Saturday, May 06, 2017

Rwandan Banana Beer Taste Test

I was initially concerned that Matt was doing me a big favor by hanging out and showing me around which I would be unable to repay. But I had got him a bed at what is likely the best hotel in the damn country. I haven't seen where he lives in his village up north but I'm imagining a thatched roofed hut with a sign that reads "rats, ants, and Matt live here". He drank all the coffee in the room and made the front desk bring him a new toothbrush. I felt even better about it when we got to breakfast.

Matt ate sort of like a cookie monster type character. I don't remember exactly what happened but there was a lot of bacon, donuts, and coffee flying all over the place. I tried an "African Tea". It was heavy on the milk which I like, and there were a few spices going on in there I think but the ginger was so heavy that it was hard to taste anything else. I'm glad I gave it a go but I didn't end up requesting it again.

Well a large thing on my list was I wanted to taste this banana beer I'd read about here and here. Banana beer, known as urwagwa around these parts, is apparently a thing throughout East Africa and sounds like is most commonly made just by people at home. Matt knew of a place where they serve it near the Marriott so we started trekkin'.

I arrived in Rwanda during some sort of genocide remembrance period and there were lots of signs up referring to it around the city. Now that I think of it I don't believe I saw any of this outside of Kigali.

Heaven Restaurant & Boutique Hotel was the place that was keeping my banana beer cold for me.

Heaven was a pretty ritzy place. I guess it really better be with that name. You can tell Rwanda is an up and coming destination just from the tourists. Some of them even had their kids with them. 

I was initially confused because I'd been reading all of these articles about banana beer and I was down to clown. Well I feel like on the print menu at Heaven it referred to urwagwa as wine. This little shot of the menu on their website refers to it as liquor. I think it must be a wine because it is made from fermented fruit rather than fermented grain which would be beer. Liquor is distilled and this certainly is not.  

Well one thing is for sure, they did not forget to put the alcohol in there. It does contain sorghum which is a grain but according to my sources that is simply the source of the wild yeast necessary for fermentation. OK so maybe it's wine that someone poured a little beer into.

I'll steal from one of those articles to describe the taste: 

"So what does it actually taste like? Unfortunately not like the Giffard Banane Du Bresil liqueur that’s haunted my dreams. Canadian news producer Jim Handman tasted the “wild beer” several years ago in Rwanda, where he had the pleasure of sampling the “thick, opaque, yellowish-brown liquid” made by nuns – that’s right, Nuns were brewing the beer. The taste? “Both sweet and sour, with a very strong alcohol flavour….a bit like unfiltered apple juice combined with a healthy dose of vodka.” So more gritty moonshine than decadent flavors of banana and toffee." 

Personally it reminded me of a sweet alcoholic apple cider vinegar. They get 1000 points for having something fun that I haven't had before. It ain't no banana milkshake, however. I was sitting and sipping my exotic cool drink and being an exotic cool man when the bartender came by and informed me that banana wine is a woman drink for women who like sweet things. Thank you so much for that cultural knowledge.

The bartender was mixing something up with the banana wine and after inquiring what it was she gave us both a little taste glass. I don't remember the cocktail's name but it had the urwagwa as well as lemongrass syrup which I think is also a first for me. It was nice because it smoothed out some of the intensity of the wine. This might have been my first consumption of ice in-country. I'm just too nice. I have in my head "don't eat any ice John the water could be bad and you could get mouth diarrhea" but then some kind soul offers me something and I instantly switch to "go ahead and risk your health and drink this because you don't want to insult this person what sort of an ugly American are you?" If you ever want to poison me just politely offer it to me three times and I'll probably drink it. Before I went to Japan I was like "caffeine bad, tea bad". When I got back I was like "yeah the beauty of the tea ceremony, the culture, the taste, yum yum tea in my tum tum".

Well we had one drink there then bounced to another bar. My list of things to do in Kigali was essentially: Banana Beer, Genocide Museum, Hotel Rwanda. Matt has been to the genocide museum already several times so he vetoed that idea. Well anyway I'd just accomplished 33% of my goals so we stopped for a celebratory beer.

How does it taste? Who cares. It's called Turbo King and has a damn pouncing lion on the label. It made me look cool while drinking it. Bartenders are always very confused when I ask to keep the bottle cap then very amused when I tell them that's my Rwanda souvenir. Later on he reached for the bottle cap to throw it away and I was like "no seriously, I'm keeping that". He thought I was joking.

I tried to pay with every card in my wallet before giving up. Turns out it's them, not me. I haven't had a problem anywhere else in the country.

We stopped at another place for another beer to celebrate that time I had a beer with a lion label on it.

Some places in Rwanda have those unfortunate squatting toilets. In Japan I never really got good at using these. I would take my pants and underwear completely off and hang them up so that I didn't, you know, poop all over my clothes while at work. In Japanese culture it is frowned upon.

I think what's going on here is if you don't pay your electric bill they shut off your electricity. Then when you pay they give you a passcode which you then enter into your meter to turn your power back on. Seems like an effective system.

Another grocery store. Notice the genocide remembrance banner.

The view from my room is lovely if I just aim my camera really really high.

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