Konyagi Spirit Review (Tanzania)

A few years ago Mark and I spent three weeks in Tanzania. And we spent two of those weeks on a group safari tour. One day while shopping, we purchased a bottle of a local spirit called Konyagi to share with our tour group. It was interesting enough that we purchased two more bottles of the stuff in the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam before heading home.

As you can see, the bottle on the left is still sealed. We even kept one of the boxes it came in!

konyagi tanzania

According to the official Konyagi website, this spirit has been distilled for over forty years. When it was first distilled in 1970, it was called, Kinywaji safi. This is Swahili for “drink clean.” It would seem that back in the day, distillers just made their own hooch, and it wasn’t always safe and definitely not regulated. So the Tanzania Distilleries Limited (TDL), which was established in 1968, told local distillers to bring their products to them to turn them into “safe, clean” drinks. While TDL makes other liqueurs such as brandy, whiskey and vodka, Konyagi still remains their flagship drink.

The back of the bottle, including the flavour profile:

The phrase Kinywaji safi is still used on the label. You can see it in the photo above, just below the logo of the guy in the muscle shirt (?). Konyagi’s tagline is “the Spirit of the Nation,” which I think is a great play on words, while also being mindful of its forty-plus-year history in Tanzania.

In reading the Konyagi website further, the guy wearing the muscle shirt represents the strength, “spirit, rhythm and culture of Tanzania”. They refer to it as the Mzaramo icon, though I couldn’t find a translation from Swahili for this particular word, if there is one.

There’s even a drinking ritual that goes along with opening a bottle of Konyagi. First, you must smack the bottom of the bottle with the palm of your hand a few times. This releases the spirit within. Personally, I feel that this is a good way to make the spirits angry. But just follow the ritual and I’m sure you’ll be fine. After you pour the spirit, you must lay the bottle down horizontally until the drinker needs to refill his glass. (I’m assuming you put the lid back on first.)

In fact, some of the bottles are designed just for this purpose, with flat sides. We actually had one of these “bapa” bottles in Tanzania. We were mixing it with Krest tonic water, as a makeshift gin & tonic:

But the most interesting packaging we saw at the airport were the sachets: little plastic bags filled with Konyagi. We were worried that the bags might pop in our luggage, so we didn’t buy any. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen booze in a bag before. Except for boxed wine, of course. But this was a first for hard liqueur.

As for the box the Konyagi came in? The photo on the label is from the annual wildebeest migration. It also lists some interesting facts and figures:

I feel like this photo could be representative of how your head will feel in the morning if you drink too much of this stuff. It’s 35% alc. vol. after all. It can sneak up on you.

So what exactly is konyagi? I have no idea. They’ve listed it as the second ingredient, after “fine spirit” and before “deionized water”. I Googled it, but came up empty. I thought perhaps it was a herb, or plant, or the name of a tree which gives it its flavour. Google Translate claims that the English word for “Konyagi” is…konyagi. So it currently remains a mystery.

The bottles came with 6 cocktail recipes in a little foldout tag. I didn’t want to face any copyright issues by photographing it, but the drinks came with great names such as Tanzanite, African Passion and Bongo Flava. But you can check out the Konyagi website and find a few of their cocktail recipes.

They measure their recipes in “tots,” which are essentially shots. Even though Konyagi isn’t a gin or a vodka, the recipes strongly imply that Konyagi could generally be replaced by any unflavoured vodka.

Ok, now for the tasting! I didn’t bother with taking photos of Konyagi in a glass, since it’s perfectly clear like water. Instead, just sit back and enjoy this photo of the Great Migration. Which actually includes zebras:

On the nose, Konyagi reminds me, strangely enough, of some kind of alcohol-based cleaner. There’s definitely a fragrance in it that makes me want to clean something. It’s more fresh than off-putting though, don’t get me wrong. But it reminds me of some sort of cleaner with a hint of lemon. It’s bright and happy, like sunbeams, or walking through a botanical garden just after a light rain.

I’ve also got a shot of Finlandia Vodka beside me for comparison’s sake. (Yeah right, “for comparison,” everyone says.) There’s definitely a higher note in the Konyagi, which I can only assume is the citrus flavour the description touts. It’s fairly smooth on the palate though, with just a bit of heat from the alcohol. The alcohol leaves a bit of a tingly sensation on the tongue, but it’s definitely a light-flavoured spirit. Honestly it could probably mix with just about anything. Where the Finlandia sort of burns a bit on the way across your palate, the Konyagi is much gentler. That’s dangerous. By the time it hits you it will be too late.

If you’re ever in Tanzania, look for Konyagi and give it a try with pretty much any mixer, including orange juice, cranberry juice, tonic water, or even on its own on ice. It’s available in a few other select countries, but you may as well enjoy it direct from the original source!


11 Replies to “Konyagi Spirit Review (Tanzania)”

  1. Darlene Post author

    Hi Stanley, thanks for this information, that’s so interesting! That’s a good way for the government to ensure some measure of quality control with the product!

  2. Ephraim Samwel

    For anyone who need Konyagi just conduct me and we will do business…+255753036666

  3. Stanley

    Darlene, ZARAMO = Wazaramo … the tribe that originally inhabited the Dar-es-salaam area. They were the people who were traditionally distilling local “moonshine” mainly from the cashew apple … due to the dangers of this local spirit .. Govt decided to allow the Wazaramo to continue their local brewing & distilling, but required them to sell their local spirit to the factory (TDL) for testing & re-distilling & standardising for sale !!

  4. Darlene Post author

    That’s awesome! I imagine it’s been the same recipe ever since?

  5. Chuck

    I can remember enjoying konyagi and quinine water at Eric’s bar in Moshi in 1971

  6. Darlene Post author

    Hello, you can try contacting Konyagi directly through their website at https://konyagi.co.tz/ I do believe they were distributing outside of Tanzania as well, but I’m not sure if that’s currently still the case. Good luck!

  7. baronn millah

    hi can i know where your company located because i want to come and get your product for my bar

  8. Darlene Post author

    Oh that’s a very good question! We’ve had this bottle of Konyagi for a few years now, and it’s still as good as the day we bought it. I would worry more if it had fruit in it, but since it’s a clear spirit it should keep for a long time. The only issue might be some evaporation over time if it’s not well sealed. The label you see on the lid is from the Tanzania Revenue Authority, and appears to be a serial number. If I remember correctly, we purchased the bottle at the Duty Free Shop in the airport, so the sticker was probably for tax/duty purposes. I hope this helps!

  9. grey

    sorry today we were having little contraduction with neighbour please help us does konyagi have expiration date and above the bottle there are some kinds of words and numbers does they symbolize made day or expire date

  10. Darlene Post author

    Hi Ally! The information I came across about Konyagi was interesting, as it was described as “not a gin or a vodka!” Since it’s molasses-based, it would be regarded as a cane spirit, but some people have also compared it to rum. The main flavouring ingredient in gin that separates it from other spirits or liqueurs is juniper, but I don’t know if Konyagi contains juniper or not. That’s the cool thing about Konyagi though – it’s versatile enough to be a substitute for gin, vodka, or rum!

  11. Ally Msangi

    Konyagi is one of the best Gins Tanzania has, and the best part its one of the best selling Gin

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