So we are sat by the bank of the Sepik river at dusk, gazing out at the sunset and looking down at the deeply suspicious mineral water bottle beside us. Home brew is considered a scourge of Papua New Guinea, contributing to drunkenness, alcoholism, laziness and some pretty spectacular bouts of violence that occasionally flare up into tribal warfare. At election time the whole country goes “dry” with the only source of a drink being either overpriced tourist hotels or illicit hidden stills. It’s meant to be pretty vicious stuff. We HAD to try some.
Buying home brew on the Sepik is like being a teenager all over again. With the help of your guide you have to find a dealer who sells “the stuff”, get scoped out to make sure you aren’t “the Feds”, slip “Timothy” a ten kina note, hide the bottle in your pocket in case your guest house manager disapproves, find some coca cola to mix it with (of course avoiding questions as to why you suddenly need coca cola out in the bush), find a quiet place to drink it, get rid of the empties etc etc. Deeply sad I know, but it’s all actually really rather exciting.
So, the tasting:
- Initial appearance: mildly disconcerting, as it comes in an old 500ml mineral water bottle with a broken seal. Enough for four grown men, apparently
- Colour: clear, with perhaps a slight hint of oily murkiness. Although that could have been the old plastic bottle
- Aroma: surprisingly banana-y and aromatic, but with a hint of petrol. Which isn’t that surprising, given it comes from mashed up bananas left in a petrol can, then distilled using a rubber hose. A human taster takes the role of the perhaps-more-usual thermometer to make sure that it isn’t poisonous, but that it still has that home brew kick
- Taste: actually not that bad. There is clearly scads of alcohol there, but it doesn’t completely overpower the taste of bananas. It is most similar to rum, albeit with an unusual and testy zing which we attributed to the meths left over from the dodgy distilling process. Coca cola hides the taste of the meths pretty well, leaving a banana Bacardi & Coke taste. Mmmm.
- After effects: no doubt horrific, both in the hangover and going-blind stakes, but as professional taste testers without a spittoon handy we only had a small amount before handing the rest to our guide to dispose of as he saw fit
The view from our home brew spot (the local equivalent of behind the bike sheds, I guess)