The magic of making Ogogoro from Palm Wine

By The Centenary Project

The delight of distilled palm wine has earned it several names including "Kai-Kai", "Akpeteshie", "Egun Inu Igo." But perhaps the most well-known is "Ogogoro" which, in terms of processing, is just one step away from the regular palm wine.

"Awonpa", a flavour of palm wine served in a glass with sticks (2019)The Centenary Project

Nature's brew - a refreshing delight

Ogogoro is a popular local gin that is distilled from palm wine. It is made especially in the south of Nigeria. Its production and consumption could be said to be as on a scale equivalent to the brewing industries. Some have described it as many people’s favourite alcoholic beverage.

Crystal clear Ogogoro dripping (2019)The Centenary Project

From Palm Wine to Ogogoro

Palm wine is an alcoholic drink from the sap of a palm tree. Palm trees are carefully selected for tapping; trees such as coconut tree, date tree and palmyra are the common palm wine trees.

Ogogoro is a form of local gin distilled from fermented palm wine. It carries both cultural and economic significance in virtually all parts of the country and is an essential part of many religious and social ceremonies.

For instance, Ijaw priests pour it on the ground as offering to their gods, while in many traditions, fathers of brides use it as a libation with which to pronounce their blessing on a union.

palmwine tapper in search of plamwine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Meet the tapper

In rural communities located in the thick forest belt, there are palm trees such as palmyra, date palms and coconut palms whose sap are known as palm wine. In Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, the forest has a swampy undergrowth which makes it more difficult to navigate.

Bamboo ladder (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

The way to the top

Among the tools the locals use for tapping palm wine is a rope (known as "ete" in Igbo land) which is tightly curled round the tapper’s waist when climbing.

Apart from the rope, the tapper also climbs the palm tree using a locally fabricated ladder which is simply a bamboo or wooden plank with grooves carved into it (shown in the picture) or protrusions grafted onto it to act as steps.

The tapper also goes with a cutlass, a knife and a jerrycan.

Palm wine container (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Essential tools

A plastic container such as a jerrycan is often used to collect the sap since it is relatively easier to handle when going up and down the palm tree.

Palmtree palmwine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Climbing barefoot

The palm wine tapper climbs up a palm tree using the gloves on the bamboo attached to the tree.

Man preparing to tap palm wine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

A rope for safety

When at the top of the tree, a rope (which has to be strong and in good condition) serves as support for the tapper while he is collecting the palm wine.

When the tapper climbs to the top of the palm tree, he cuts cut some of its palm branches to expose the tissue and then uses the knife to create a hole in it.

A hollow bamboo or empty pipe is often used to direct the sap into the jerrycan which is fastened securely on the tree.

Man with jerrycan of palm wine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Returning to base with the fresh palm wine

The container is left for days so that it can collect enough sap. When enough sap has been collected, the tapper takes it back to his shed where it is distilled or sold immediately.

Local signpost for palm wine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Fresh palm wine available for sale

The fresh palm wine is brought back to base and sold. Some of the palm wine is now ready to be made into Ogogoro.

Signposts like this are placed by the roadside to inform potential buyers that palm wine and Ogogoro are available for sale.

Drums of fermenting palm wine (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

From palm wine to Ogogoro: the fermention process

To prepare Ogogoro, fresh palm wine is allowed to ferment by storing it in large drums for about a week.

Drums of Palmwine being sealed (2019)The Centenary Project

Sealed with a purpose

The drums are sealed using thick nylon material in order to provide a cool environment and to keep them away from direct sunlight. This is beneficial as it prevents the growth of bacteria that can spoil the sap.

Man with a container and two drums (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

Mixing time

After about a week of fermentation, the palm wine is ready for heating but has to be thoroughly mixed first.

The local distiller prepares two drums with fermented palm wine, a smaller container and a paddle. The paddle is to stir the thick fermented substance while the container is used to transfer and pour the substance from one drum to another to aid mixing.

Fermented Palmwine (2019)The Centenary Project

Fermented Palmwine (2019)The Centenary Project

A work in progress

At this stage, the fermented palm wine resembles a thick and reddish brown sludge that requires mixing because the denser elements sink to the bottom of the drum during fermentation.

Mud Fire Place (2019)The Centenary Project

The distilling process

After mixing, the substance is transferred into metal drums which sit on top of a burning fireplace. The mud fireplace serves as a heating system for the substance in the drums above it. The fire is produced using firewood which are replaced often to provide consistent heat.

Metal pipes to channel to Ogogoro (2019)The Centenary Project

Metal pipes to channel the Ogogoro

Metal pipes attached to the metal drums run through the wooden container to the final outlet.

A top view of the cooling wooden container (2019)The Centenary Project

Top view of the wooden cooling container

The condensed fermented palm wine is collected through pipes which pass over the wooden tank.

Wooden Cooling Container (2019)The Centenary Project

Wooden Cooling Container

The wooden container is filled with water to cool the hot drink before dripping out into plastic containers.

Bamboo pipe channelling Ogogoro (2019)The Centenary Project

Bamboo pipe channelling Ogogoro

Outpouring of waste (2019)The Centenary Project

Outpouring of waste

After the Ogogoro has been collected, the waste is poured out from the metal drums.

Display of final palmwine package (2019)The Centenary Project

Palm wine and Ogogoro for sale

After distilling, Ogogoro is stored in plastic containers for sale. While the container on the right contains pure Ogogoro, the one on the left contains palm wine with some pieces of local wood added for medicinal purposes.

Signpost indicating palm wine sale (2019) by The Centenary ProjectThe Centenary Project

A drink for travellers

Among the potential customers are travellers from Epe to Lagos and vice-versa. The local distillery covered in this exhibit is situated along an expressway with relatively high traffic.

Credits: Story

Curator: Omotunde Omojola
Research: Omotunde Omojola
Photographs: Chris Udoh
Text: Patrick Enaholo / Omotunde Omojola

Special thanks to:
Baba Goddy (Palm wine tapper)

© The Centenary Project

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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