Typical West African spirits, sodabi is a palm liquor obtained from distilling palm wine. The word sodabi, it is said, comes from the name of its Beninese inventor, who learnt the distillation technique from the European in the early twentieth century. It is known by many names: koutoukou in Ivory Coast, Akpeteshie in Ghana or Ogogoro in Nigeria. Each region has its own way to extract palm wine, trade secrets, making sodabi a liquor with a rich aromatic profile and multiple styles.
Benin, especially the region of Adja, is renowned for its expertise in sodabi. “In the Adja county, entire groves are dedicated to the production of palm wine to make sodabi” says Professor Koblévi Aziadomé, former minister and director of the agricultural research center. Everything begins with the extraction and harvesting the sap of the palm tree. Naturally rich in yeast, it quickly begins its fermentation to give a fermented juice called palm wine. Finally, it is this wine which is distilled, often in artisanal stills to give the liquor called sodabi.
Often sold in plastic bottles, this popular spirits is consumed at celebratory moments or traditional festivals. Some people macerate plants, spices or fruits in their sodabi to give it medicinal properties or special tastes. Unfortunately, it was labeled, wrongly, as dangerous and shoddy. Among producers, palm wine is sometimes poorly fermented, distillation performed poorly, giving a liquor with high levels of harmful elements (eg methanol). The sodabi’s packaging, without labeling, reinforced this negative image and made it difficult for people to distinguish good from bad liquor. Its production was at a time prohibited by law, Benin and Ivory Coast in particular. Despite this, artisans have managed to retain their expertise, offering a fine drink in glass bottles and even to make it a symbol of national pride during colonization.
Today in West Africa, although there are still sodabies of random quality or even harmful, few companies market a traditional alcohol safely. In Benin, it is the case of Axuevi that exists since 1990. Mylène de Souza, head of the family business, is the daughter of the founder and master distiller of the premium brand. It markets sodabi and a range of liqueurs distilled in modern stills and bottled by hands. Axuevi tasting profile has vegetal notes, lemon grass, green plum and is supported by an aromatic smokey structure. It can be consumed on ice or with the miraculous fruit, this small red berry from West Africa, they say, has the ability to give a sweet taste to everything that comes with it.
Other brands want to take sodabi beyond the borders of their country. Created in 2012 by Jake Muhleman, an American installed in Benin, Tambour is an innovation in the segment: it is a spiced sodabi. After being distilled twice in a stainless steel still, the spirits is infused with a blend of 14 plants and spices to reach a beautiful amber color and distinctive taste with woody notes. It is a modern interpretation, quality controlled liquor that la Distillerie Béninoise wanted to give with this spiced sodabi. Tambour is a good option for cocktails such as the African sunrise, the Signature Cocktail, made with pineapple juice and grenadine.
Neho Likors offers a rich variety of liqueurs made from sodabi and made in Togo. The adventure begins with Nedo Homawoo, the founder, who made, during his student years, liqueurs and rums for his friends. The brand was officially launched in 2009 and Nedo was later joined by his partner Marie Claire. The couple hopes to improve the image of sodabi and promote Togolese soil. It is a successful bet with their quality liqueurs sold in boxes made by local weavers and cabinetmakers. Even the bottles come from Lome, from the largest recycled glass bottle market in West Africa. Its eco-friendly approach supported by a rigorous selection of sodabi, spices, plants and fruit allows Neho Likors to convince gourmets’ palate. Aphrodisiacs roots, cinnamon and ginger, pineapple… Those are some of the brand’s delicious references that can be enjoyed alone or in their signature cocktail the Tunch (Togo punch): liquor of choice, hibiscus juice, ginger, passion syrup and monkey bread.
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