Ogogoro goes upmarket

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KNOWN as ogogoro in Nigeria and akpeteshie in Ghana, it is a West African alcoholic drink extracted locally from palm trees often served to guests or consumed in local bars, and at social events in both countries.

The local gin also has traditional appeal and is used in traditional wedding ceremonies in some regions of Nigeria by fathers of the bride as a form of offering to bless the union of the newlyweds.

But Nigerian company Pedro’s, founded by Lola Pedro and Chibu Akukwe, is producing and refining the drink made from palm saps for a broader market.

Pedro said she became interested in producing ogogoro in 2013 after spending time in countryside communities in the country.

‘I was doing research work in the south-south region, every day after work I’d be with villagers drinking this ogogoro. And that’s when I started thinking, why have we not massively produced and elevated this drink? Other countries who have vodka or whiskey have elevated it to something people can be proud of,’ she told CNN.

Pedro said she began collecting samples of the gin from different parts of the country and sent them to alcohol distilling experts abroad.

She later found a master distiller and launched Pedros’ ogororo in 2018. She describes the gin as Africa’s first premium ogogoro.

More than anything else, Pedro says she wants West Africans, particularly Nigerians, to change how they perceive the drink.

Many people believe that because it is a locally made gin, it’s only suitable for low-income earners, she said.

‘People don’t even want to say ogogoro, they prefer to say gin. There’s the perception that it is for people who just want to get high,’ Pedro added.

Creating ogogoro

To make the ogogoro, Pedro’s team works with communities in Delta and Ogun state, southern Nigeria, who collect locally filtered palm saps. These villages are largely surrounded by palm trees making it easy to source palm saps required to make the drink.

The palm extract is stored in drums for days. Pedro says this allows the liquid to ferment.

It is then heated in a metal drum over a fire, ‘the heated product is basically a kind of crude ogogoro. That’s what we collect from the community members and transport to Lagos,’ she said.

In order to give it a premium look and taste, Pedro and her team pass the crude gin through a distilling machine to filter it and make it smoother.

She says distilling the local gin has helped give it a new layer of cleansing, allowing it to compete with similar drinks in the international market.

‘We preserved the real way of making ogogoro, that’s why we go through that entire process of tapping it and heating it with palm wine tappers in small communities. But at the same time, we added another layer of refinement by removing all the components that make the drink rough,’ Pedro explained.

The ogogoro is supplied to high-end restaurants and bars in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, London and across Lagos with the aim of getting high-income earners to embrace it.

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