KONYAGI: Tanzania's Very Own

It all started the first time I went to Shoppers grocery store.  As the cashier was ringing up my items, including the bottle ofKonyagi, she gave me a look that I didn’t quite understand at the time.  I’m pretty sure if there was a conversation bubble above her head, it would read, “She’s really buying this? Girl doesn’t know what she’s in for.”

The first time I went to a local bar here in Dar es Salaam, I immediately spotted the bottle of Konyagi.  And well, my motto is when in Rome, do as the Romans do…or in this case, Tanzanians. So I asked the bartender for Konyagi.  He said, “You want Konyagi?”  Now I know English was not his first language but clearly he understood what I said, so I wasn’t sure why I was getting the push back.  With a smile I simply said, “Yes, I want Konyagi.”

He poured a single serving on the rocks. My coworkers asked if I was sure I wanted to drink that tonight.  At this point, I’m thinking to myself, “Why is everyone acting like I asked for a glass of rubbing alcohol?”  I promptly told them “Yea, I’m going to try it.” They gave me the same look the cashier did a week prior, but I just had to taste it for myself.

I took the tiniest of all Konyagi sips and voila!…I was still alive.  And actually, I didn’t think it was that bad.  It tastes like a milder version of gin.  Gin isn’t my favorite drink, but Konyagi doesn’t leave behind that weird aftertaste that I think gin does.  However for some people, it is definitely one of those drinks that could put some hair on your chest.

I sipped the Konyagi slow because I knew not to test my luck but after a few sips, I added some ginger ale to make it a little more tasty.  Being 35% alcohol, I can say that Konyagi is not a drink that I would drink all evening.  Seems like that would result in a night of bad decision-making. I’ve heard stories.  But for a casual night out with friends, it seems like a perfectly respectable drink.

Made from distilled sugar cane, Konyagi’s tagline is “Spirit of the Nation.”  According to its website, it was launched in 1970 and it “represents the essence of what Tanzanians want to carry forward as their Nation develops; something clean and strong from the past that will always be part of their future.”  On the bottle is an image of an African male, arms stretched above his head, representing strength and solidarity. Underneath the African figure are the Swahili words “Kinywaji Safi,” meaning “Drink Pure.”  Konyagi is currently exported to  Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

I haven’t had a chance to try any cocktails made with Konyagi yet, but I will definitely tell my next bartender to make the Konyagi Mule:

2 tots Konyagi
1/2 a tot of lime cordial
Top up with ginger

Yum!  People should stop being scared of Konyagi and give it a taste!  It’s actually quite good.


Photo Credit: konyagi.co.tz, cardiffstudentmedia.co.uk, voices.yahoo.com, and 1plus.co.tz