One part peach brandy, two parts aviation fuel

Every region has a signature hard liquor. American farmers make moonshine from corn. The Poles and Czechs make Slivovice from plums. The Irish make poteen from potatoes, and the Swiss make Kirsch from cherries.

Three things are a pest on any farmyard: a blue gum tree, a bitch on heat and a mampoer-still.

The farmers of mostly-Dutch stock who colonised South Africa after 1652 made something similar. In the Cape, where grapes are the usual source material, it is called Witblits, which translates as white lightning: It's a clear spirit, and it will get you drunk lightning-quick. Further north they called it Mampoer, and use anything but grapes. Mampoer is often called "Peach brandy", but the fruits used include peaches, plums, apricots, figs, pomegranates, pineapples, lemons or other citrus, even wild fruits such as the prickly pear, marula, milk-plum, karee-berry or kei-apple.

The word Mampoer, pronounced something like "mum-poor" is an odd one, possibly derived from a Bapedi chief, Mampuru, who fought and was killed by the boers in 1883. The soldiers who took part in the campaign were given small pieces of land, but found little luck in farming due to inexperience and small farm size, and thus took to making liquor instead. Or so the story goes.

In a curious side node, the Agave succulent, which is used in Mexico to make Tequila, grows very well in the Karoo in central South Africa. However the liquor made outside Mexico cannot be called "Tequila". Tequila, like Champagne, is a place and the name is protected by trade laws. This is not sold as mampoer but "Agava". And recently it's been a growing business: A gap in the market has opened due to recent fungus-blighted crops in Mexico. In some ways Agava is better than most of the Mexican product, which is cut with cane spirit (shudder) due the shortage.

Another mampoer-related product is Amarula cream, a delicious cream liqueur made from marula fruit, which after fermentation and distillation, is aged in oak for two years (unlike mampoer) and mixed with cream.

Making Mampoer

The recipe for mampoer is as follows:

First, harvest a large quantity of sweet, soft fruit from your farm. Don't bother too much about cleaning it, just throw it all in. The fruit must be fermented, by mashing them up a bit and leaving to rot in casks or barrels. The barrels should be plastic, wood or some other material that does not rust. The fermentation takes two or three weeks. Then you put the fermented mash into your pot still, a big copper kettle, which is then heated to just below boiling, so that the alcohol comes off, carrying the fragrant and tasty volatile oils with it, and is cooled down again to a liquid in the condenser coil. The mampoer is usually distilled a second time, producing a product that is 50% or more alcohol, sometimes close to 80%. 64% is quoted by some as an ideal alcohol percentage, in order to keep the taste, but it's a matter of preference. The finished product forms 6-10 percent of the volume of the original mash. It is a clear spirit.

Of course, there's a lot of expertise needed in that recipe: knowing when the fermentation has peaked, and further fermentation will lead to vinegar; knowing how hot to make the still, when the alcohol has finished coming off. And if you get it wrong, you could even include methanol or the like in the end product, and blind the drinkers. One thing's for sure is that it won't be subtle and mellow from years of aging in casks of fragrant oak.


Oh tear my stillhouse down, let it go to rust
Don't leave no trace of the hiding place
Where I made that evil stuff
For all my time and money no profit did I see
That old copper kettle was the death of me
- Gillian Welsh

The process of making mampoer has become more and more regulated over time. Since 1924 all stills needed to be registered and records kept, and liquor made only from the farmer's own fruit. Small stills of less than 680 litres were banned, as were portable stills not on a cement or brick foundation. And the farmer cannot sell it retail. However in recent years exemptions have been granted to agricultural museums and colleges.

And as you can imagine, a fair quantity of mampoer is still made on the farm when nobody is looking, and is drunk that way too.

Drinking Mampoer

To test the quality of mampoer, pour a little out and light it. It should burn with a clear blue flame, leaving no residue.

Mampoer comes in hundreds of varieties, none of them mass-market. There are raisin flavoured ones, strawberry ones, mampoers with alcohol content similar to port or sherry, up to ones suitable for use as rocket fuel. Some have all sorts of disgusting objects floating in the bottles such as chillies, mopani worms, and the like.

These days there are Mampoer trails, Mampoer festivals, which can also host the sport of "bokdrol spoeg" which is a contest to see how far you can spit a pellet of Mampoer-soaked Kudu droppings. I shit you not.


Mampoer varies a lot, here are few that I have seen:

Hakkiesdraad mampoer; made from Marula and is 50% alcohol. "Hakkiesdraad" means barbed wire, and the bottle comes wrapped in some. It tasted a bit like Tequila.

Akkedis Bult Witblits, 55% alcohol. The name translates as "Lizard Rock". It is made from grapes in the Western Cape. It has been described as "a distinct smell of cream soda before the fire took over on the tongue".

Wurm Sous "Worm sauce" is 70% Alcohol, distilled from prickly pear. It has been known to have Mopani worms pickled in it.

Finally, I must mention mampoer's place in literature, particularly in the stories of the raconteur Herman Charles Bosman, who lived in and wrote about the Groot Marico area (now in the North-west province, which is still known for mampoer). In the story "Willem Prinsloo's Peach Brandy", two young men attempt to win the heart of a young woman, but must run the gauntlet of the strong peach brandy made and served by her father, and in "Mampoer" speculation surrounds the mark on a waitress's cheek - was it caused by a mampoer bottle that exploded, or is it the mark of the Devil?

The Groot Marico Mampoer Route:
Bokdrol spoeg:
Karro Agave:

thanks to joes3029 for finding out how much alcohol there is in Akkedis Bult, and for other non-e2 friends for comments.

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