What are Palm Spirits and why Value Africa is so excited by them?

Posted by Daniel Idowu on

Palm Spirit is the term given to a group of alcoholic beverages made from the sap of palm trees. Palm Spirits are consumed in many parts of the world and are particularly popular in West Africa. The Raffia palm tree is a popular species for producing Palm Spirits, with local variations of the spirit distilled across the continent. In Nigeria, Palm Spirit is commonly known as Ògógóró, while in Ghana it is called Akpeteshie.

Tapping for sap

Ògógóró and Akpeteshie are made by fermenting the sap of the palm tree. To source the sap, expert tapsters cut into the trunk of the tree. Tapsters like Papa are skilled in selecting healthy Raffia trees to source the sap. Over-tapping or tapping too deeply can damage the tree. When the right species have correctly been tapped, trees can live for over 100 years. We take care to vet our suppliers, as we want to maintain the long-term viability of the industry, protecting tapsters’ livelihoods. Value Africa only sources our Palm Spirits from suppliers who use sustainable methods that do not lead to deforestation.

Typically, trees selected for tapping are at least 10 years old and 20cm wide. Once the right tree has been selected small taps are made into the trunk using a cutlass or machete. The amount of sap which can be collected from trees is partially dependent on the amount of rainfall during the previous year’s rainy season.

Fermentation to Distillation

After the sap is collected from the palm tree, it is usually filtered to remove dirt, tree debris and other unwanted elements. The sap is then poured into large containers, such as barrels or jugs, and left to ferment. This process is speedy, with some fermentations quickly reaching up to 1% ABV in a matter of hours.

Producers who choose to not distil the fermented palm sap can produce an organic and vegetal drink. This is known as Palm Wine and is enjoyed across Africa. However, when making a Palm Spirit the sap is usually left to ferment for up to 10 days, depending on each producer's recipe and the intensity of flavours and aromas required.

Creating alcohol, which we all know and love, requires distillation. Pedro’s, a Nigerian producer of Premium Ògógóró, continues to use traditional methods. They work with communities, often women, to distil in the bushes close to where the trees are tapped. This distillation uses a drum and is heated by fire. Bush distillation is often done twice depending on each producer’s recipe. Pedro’s then takes the product back to Lagos for further distillation, using modern industrial methods such as fractional distillation.

Distillation to Bottling

Palm Spirit has a unique flavour profile often described as having a sweet, vegetal, and slightly earthy taste. It has a distinct aroma that is reminiscent of the palm tree it comes from. This unique flavour profile gives producers several finishing choices before they bottle and ship their products.

Aphro Palm Spirit is produced in Ghana and is finished using a special recipe that blends fruit and spices. They have two different products. The Nubi is infused with fruit flavours such as Pineapple and Passion Fruit. The Moor sees Aphro mix the palm spirit with Ginger and Xylopia Aethiopica (a pepper indigenous to Africa). Pedro’s has also played around with ageing their product with experimental materials

Enjoying Palm Spirits

Palm Spirits have cultural significance too. In West Africa, it plays an important part in traditional ceremonies and social gatherings. In Nigeria, Ògógóró is used as part of libations, where the alcohol is poured to honour ancestors and elders. Libations are also common at weddings, funerals or during naming ceremonies for new-born children.

Palm Spirits are popular with bartenders, mixologists and chefs who want to create new experiences for their customers. They can be consumed on their own to create unique cocktails. Their unique flavour makes it a popular choice for people looking for a new and exciting taste experience. Aphro and Pedro’s are spearheading a Palm Spirit wave, winning awards and making it widely available across Africa.

Value Africa is here to bring it to the world. Indulge in Pedro’s and Aphro and join the wave. Visit our mixology section for more advice on how to enjoy your Palm Spirit.

Image: Pj Potter

Akpeteshie Ogogoro Palm Spirts

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