, it is alive with the spirit of an unassuming man who is quite remarkable.

For more details go to Inland Microbrewery.