Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Background on Sorghum Beer

By William Brand
Wednesday, November 8th, 2006 at 12:59 pm in Uncategorized.

In my column today (Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, Oakland Tribune) I wrote about a new, gluten-free beer for people with an allergy to gluten in wheat, oats, rye and other cereal grains.

It’s Dragon’s Gold**** from the Bard’s Tale Beer Co. in Lees Summit, MO, brewed under contract by Gordon-Biersch in San Jose, CA. It’s made from malted sorghum, which a source at Gordon-Biersch tells me, contains no detectable gluten.

While researching sorghum beer, I discovered that beer made with sorghum is very popular in Africa, it’s been brewed by Africans for hundreds of years. Most African sorghum beers, known as “opague” beers are brewed using wild yeast, can be somewhat sour and have a shelf life of only days. Sorghum, by the way, is a tropical grass that originated in Africa, it’s now grown in warm areas around the world.

Here’s a bit of info with links to my sources:

First, did you know…“Benjamin Franklin is credited with introducing broomcorn to the United States. While traveling in Europe, Franklin was impressed with a small broomcorn broom he used to clean his hat. He found a few seeds attached to the straw, and took them with him when he returned to Philadelphia. He planted the seeds and initiated an industry. Arcola, Illinois is known as the “Broom Corn Capital of the World.” Since the late 1800’s, area farmers grew the sorghum used in the broom industry. The broom corn is processed in Arcola and brooms sold across the country. Arcola holds an annual Broom Corn Festival each September.”
Source: Southwest Biotechnology and Informatics Center.

Sorghum beer in Africa from Business Africa…

SABMiller’s new clear sorghum beer
Lynn Bolin
Wed, 02 Feb 2005
SABMiller, one of the world’s largest brewers, has launched a new brand of clear sorghum beer, Eagle, which is aimed at helping African sorghum beer drinkers move up the beer ladder to clear lager by bridging the gap between the two.

The new brand was unveiled at a presentation on Wednesday by SABMiller’s managing director for the Africa and Asia division, Andre Parker.

It has already been launched in Uganda, and is set to be launched in Zambia on April 1, as well as in Zimbabwe.

Looks like a normal lager

According to Parker, Eagle is a sorghum-based beer, but instead of the usual cloudy appearance, it is a look-alike to normal lagers, with the same alcohol level as well.

It is positioned to take advantage of the trend among African consumers to move to drinking clear beer as they move up the income scale…

…In Zambia, sorghum beer has a 60 percent share of the overall drinks market, with clear beer and carbonated soft drinks commanding only 20 percent each.

SABMiller already has a 50 percent share of the sorghum beer market via its Chibuku brand, and boasts 100 percent of the local clear beer market. Castle Lager is the largest brand in the country.

A tasting in Toronto of a South African sorghum beer with interesting comments about apartheid…

“Sorghum beer is generally only served in black bars, or black areas. Apartheid extended to the world of beer as the whites in South Africa drank the European-style brews of SAB, and blacks were allowed only to drink sorghum beer, at least until 1962.

Today sorghum beer still holds a strong market amongst the Zulu population of the region. Though commercially produced, they still maintain traditional methods. They are made from sorghum, not barley, and are not hopped. Fermentation is short, and finishes up after bottling. Some brands are packaged in milk cartons, which leak, and others in plastic bottles, which have a “breathing” mechanism in the top to allow fermentation gases to escape.”

From Zulu Kingdom… The Zulu Beer Trail..

“The national drink of the Zulu people.”

“Traditional beer brewing has been part of the Zulu culture for hundreds of years and still forms part of their heritage today. The “mild” sorghum beer is the national drink of the “African” people.”

Handbook of Brewing (Food Science and Technology) by William Hardwick
Excerpt – on Page 41: ” … beer brewed in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In South Africa, the Bantu tribes brewed a grain-based beer called kaffir or sorghum beer, after the grain employed in its brewing. Both sorghum beer and bouza are still brewed in rural Africa. …

And finally, there’s another sorghum beer being made commercially in the U.S. It’s New Grist, made by Lakefront Brewing in Madison, WI. This excerpt comes from
Find out more about New Grist from the brewery.

Commercial Description:
An all-sorghum beer. New Grist, a beer for Celiacs brewed from sorghum and gluten-free yeast grown on molasses. New Grist is the first “official” gluten free beer in the U.S., although it cannot technically be called “gluten-free” until established governmental guidelines are determined for all products claiming “gluten-free” status. In the interim, this Celiac-safe beer can be called “barley-free,” and is a welcome product to those who need to live on restricted diets due to intolerance to gluten, a protein found in common brewing grains such as barley, wheat, rye, oats, spelt, kamut and triticale.

And, for the technically minded, The Journal of Food Technology in Africa has a discussion about the yeast used to make Opague Beer (beer made with sorghum). Check out this link.

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  • http://nill Odetola

    Sir,I read through this teaching,and I can say that I have added better value to my knowledge.But sir,I am working on a project topic “comparative assesement of the stability factors between beer made from sorghum and beer made from barley malt”.I would be priviledged to acquire better and more knowledge from you.I await your response patiently.Thank you.

  • dial a bottle Toronto

    These people are now looking for a way to prevent the hives and the resulting itching and swelling that comes with drinking such beverages. The worst problem is that in many instances these people have been able to drink beer and wine for years and never had any trouble before which makes their dilemma a lot harder to swallow (excuse the pun).

  • Holly Browne

    There are two other sorghum beers that I know of, Bard’s made by Bard’s Tale Beer Company, of Utica, NY and St. Peter’s made in theUK.