For a third year running, West Philadelphia's Dock Street Brewing Company ((701 South 50th Street, 215-726-2337) is brewing a small batch of the sought-after Sudan Grass Ale. This sorghum ale is inspired by the traditional fermented sorghum beverages found in Africa. Known as pombe in East Africa, bil-bil in Cameroon, or burukuto in Nigeria, these sorghum beers play an important role in African culture throughout the entire continent. They provide nutritional sustenance, help protect against disease and infection and are used in ceremonial practice.
Sorghum is a grass that is now produced commercially all over the world, but is believed to have been originally cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa, and perhaps in Yemen and Sudan, around 100 C.E. This is the only area where it still grows wildly today and serves as the inspiration for the name of the beer.
Not only does sorghum have special importance to certain African cultures, but it can also satisfy the beer desires of anyone suffering from celiac disease. This grain is one of only a few that can be used to produce gluten-free beer.
Dock Street's take on the traditional African beer is fermented with gluten-free yeast, and was brewed with a combination of sorghum and wildflower honey (locally sourced from Pennsylvania). Sudan Grass Ale is spiced in the kettle with hibiscus, rose hips, rooibos and lemon grass. Like its traditional counterpart, Sudan Grass is served unfiltered, which explains its natural cloudy appearance. Slightly tart and fruity in flavor, it is reminiscent of a cider or mead.
Sudan Grass Ale will be available on tap at Dock Street for a limited time beginning in early September.