South African hooch or moonshine is commonly known as witblits (white lightning) or mampoer. It’s so called because of its fiery kick. Mampoer is immortalised in the short stories of South African writer and humorist, Herman Charles Bosman (1905 – 1951).
The Groot Marico, the small bushveld-farming district in the North West Province is the place in which many of Bosman’s entertaining small town stories are based. It is also considered by many to be mampoer’s cultural home.
Legend has it that mampoer was named after the tribal chief Mampuru. Apparently it was he who introduced to the boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, the potent art of making it, but that’s another intriguing story altogether.
South African mampoer
While nothing prepares the first time sampler for the lightning sensation that causes him or her to rasp for breath, Mampoer is something every brandy connoisseur should try. Essentialaly witblits is a homemade distilled brandy with a high alcohol content made from peaches, or practically any fruit for that matter.
Seasoned South African witblits or mampoer makers and consumers will tell you its unique to South Africa, and not just because of its name. Jealously guarded family recipes are passed down from generation to generation along with some riveting anecdotal stories. In the Marico district it’s a proud tradition among the farming community and a big part of South Africa’s cultural heritage.
Be still my bubbling pot
Back in the day, alcohol content was measured by hurling a blob of lard into the mix. If it floated away, the mampoer got the thumbs up. Nowadays, testing the ‘quality’ of mampoer requires pouring a few drops (literally a small quantity) on a flat surface and lighting it with a match. If it burns off with a blue flame it is pure and high strength.
Where to sample mampoer
Prior to the 1870s, farmers planted vast tracts of peach trees purely to make peach brandy. A distilling tax introduced in the 1890s crushed most of the home brewing mampoer industry. Still, there are farms in the Groot Marico and a few other farms in the country that operate the pot stills used to produce South Africa’s famous fire water.
Mampoer is more than a tasting experience. In the Cape visitors can head off to the Kleinplasie Farm Museum in Worcester. The more adventurous can take a road trip to the Groot Marico to spend a night in the company of some friendly locals for a bit of a chin wag and a little mampoer mayhem.
Image: Tienie Swartz from M&M Mampoer courtesy of Marico Tourism website.