[By Michael B. Munyimba]
The first time I saw how kachasu was brewed and extracted as an end product from that whole distillation process, I thought I was at some nuclear plant somewhere in North Korea!
Trust me, if you have never seen that process, and I decided to draw a diagram of the ‘equipment’ and ‘apparatus’ used by those people, you too may probably think it’s for some complicated lab where Russians are trying to develop some weapon to fight Satan when Armageddon begins.
Giant zinc half drums burning beneath the surface of hot timber in a ramshackle of some slam, thin translucent pipes connecting the drum to other metal tanks, with more plastic pipes leading to smaller bowls or huge bottles placed on the floor. It is these final pipes at the end that suck the vapour distilled from whatever is in that big drum into the
bottles on the floor. And when that vapour reaches the mouth of the pipe and is hit by the cold air in the room, science rudely transforms it into some deadly liquid droplets that slowly trickle into the ‘thirsty’ bottles below. My guide explained that those first drops that fill up the first one or two bottles are what they call ‘number 1’; first grade, or grade one lutuku, as kachasu is also called.
You see, I grew up in a teacher’s home. My father was called a grade one headmaster, and when I was little, I couldn’t understand just how a lad who ended in grade one could be given the responsibility to run a secondary school. I didn’t understand that it only meant the that the guy was a disciplinarian, that he didn’t take nonsense; that he didn’t hesitate to mete out the most severe of punishment for the slightest mistake; that he could suspend you before you even discovered what offence you had committed. And that’s how those first drops of lutuku are. Before you even realise what you swallowed, you are ‘suspended’! Kekeke. In fact, they can’t sell you number one on its own; they will pour a tablespoon in a 75mm grade 3 bottle to neutralise it. Otherwise, ukufa (you die), unless you have a degree in partaking of poison. Kekeke, ok, have I lost you? Don’t worry, I will bring you back on track.
But what exactly are the ingredients of lutuku, you may ask. Well, nothing complicated, just sugar, alcohol yeast, water – and maize. It is on the last one that this article is based – yes, maize! But I will come back to that soon, let me first finish ‘discrediting’ this lutuku and provoke someone, kekeke.
I actually love the partakers. I just love the way they ‘congregate’ around one tiny bottle, staring at it with great adoration as they slowly sip from this tiny 25gm vaseline container. The way these containers have suffered, if you see them disappearing from your home, know where they are. And when you start becoming a senior member of the kachasu club, you beg to slowly change. First, you begin to forget taking your bath and meals, then you start wearing your trousers inside out without the belt because you are always in a hurry to go and be the first to reach the kachasu house. Then with time your lips begin to be so red, such that someone may think a rat accidentally circumcised your mouth. And you start wearing ‘tropicals’ of different colours. As your levels change, your eyes and mouth start moving towards each other, threating to bury the nose. And as one gains more superiority in kachasu, the nose finally disappears; only two small holes on top remain just big enough to allow sufficient oxygen to pass through. The whole face starts looking like you smell something so nostalgic -permanently! You see how the faces of other passengers on the bus twist when you unleash ‘a nuclear bomb’.
Now imagine someone’s face remaining that way permanently! That’s how people’s faces twist, especially if you catch them downing a lot; it’s like real hard forced labour. One would think it’s a punishment ruling from the Supreme Court that you must drink it by force in the presence of armed soldiers or be shot dead. But NO, ‘we’ drink it voluntarily. In fact, kachasu has suddenly become so trendy you won’t believe some of the people you will see if you visit these usually hidden water-holes – teachers, soldiers, doctors, tertiary and secondary school students, name them. You will be shocked at how they have all developed an insatiable appetite for this illicit brew that long ago was deemed to be some illicit and dangerous beverage for scumbags who had given up hope on life. Well, not anymore!
Elo make a mistake you pour out kaja ka tot, you will hear insults that you would have never imagined existed under the sun, even Satan would be shocked to hear them for the first time! But buy a ‘bomb’ pa group (75mm), you will be puzzled with the kind of respect they will accord you to a point where you will start suspecting that the president probably just appointed you District Commissioner and you just missed the news on radio! It will be “Sir, Sir, Sir” every time you breath. All eyes will be on you, envying you for being such a great man. Only you will be allowed to talk, and only your jokes will be ‘allowed’ to be funny. The moment you open your mouth to utter even the most stupid of things, everyone falls down chocking with uncontrollable laughter. And when you stand up to try and go and pee behind the hut, they will ask a retired 90-year-old teacher to give you ‘police escort’, ati “Charles, bapelekeze bamdala kumbuyo uku.’’ Yaba! Mooba uyu…kikiki. All because people want to drink lutuku!
Now, do you know how much kachasu is brewed
everyday in the country? No, let me put it this way, do you know how much traditional beverages such as kachasu, imbote, gankata, katuba – and of course the market leader chibuku (with all its ‘sibblings – Shake Shake and all packets) are brewed in a day or year in this country? Now, have you ever thought of how much of our national maize they use in a day, week or year? I will give you a hint and leave the rest to your imagination. But first, I wish to just shade just a bit of light on chibuku – which I pronounced market leader among all; and upon which, by the way, this article is primarily based- just in case you didn’t know.
The chibuku story is a multi-million-dollar business that began long before the independence of Zambia. It was first brewed by a Germany master brewer called Max Heinrich who was trained in Berlin and later settled in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. This white German lad who was then on the Copperbelt noticed that because Blacks and Whites could not drink together in the same bars due to the then racial divides, Blacks had their own local brew of alcohol made out of sorghum and maize and was very popular among migrant workers there. Besides, Blacks, who of course were poorly paid, could not afford those British gins and tonics even if they could be allowed. And so they had to find a way to come up with their own substance to intoxicate them when they were resting from the ‘horse’ labour under the colonial rulers.
Now, Heinrich was not a fool, he looked at how these Blacks loved this drink and saw it as a money-making opportunity if he could brew it for them. And the only way he was going to beat local
competition was by enhancing the quality using his expertise as a professional brewer and improving the packaging. And he was going to commercially brew using the same sorghum and maize and distribute it. That’s how he started to brew it using local ingredients. And because he was obsessed with improving his brew, Heinrich started recording his customers’ comments in a book. This book also contained changes he made to the brewing process as per customers’ views.
His record book became synonymous with his brew, so people would say, “Kabiye ushite ubwalwa palya pa musungu ulemba muci cibuku.” And that’s how the name ‘chibuku’ was born! Today, chibuku is found almost everywhere in Africa with
multi-million-dollar turnouts. It’s so popular and widely drunk; not just here in Zambia but also Zimbabwe where it was first brewed in 1962. It’s in South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, Kenya, even in Nigeria and several other countries.
Now I am going to end this article with a bomb as a parcel to you that may trigger some serious thinking, kikiki. I want you to read it very carefully. So, let me write it slowly, because some of you can’t read fast…kikiki, just kidding. I bumped into an authority on this matter of opaque beer, and he told me something that shook me to the core. He said to me, “Brandon, did you know that 60% of our maize goes to opaque beer brewing?”
“WHAT?” I jumped off my chair at the counter of that bar in which we sat. What was this guy talking about? Are you crazy,” I enquired. But he went on
explaining a lot of stuff. Now, obviously the guy was probably drunk, and I don’t believe that. But supposing his statement was anywhere close to the truth, let’s look at this. During the crop season 2020/2021, Zambia is believed to have produced 3.62 million tonnes of maize, the highest in the nation’s history on the back of good rains and improved
farming methods. Now 60 per cent of that would be 2.23 million tonnes! The country exports between 400,000 and one million tonnes.
On the 4th of September, 2020, government temporarily banned maize exports and mealie meal (less than one million tonnes). This was to ensure we were ‘food secure’. And even though the decision was rescinded a week later, we lost some forex.
Now, as earlier stated, I can’t substantiate the claims of that guy I talked to. All I know is that about 420 million litres of opaque beers are brewed a year. I don’t know how much maize is required for that, you can find that out.
So, what’s my point, you ask? Well, if we are talking about food security, perhaps we could start by checking the quantity of maize going into beer before we think of suspending meagre exports of less than a million tonnes because if this info could be true, it could mean us who drink chibuku, ‘eat’ more mealie meal in three months than what the whole country uses in a year! Mwaimvela kanongobilitina skopodicious, ka? But not everything is bad about opaque beer, “…it gives you 13.1% of body energy when you drink,” my friend told me.
By the way, did I mention that when you drink lutuku your skin becomes so smooth; people begin to ask, “bushe masubanshi mufuta?” Till next Wednesday, naya ku kachasu!