Launch / Challenges

So You Want to Brew in the Sahara

March 22, 20238 min read
Tap Room Taps

No one said popping up a brewery in West Africa was going to be easy. Despite that, I think the challenges to producing a beverage in an austere environment are what make this journey interesting. While the obstacles and workarounds might not directly apply to many other breweries in launch-mode (I’d be genuinely surprised if they did), they can probably serve as an inspiration that your own problems in a resource-rich location might not be so bad. Maybe a week delay waiting on that city building inspector to sign off on your buildout isn’t as bad as lacking an esoteric, but required, electrical part nowhere to be found in the entire country.

We arrived almost ninety days ago and immediately got started. We knew there would be challenges to overcome and here’s what we’ve been up to.


If we handwave the laundry list of miscellaneous ingredients (yeast starter, fining agents, adjuncts, CO2, O2, etc.), beer is just four gloriously simple ingredients. However, when you move to Mars, you have to plan what you can bring with you and what you’re going to have to acquire or grow when you arrive.


This was a little easier to plan ahead of time. I wasn’t sure what the water situation was going to be in our part of the Sahara, so I decided to bring a portable reverse osmosis system just in case. As it turns out, our house has its own RO system (bonus, with a UV light which might just be for show) that draws water from a cistern under our driveway. I tested the water coming out of that system and, at least at the moment, it contains around 40 ppm TDS. Running it through my portable RO system takes that down to zero, but I’ll wait until I end up in the hospital to get that paranoid (we are boiling this after all).

In other words, the water from the house RO system is more than safe for human consumption, and since I had planned on using RO-sourced water in the first place I was sure to bring the compounds needed to adjust my water profile and make it a happy place for the yeast to propagate. Because it’s a cistern, we might not have enough water to drink or shower on a brew day, but that’s a future me problem.


This is where we start getting clever. We don’t receive mail here and you wouldn’t exactly want to try and ship liquid yeast to West Africa anyway unless you like making bad bets on yeast vitality. I didn’t want to limit my options to dry yeast so I hand-carried the liquid yeast for the first six batches of beer, some additional all-around useful yeasts, and a handful of dry yeast packets as well.


The hotel staff wasn't sure what to make of this

That’s great, I can build each of these up with yeast starters and keep them alive for the foreseeable future. But what about local wild yeast? I brought with me a Bootleg Biology yeast wrangling kit with the lofty goal of capturing the first wild yeast in the history of the country. I’m going to describe that in a follow-on journal entry, but spoiler alert: after successfully capturing indescribable things from the air that almost certainly cause the zombie apocalypse, we hit pay dirt from our fledgling garden.


We have tomato plants that grow up a trellis we installed, so I repurposed that to grow hops in our front patio. It’s amazing and we’ve already harvested our first batch of Mosaic.

That’s a lie. Hops take too long for us to grow here even if we wanted to attempt that. Yes, if I were actually on Mars I probably would try to pull a Matt Damon and grow hops; luckily I’m on the same planet as the largest hop growers in the solar system so I can order from them. It takes a while to receive it through private delivery routes but given the packages are nitrogen-filled and sealed, I’m okay with the risk of spoilage during shipment. Also, you bet I’ll be asking friends/family that come visit to stuff some hops in their suitcase.

In short, I ordered in bulk with wholesale accounts from the larger suppliers in the United States. The hops are resting peacefully in my chest freezer until the day they get thrown into boiling wort. Yes I brought a chest freezer too–you can almost never have enough cold storage as a brewer.


Acquiring grain was easily my favorite part because everything about it was so improbable. Every step of the way I thought “this is ridiculous and insane, but let’s see what happens.”

My plan on arrival was to try and source grain locally; well, local-ish. The nearest places that have malted grain on hand are in Senegal. I reached out to the folks that run those few breweries and couldn’t work out a deal to piggyback on their grain shipments. (Yeah, my plan was to drive to Senegal periodically, fill up my 4Runner with grain, and drive it back). However, I did get a heads up that they ship their grain from Antwerp, Belgium.

If you put “malted grain Antwerp” into a search engine, your computer will explode. With little ability to discern differences between malt houses, I went with Castle Malting based on their website ease of use and the fact that I didn’t have to sign a contract or have a minimum order. In fact, it was so easy I thought it wouldn’t work–I genuinely thought I had accidently stumbled into some ordering site reserved for large breweries or supply distributors.

Cool, add items to my cart and submit the request for the order. Now you need to do an international wire transfer to pay for the grain. If this were a movie this would be the musical montage of me searching for things like “what the hell is a SWIFT BIC”. Montage over, Castle Malt is paid. Now logistics.

Suffice it to say Castle Malt knows a lot more about international shipping than I do. Until recently I was unaware that a thing called a Phytosanitary Certificate existed, or how to become a certified importer with the local Ministry of Commerce. There were some bits of good news in this part of fumbling in the dark like the fact that grain is considered an “essential good", which means the shipment isn’t subject to VAT. I can live with that given the rationale that I’m going to give the spent grain to the local community and their goats and donkeys in the area.


A slighty different pace than Amazon Prime

In the end, purchasing a literal ton of grain and getting it shipped internationally turned out to be pretty straightforward largely thanks to the folks in the American Embassy and Castle Malting. A ton sounds like a lot but you probably walk by a ton of dog food on a palette at Costco without realizing it. We don’t have kids, so instead of beds and toys in one of the bedrooms we have cold storage and a metric ton of grain. Side note: I think this article came out the day after I purchased my grain and it spooked me enough to purchase diatomaceous earth to prevent infestations of my stored grain.



Exactly how I imagined my brewery equipment arriving

Our brewery equipment arrived and we’ve got the tap room set up. I thought sourcing CO2 and O2 would be the long pole in the tent but it turned out to be electrical. We have a 30A circuit running to the brewery but none of my adapters would work with the sockets available in the country. A few days and a few hundred dollars later for shipping, the handful of parts we need will arrive tomorrow and we’ll be able to kick off the first brew (a Mexican Lager if you’re wondering).


The smallest, least suspect tanks of CO2 and O2 available

One of the core values for Lost Nomad Brewing is making beer more approachable. The first way we plan to do that is with a reimagined tap list; rather, a tap map. That’s currently in development and while it will launch on this site in the next couple weeks it’s primary purpose is to be displayed in the tap room for customers to order from.

A lot has happened in ninety days and we’re excited to offer local brews to the community and, more importantly, get their feedback on whether our concept resonates with them. We hope so, let's get started.

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