Growing up in the shanty townships of Lobatse, I became familiar with the consumption of beer quarts during bar-crawl gallivanting.
Back then, beer quarts were a last resort after drunken nights, bought hastily in the wee hours of the morning at underground joints like the popular Mma Yellow in an area called Huhulapanty or ko ga Tsitsi (Tsitisi’s place) in Peleng.
However, drinking quarts (750ml beer bottles) has for a long time been associated with hooligans and dead-beat alcoholics.
Quarts also had a stereotype of being a ‘commoners’ drink and hence associated with the lower classes of society. The “sophisticated” would not be caught dread drinking quarts, preferring to take their alcoholic beverages in tins or 500ml bottles, or wines, whisky or cocktails, in glasses of varied shapes.
It was also assumed that quart drinkers tend to get rowdy, loud and are susceptible to lunatic behavior. It’s no surprise that quarts were often referred to as bojalwa ja makontraka (uncouth people’s choice of drink).
However, those negative stereotypes are being thrown out of the window as quarts’ drinking becomes a trend.
During Sechaba Breweries financial results briefing earlier this month, Kgalagadi Breweries Limited managing director Johan De Kok said they have noticed an increasingly higher demand for the 750ml alcoholic bottles.
He attributed the momentum to the ‘cost effectiveness’ of purchasing quarts, considering the effect of the imposed alcohol levy. The alcohol levy was increased from 45 percent to 50 percent in December last year. De Kok also noted that although total alcohol sales have declined countrywide, loyalty to beer brands like St Louis, Castle Lite and Black Label, remain steady and sales continue to peak, especially in quarts, for the latter two.
My prowl to observe the increase in quart drinkers begins at the Extension 12 bars in Gaborone, commonly referred to as Dot.com.
Although it’s a Saturday afternoon, there are many people hanging around the area, sitting in camp chairs, mounting the back of vans, leaning against cars and some seated inside the bars in small groups, chatting and laughing.
Sounds of deep house and jazz music permeate the air, competing with the loud chatters and zoom of vehicles. There’s a festive mood, as bottles swig to mouths making their way down thirsty throats and cigarettes dangle from lips. In some groups of threes or fours, a single quart is shared.
Even several ladies sit with quarts in their hands or nestled between their thighs, sipping at intervals, without a hint of shame. One lady, who identifies herself as ‘Lala’ says she doesn’t understand the fuss over drinking quarts. She points out that some people look down on her for “drinking cheap”.
She however insists that such ideas are derived from silly stereotypes. “I am a young professional who likes to unwind with a few beers on weekends. I prefer quarts because I spend less but enjoy the refreshing taste and the tipsy high,” she says with a twinkle, as she takes another gulp.
Her friend, Daniel Oreeditse, maintains that he has never entertained stereotypes about drinking quarts. “Alcohol is expensive. We drink quarts, dance and go home to sleep. Sometimes when our budget allows, we buy a bottle of quality whisky, but chances are it will be washed down with beer quarts. I know this may be hard to believe but beer quarts and cans taste better than dumpies. It’s also cheaper,” he says with laugh.
Cheaper, it seems, is the reason most drinkers are turning to quarts. A beer quart costs average P17, and about P14 discounted price, when bought accompanied by an empty bottle.
A dumpie (500ml) of beer, costs average P11 in bars and bottle stores. With the economic pinch, many people are finding different ways to stretch their Pula. To contend with the high alcohol prices, some people decide to quit drinking, or resort to cheaper beverages like opaque alcoholic beverages or the quarts, which are affordable but inebriate quite quickly.
During a social outing to the popular Dia Boa entertainment precinct in Lobatse, it’s the usual commotion of braaing meat, gyrating to pumping music, chattering and mingling. I notice that scores of drinkers imbibe their “favourite poison” from quarts. One bar owner, who prefers anonymity, shares that he has observed that nowadays drinkers prefer quarts.
“Select cider brands also offer 750ml bottles so we stock those too. Quarts are bought faster. It shows that people still want to drink but with rocketing prices, they opt to drink more for less,” he says.