Where is South Africa's national drink?
Half the world, including us, believes we owe whisky/ey to the Scots and Irish. Character analyses are built on whether we spell it the Scot’s way or Irish. But do they merit this credit?
Japan, Taiwan and many countries were distilling grain before they heard of the British Isles. What we really owe those Celts is congratulations on their chutzpah, and marketing technique.
America’s chutzpah is even greater. They gave a subspecies of whiskey a separate name, bourbon, stolen from France, and actually legislated that no-one outside America can make it.
Switzerland has its absinthe, Bermuda its rum, Mexico its tequila.
There’s Russia’s vodka. The Scandinavians merge potatoes and caraway into their akvavit.
Shouldn’t an ambitious cocky nation like us be putting our hat in the ring? We’re pretty good at producing alcoholic liquids and extremely good at consuming them. Planet Earth needs a drink that while being applauded from Vladivostok to Valparaiso induces warm thoughts of the good folks at the tip of Africa.
Is there a chance of mageu becoming that thing? Current betting would give you odds equivalent to Ajay Gupta getting Businessman of the Year, but think broad, the world moves, who knows when somebody might formalise mageu, define it, refine it, and we see a vertical graph?
I’m told that the Belgians thought their Stella Artois was a rough ploughman’s beer until they blinked and found that millions of non-Belgians had made it Premium.
Meantime, some would say we have a stand-out candidate in the spirits terrain, mampoer.
My perspective on mampoer has done somersaults. I met it at the Marico, its traditional heartland, on a memorable night. The first half.
Old beautiful farmhouse, bushveld forever, Boere with beards to obscure their khaki shirts have laid steak for two armies on the braai and are revelling in their first flush of applied Simunye.
My colleague, Vusi, would once have been an unlikely guest. Now in compensation, they treat him like their best friend returned from Mars.
When the steaks are bone, mampoer appears, wrapped in barbed wire, quite a masterstroke. A bottle that can draw blood states a distinctive identity.
In no time, Vusi and I are at one, converts to the cause of mampoer. We denounce the injustice of the world and the liquor industry that failed to alert our cities to this home-grown nectar.
We appoint ourselves its agents, as of our return tomorrow.
I recall tomorrow making a slow start, but we had our barbed bottles, alright. And we both discovered a sad truth, like the carriage turning to a pumpkin.
In the Marico, mampoer is the nectar of the gods. But back in the suburbs it tastes like something from Creatures the World Forgot.
The bottle shifted rearward in the cabinet. Until, years later, lunch in my garden, a guest wants to try mampoer.
I pour a glass. I add ice. It sinks. He stares, blinks, knocks it back.
Thirty seconds of silence. Then he rises, tosses his glass over the back of his head and kicks the dog into the fishpond.
The barbed bottle has seen minimal use since, cauterising small wounds. My faith in its potential shrank a bit.
Though I now hear there’s a move for more flavour and less alcohol, even unto floating the ice.
The world advances. Mampoer Lite was heresy once; sickly, liberalis-kommunis. Now - Go, mampoer!
Conquer the world! (And cut mageu in, willya? Twin act).
* Denis Beckett is an author and one of South Africa’s finest journalists with a keen eye and sharp wit.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media