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A Culturally Important Beer

In every small brewery in the West African nation of Benin, beer is prepared daily and consumed shortly after. It’s called tchoukoutou, is made only by women, and, as correspondent Noland Ryan Deaver discovered, is steeped in tradition, flavor, and pride.

Noland Ryan Deaver May 14, 2018 - 14 min read

A Culturally Important Beer Primary Image

Photo by Abby Wendle

Walking past the stands of soap, canned tomatoes, and onions for sale on her porch, Madame Rita enters the cabaret where she and her family sell their homebrewed beer. “Good morning,” she says, smiling broadly. “Are you well in arriving?”

Inside the small concrete room, the percussive guitar of a Côte d’Ivoirian artist blares through a speaker as dozens of flies flit around the room’s low concrete benches, searching for traces of spilled beer. The room is dim except for a band of sunlight coming through the back door. Today, like every day, Rita and her family have been brewing in the hard-packed clay courtyard behind their cabaret. Rita’s sister, Brigitte, is inside serving the beer, which many locals consider some of the best in the area. A middle-aged man in a faded American T-shirt, tired-looking slacks, and flip-flops steps into the room. He is the day’s first customer, and Brigitte offers him a sample of the day’s batch. Here, as in all cabarets in this small West African nation of Benin, the server always offers each customer a free bowl of beer upon his/her arrival. If the quality is satisfactory, the customer might stay and continue drinking; others take advantage of the tradition and wander from beer house to beer house, drinking free samples all day.

From the corner where the still-fermenting beer sits in plastic buckets and large cooking pots, Brigitte calls out to the customer, “Well-fermented or sweet?”

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