Ghana's First Microbrewery Is Changing the Way Beer Is Made in Africa
Inland Microbrewery, located just outside Accra, produces several different varieties of beer, all without the use of imported malted barley, upon which Ghana’s two major commercial breweries almost exclusively rely.
Inland Microbrewery’s Fash Sawyerr samples the brewery’s GH Sorghum Stout. All photos by Danny Paez.
At 62 years old, Clement Djameh drinks at least a beer a day. Since 2003, his glass has been filled with drafts he brewed himself, exclusively using a local African grain called sorghum. The only imported ingredients are the hops.
Djameh and his colleague Fash Sawyerr are the founders of Ghana's first-ever microbrewery, Inland Microbrewery. It's located inside a crumbling, honey-colored mansion complete with Greek-style columns in Kwabenya, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ghana's capital, Accra. At first glance, the place looks abandoned. On the front porch rests a rusted car.
Inside the house is a startling surprise: a fully functioning brewery, complete with custom-made and imported machinery, although some of it is decades old.
One of Djameh and Sawyerr's most prized pieces of equipment is the "Kegerator," a refrigerator they installed a beer tap on top of, connected to a keg stored below. It's used to keep kegs cool at Inland-catered events. Including delivery, a keg costs about $45.
The brewery produces several different varieties of beer, all without the use of imported malted barley, upon which Ghana's two major commercial breweries almost exclusively rely.
Inland, which now caters mostly to private orders, represents what could become a new industry in West Africa: craft beer that can provide needed income to local farmers who grow sorghum.
After a brief tour, Djameh poured a particularly good stout, full of plantain notes. It tasted smoother—and more appropriate for Ghana's tropical climate—than a Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which is also sometimes brewed using sorghum.
In 1986, Nigeria briefly banned the import of malted barley, and its breweries were forced to rely on sorghum and maize.
"When the ban went on, people were in a pickle," said Alex Speers, the director of the International Centre of Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. "They did have to do a lot of work to perfect it."
Djameh, too, initially struggled to create his beers. With help from a grant provided by the United Nations, Djameh painstakingly tested more than 70 different varieties of sorghum before settling on 12 suitable for brewing, as part of research he conducted at the Ghanaian government's Food Research Institute.
Before electricity was largely stabilized this year, Ghana experienced frequent power outages. Without a predictable way to regulate the temperature of his beer, Djameh began burning palm kernel shells as a reliable source of fuel.
Raised in Ghana's once German-occupied Volta Region, Djameh was exposed to beer from an early age. His father was a German teacher, and often socialized with visiting Germans in need of translation services. They would drink German beer together, and it fascinated Djameh. He promised himself that he would learn to make it some day.
After Ghana's equivalent of high school, Djameh received a scholarship to study beer in Germany, at a technical university in Munich. He then returned to his home country, where he worked at some of the country's largest breweries for decades.
Eventually, he chose to set up his own shop, and to seize the chance to make beers that could help his country by utilizing local ingredients.
As Bill Gates has pointed out, unlike wheat, sorghum can survive in areas plagued by high temperatures and little rainfall. As the effects of climate change grow more severe worldwide, sorghum will likely become a crucial grain for not just beer, but food, too.
In the shorter term, however, a homegrown beer could be just plain good for local culture.
"This will just raise the profile and pride of Ghana. People might not see it as very important, but local beer is something that we can claim and no one can take it away from us," Mawuena Akyea, a Ghanaian-American culture writer and filmmaker, said.
Despite the national pride appeal, the demographic for craft brews in West Africa is hard to find. Although Accra's numerous Western-style shopping malls signal the presence of a healthy middle class, its actual numbers are still quite small.
A Pew Research Center study from 2015 found that only about 6 percent of Africans (excluding atypical South Africa) qualify as middle class, earning between $10 to $20 USD per day. It's hard to imagine that the continent's low-income majority would be willing to shell out cash for fancy craft beer.
Yet, Djameh has found a foothold for his beers in the expat and tourist market. The number of international tourists visiting Ghana has steadily increased by over 100,000 people each year since 2011, according to data from the World Bank.
Djameh and other African craft brewers could also consider exporting. Interest in craft beers from North American and European consumers is exploding, according to data from IBISWorld, a global market research firm.
Many health-conscious consumers around the globe are also curious about beers made from alternative grains, especially because many of them, like sorghum, are gluten-free. But so far, the African grain hasn't drawn major interest yet.
"Beer enthusiasts are interested in alternative grains but it's probably fair to say that sorghum is viewed as an adjunct—something you use when barley malt isn't available," Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey, the writers behind the popular beer blog Boak & Bailey, said.
Despite the odds, Djameh is optimistic about the future of his business, especially because he has seen local demand for his beers grow. His dream is to open a chain of breweries throughout Ghana.
On the 40-minute drive through Accra's traffic-choked streets on the way to his brewery, Djameh pointed out a large, overgrown field filled with trash. He explained that the city has earmarked the field to be converted into a park.
"By the end of the year, I will move my microbrewery to this place," he said, pointing. "I want to build a beer garden here."
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in August, 2016.