In Nigeria’s northern Kano state, Janet Peter stirs a thick and frothy brown liquid inside a large cast iron pot, worrying all the while that religious police will come and chase her from the restaurant where she operates.
Peter is among many local people carrying on the tradition of brewing “burukutu”, a popular homemade beer with a vinegar-like flavour made with sorghum.
Brewers like her are a target for the Hisbah, the religious police who enforce Islamic sharia law that is in place in 12 northern states.
But Peter, and those who consume burukutu, say it is healthy, natural and part of local tradition. Thick and heavy, burukutu is widely consumed as food in rural parts of the north.
“I grew up watching my mother and members of my family do the formulation back in my village,” Peter told Reuters in the Hausa language. “I moved to town and could not find a job and I decided to start making this.”
A four-litre bucket costs 500 naira ($1.22) – far cheaper than commercially brewed beer – and the 48-year-old mother of two sells between 40 to 80 litres a day.
Brewing – from sorting the sorghum to washing, fermenting, blending and cooking – takes five days. Burukutu typically has an alcohol content of 3% to 6%.
“We are pleading to the government to leave us to continue with this business,” Peter said. “People love it and enjoy it.”
Religious police chased her from her last brewing site and she now works from a restaurant that provides cover from the Hisbah, for now.
Sulaiman Ali, a security guard, said burukutu is filling and free of the chemicals he said are found in bottled beer and ogogoro, a local gin.
“This one is a natural thing, cooked and it is okay,” he said as he sipped from a wooden bowl.