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The Sipsmith Blog

Around the World in 80 Gins: Ugandan Gin

in Articles January 28, 2013
Ugandan gin

It might come as a bit of a surprise to some that in the league table of the great gin-drinking countries, Uganda comes in 7th.

Gin in one form or another – waragi as manufactured Ugandan gin or enguli as homemade gin – makes up almost 80% of all the alcohol drunk in Uganda. Read on to learn more about this top gin consumer.

History

The story goes that when the British colonial expats came across the Ugandans’ local, homemade spirit ‘enguli’, they called it ‘war gin’ because it used to give soldiers what we now call ‘Dutch Courage’. A little bit in your system is also said to ward off flies and mosquitoes… This Ugandan gin, however, became so potent that by 1965 its production was limited to those with legal licences, and even then people had to hand it over to the East African Distillers for it to be distilled. Although this law still exists, it wasn’t (and still isn’t) successfully enforced.

What do they like?

Uganda Waragi, distributed by East African Breweries Limited, has been produced since 1965 and is the brewery’s No.1 spirit brand. Lovingly known by its committed fans as UG, or perhaps more illuminating for our purposes, “The Spirit of Uganda”.

The branded, bottled (and regulated) Uganda Waragi is brewed from bananas (like enguli), made with millet and forms a clear, quite spicy Ugandan gin. It is triple distilled until it reaches an alcohol content of 96 % vol, and it is then blended until it arrives at the final 40% proof.

We came across some tasting notes from SummerFruitCup’s blog that describes the gin as being: “Juniper and angelica on the nose. There’s an initial softness with some juniper, a bit of spice and some rooty earthiness. I was surprised by some of the sweet notes in the gin and there is a slight tongue tingle. There is a slight cloying bitterness on the finish, a bit like tonic water. When I added a bit of water the juniper came through a lot more.”

How they drink it?

Waragi’s producers recommend mixing it with cola, lime, ginger ale, tonic or just on ice. Personally, we don’t recommend drinking it neat (nothing is more certain to elicit an earth-shattering hangover) and favour a classic G&T or coke with lemon or lime. The citrus will bring out the flavour nicely.

A word of warning…

If you’re visiting Uganda then trying Waragi is a must for any gin-lover, but whatever you do, it is essential that you make sure it’s not homemade. This generic local moonshine can be absolutely lethal so stick to the branded goods at all costs.

Cocktail:

Uganda Waragi with Krest Bitter Lemon

We believe in keeping it simple with Waragi. Most Ugandans will swear by Krest Bitter lemon as a mixer for it, and we completely agree. If you can’t get hold of Krest, fear not, Schweppes will do just as nicely.

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