What is Uganda Waragi and How Does it Taste?

I love East Africa, and I have become somewhat of a collector of local African spirits. Mainly gins. On a recent trip to Uganda, I picked up some of the famous Ugandan Waragu Gin.

When I first tried it years ago I remember it in little plastic sachets that you could buy from the corner shops for almost nothing. There would be older men playing chess out outside of the shop pulling them from a long holder (like the kind pork scratchings are held on in supermarkets in the UK alcohol isles), chewing off the top and sucking the shot in one go.

Just the taste brings back so many memories.



What is Ugandana Waragi Gin?

The term Waragi (and similar words) throughout east Africa is closely linked to what we would call ‘Moonshine’ – a similarly named spirit is Konyagi from Tanzania. A somewhat unofficial spirit that is usually drunk directly from the sachet, or with a soda. It is produced using cane sugar which was once Uganda’s biggest export, and flavoured to give it the classic flavour.

Uganda Waragi gin is produced by East Africa Breweries and has been since 1965. The East African taste for gin most likely came from the British, but after independence, the Ugandan people got a taste for something their own and swapped the British spirits for Waragi.

Let me be completely honest, Waragi is a rough spirit and would blow the head off most travellers. It has a reputation for being poorly distilled, contaminated with harmful alcohols and potentially dangerous. Things haven’t changed too much and Waragi is affectionately enjoyed by Ugandans day and night.

These days the spirit isn’t so dangerous and there are a range of different flavours to enjoy.


What does it Taste Like?

On the nose, the overwhelming notes pine, juniper and a woodiness that is followed by a punch of citrus. I can smell sweet lemons, oranges and sour limes. The gin is 40% ABV and the potency of the alcohol tingles your nose.

To taste the gin very interesting; it has an imidate medicinal quality with notes of juniper and sweet citrus which breaks apart into a slightly bitter pine. The gin is clean but rugged so gets right up your nostrils. A real gin geek will know that this comes from the fact that this is a cane gun, which has a unique ‘funk’ that repeats on the uninitiated. To drink strait, it is for the strong gin-faced.

With tonic, you can sense the notes of citrus again, with that piney, woody funk coming through. The harshness of the alcohol is decapitated and leaves room for quite an enjoyable buzz. After a glass, I feel a really nice warm glow which is unlike any spirits that you buy in the west.

Like many lower-quality distilled alcohols, the botanicals are a little hard to sense and the alcohol may be too rugged for those who are accustomed to a more delicate gin. In saying that, if I am to enjoy a gin by the beach, Waragi would be a fantastic friend to enjoy the sunset with.

One Comment

  • Arnold

    Never tatsed anything better than Uganda Waragi. This Is our brand. This is the spirit within Ugandans that brings us close. Truly love it

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