Chibuku - 'Shake Shake' Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Chibuku - 'Shake Shake'

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Not to be confused with the tub-thumping scouse club scene, chibuku is the preferred Friday-night medicine for millions of black (and maybe one or two white) southern Africans, notably throughout Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa. It is commonly referred to as 'shake shake' because of its propensity to settle into its liquid and solid fractions. Shaking restores the beverage to its former grainy off-yoghurt consistency.

How They Make 'Shake Shake'

Chibuku is made by adding yeast to a thin grey-pink, gruel-like maize porridge, after which it is allowed to brew for the length of time available until it needs to be consumed. After fermentation, it doesn't look any less sickly.

Industrially, the porridge/yeast mixture is packaged on day one into 'one-litre of milk' style wax cardboard cartons, where it is brewed for anything between three and ten days.

The Product

After three days' fermentation, the mixture remains fairly mild in terms of both taste and alcoholic content. It smells not unlike homebrew that's not ready to drink, which is not surprising because that's pretty much what it is. At ten days, the brew is somewhat more mature with a significantly stronger kick. However, by this stage most of the sugar in the brew has been gobbled up by the yeast and the taste might be euphemistically described as 'tart'.

At most stages throughout the brew cycle, the yeast is still busy converting the starch/sugar into alcohol, so the drink will have a zesty effervescence not unlike Lambrusco.

Conversely, precisely not like Lambrusco at all, chibuku contains lumps of partially digested maize-porridge which require some degree of mastication. Generically, chibuku is an opaque beer, which is to say it contains sediment. Actually, chibuku contains lumps of matter, not dissimilar in texture to cottage cheese, which may or may not be related to sawdust.

The Scene

Chibuku, 'the beer of good cheer', is most regularly enjoyed in a shabeen, a probably illegal, almost certainly dingy spartanly furnished drinking den playing loud repetitive piston-popping kwassa-kwassa1 music.

A meal in a box, chibuku doesn't pretend to refresh; it is taken as a cheap and efficient intoxicant.

1Think Paul Simon and the introductory few steel-stringed moments (5-6 seconds maybe) of 'Graceland', but thumpier, with neither the production nor the vocals, repeated with little variation for about 20 minutes. Now dance like you've been filleted.

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