The ultimate home brews

Chef Siba Mtongana and specialist brewer Constance Nkuna share their love for homemade beverages

Traditional beer.
Traditional beer.
Image: Jonathan Oberholster

No matter the occasion, umqombothi remains a classic that can be enjoyed all year round. Specialist brewer Constance Nkuna has been honing her traditional beer-making skills since she was a teenager.

“I started making traditional beer when I was 18 years old when I just entered womanhood,” she says. Despite some quick recipes that are now available on the market, Nkuna says she still prefers the art of the traditional recipe, brewed over a few days.


Makes 10 litres


1kg King Korn mtombo malt

500g (4 cups) maize meal

12 litres water

65ml (¼ cup) brown sugar   


  • Mix half the mtombo with the maize meal in a bowl. Add 2 litres of boiling water and stir until you have a smooth paste.

  • Set aside to cool, cover with a lid, and set aside in a warm place overnight to begin fermenting.

  • Pour 4 litres of the remaining water into a large pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and work in the soured mixture, stirring constantly.

  • Place back on the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until boiling.

  • Continue cooking the mixture for 1 hour, until thick. Remove from heat and set aside to cool, then transfer into a large plastic bucket. 

  • Add 6 litres of the remaining cold water and mix in the remaining mtombo and the brown sugar. Cover with a lid and set aside for between 2 and 3 days to ferment.

  • Using your hand or a large wooden spoon, press the beer mixture through a very fine sieve to achieve a smooth liquid.

  • Set aside to settle for 30 minutes before serving.

Brewer’s tips:

  • If you don’t have a sieve, use a double layer of muslin. 

  • On the second day, add 2 litres of store-bought sorghum beer to assist with the fermentation.

“Making ginger beer was a norm in most households during my childhood summers,” says Mtongana. “As kids visiting distant family members, we could count on being served it along with what I call township scones, which are something between the English scone and a muffin,” she says.

“Each family has their own ginger-beer recipe and swears theirs is the best. Well, I am no different, thanks to this special recipe I was given by [my husband] Brian’s grandmother, MaKhumalo. I have tweaked it a little by adding fresh ginger for a stronger flavour and some yeast to speed up the fermentation process and produce a bubbling effect.”

Ginger beer.
Ginger beer.
Image: Supplied.


Makes 4L

475ml white sugar

4L water

30ml ground ginger

150ml grated fresh ginger

2ml tartaric acid

2ml cream of tartar

5ml yeast (optional)

30ml raisins

Serve with:

a few slices fresh ginger, made with a peeler

1 stick lemongrass, halved

125ml crushed ice


  • Heat the sugar and 250ml water in a saucepan, stirring continually until the sugar has dissolved. Add both the ground and fresh ginger, the tartaric acid, and cream of tartar, and bring to a simmer.

  • Simmer for 10 minutes until the mixture has slightly thickened and become golden in colour. Mix the syrup with the remaining water, stir in the yeast, and transfer to a clean 4L bucket with a lid or two 2L plastic bottles. Add the raisins.

  • Place in a warm spot, but not in direct sunlight, for 8 hours. (If you choose to leave out the yeast, place in a warm spot for 24–48 hours and open the bucket or bottles every 12 hours to allow the gas to escape.) The raisins should start spinning and rising to the top when the ginger beer is ready.

  • Strain using a clean muslin cloth and chill. Serve with fresh ginger slices and lemongrass, to impart flavour, and crushed ice.

Chef’s tips:

  • If not already bottled, the ginger beer must be bottled as soon as the raisins start spinning and surfacing. Remove those raisins when straining the ginger beer and add new ones just before chilling if you prefer.

  • You can also flavour the ginger beer with 30-45ml of pineapple-drink concentrate, adding it just before the fermentation begins, and then serving with pineapple slices.

Recipe extract from Welcome to my Table by Siba Mtongana. Available at all leading book retailers.