The alcohol business is always booming in Kenya considering we love our alcoholic beverages homemade, a little traditional, a few cups a day to keep us going. At the center of it is Chang’aa, taking over slums and low-end pubs generating income that has put bread on the table and children through schools.
This traditional home-brewed spirit has got many hooked, making businesses thrive while promoting social and cultural traditions by consuming our very own. Chang’aa is your typical one for the road, after a tiresome day.
In 2000, an illicitly brewed batch of chang’aa with toxic amounts of methanol distributed that killed 113 people and sent another 394 to the hospital, saw the “Mututho Laws,” designed to protect the health of consumers and youth, promote treatment and rehabilitation, and increase education and awareness of dangers pertaining to alcoholic drinks.
Shortly after, the government legalized chang’aa brewing in 2010 in a bid to regulate and prevent injuries and death and Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill of 2010 was passed to regulate the chang’aa industry with hopes of lowering the prevalence of alcohol poisoning and increasing revenue, failure to comply attracts Ksh 10M fine or 10 years in prison sentence for adulterating the drink.
Here is how to prepare Chang’aa for safe consumption.
With bundles of maize and millet flour in a huge drum, water is added and the contents stirred to make a thick paste. This paste is roasted in a big round pan until it obtains a brownish color, and then contents are transferred into a barrel, mixed with more water and lots of brown sugar. The contents are tightly sealed and buried underground or kept in some shackle to ferment for up to five days.
Alternatively, with proportioned amounts of molasses and east from a local market. One can mix the molasses with plenty of water and add the yeast then stir it. The mixture is properly covered and left to ferment for five to seven days.
Days after fermentation is done the mixture is distilled. The fermented mixture is put in a large container with a horse running from the container into another then placed over a heat source, normally a fire, to vaporize the product. The first few drops of distillation product, known as foreshot, contain the majority of methanol. In the separate container, the remaining distilled product is collected and then sold as Chang’aa.
A cup of Chang’aa costs as little as Ksh2, and with a whole $1 four cups are enough to knock you off your feet. Chang’aa consumption is associated with family men residing in slums working as casual laborers or unemployed. Since the Chang’aa has low-profit margins, distillers are incentivized to make their brew as strong as possible using hazardous additives.
Even with cases of the brew being laced with methanol, jet fuel, high chances of it being brewed in unhygienic conditions with reports of dead rats and women’s underwear being found at the bottom of the barrels abound has never made the addicts turn away it.
Just like any other alcoholic beverage, Chang’aa also has some health benefits. It helps in relieving stress, temporarily, and can also help to reduce fats in your body preventing high blood pressure.
Also, when men met in the drinking dens Chang’aa helps them unwind and open up about their troubles which help with social support and friendships.