All over the world people and cultures have alcoholic drinks made from local materials. While the Caribbean made local Spirits from Sugarcane; Mexicans from blue agave, Eastern Europeans from cereal grains or potatoes, etc., West Africans made their Spirits from palm wine or sap. However, while others regions have developed their local Spirits, built large distilleries and global brands around their local drinks, the local spirit industry in West Africa remains largely underdeveloped.
The formal market of spirit in the West African region is made of foreign spirits most of which are produced outside the region and are produced from foreign raw materials. However, the region’s spirit market is dominated by the informal market and locally distilled spirits made mainly from sap gotten from palm trees which are common in the region.
People of the region mainly consume local spirit which is far way affordable than foreign spirits. The spirits are mostly flavoured with botanical matter such root, leaves, fruits for medicinal effect, aroma or taste. Spirit from palm wine which is called by different names in different countries: Sodabi in Benin and Togo, Ogogoro in Nigeria, Ondotol in Cameroun, koutoukou in Côte d’Ivoire, and akpeteshie in Ghana, is produced mostly in a traditional way by fermenting and distilling the sap of palm tree popularly called palm wine.
However recently, a handful of companies are trying to make high standard local spirits on an industrial scale. One of the biggest successful local spirit brand produced in industrial scale is Alomo Bitters, a Ghanaian herbal spirit brand. Alomo Bitters which was launched in April 1999, is the first commercially produced bitters product in Ghana and West Africa. The drink was developed by Dr. Kwabena Adjei, the chairman of Kasapreko, the Ghanaian company that produces the spirit, in collaboration with the Center for Plant Medicine Research of Ghana on the scientific basis of the use of medicinal plant extracts in alcoholic drinks as already being practised by locals. According to report the drink can be found in most west African countries such as Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Serra Leone, and Liberia. It can be found in South Africa and in African shops in Europe and the Americas.
The most recent success in the local spirit industry in West Africa is ‘Tambour Original Sodabi’, the first premium version of sodabi, produced in Benin. Tambour Original is an example of the much-needed branding and product development that is required to grow the local spirit industry in West Africa. Sadly, while African entrepreneurs and investors failed to see the business potential of palm wine or the spirit produced from it, it took two Americans, Jake Muhleman and Eric Newton less than three and a half years to see the potentials while working with the Peace Corps in Benin.
Muhleman and Newton along with Kassandra Klaritsch, a former Head of Marketing at a French winery later in 2012 co-founded the distillery company, VooDoo Spirits Inc. in the USA and La Distillerie Beninoise, a subsidiary in Benin to produce a refined and premium version of sodabi that appeals to both African markets and American appetites.
VooDoo Spirits work with local farmers to secure consistent, quality raw materials to produce refined palm liquor using industry-standard equipment and practices. After distillation, Tambour Original is infused with 14 ingredients which include honey and hibiscus and distilled at a constant temperature to exactly 45% Alc./Vol. (less than the local variety) to create a unique, aromatic, and complex flavour profile that results in a premium, award-winning spirit.
The company was a Silver Medalist in the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the largest, most influential international spirits competition in America, placing it higher than other respectable competitors such as Johnnie Walker, Red Label and Black Label which received bronze medals.
The company has been growing since inception and has acquired the United States federal sales approval to sell their drinks in the US. The company which planned to raise $100,000 through Wefunder, a crowdfunding platform, to accomplish its goals and achieve its growth targets in 2016 surprisingly has already raised $330,577 from more than 141 investors as at November 2017.
Tambour Original is currently available for sale in Benin and the United State. While a litre of home-distilled sodabi in Benin costs around $1, 750 mL of Tambour Original Sodabi costs $23.