Akpeteshie is the national spirit of Ghana, produced by distilling palm wine or sugar cane.
Before the advent of European colonization of what is today Ghana, the Anlo brewed a local spirit also known as "kpotomenui," meaning "something hidden in a coconut mat fence.
With the British colonization of what became known as the Gold Coast, such local brewing was outlawed in the early 1930s. According to a 1996 interview with S.S. Dotse about his life under British colonial rule: "Our contention was that the drink the white man brought is the same as ours. The white men's contention was that ours was too strong...Before the white men came we were using akpeteshie. But when they came they banned it, probably because they wanted to make sales on their own liquor. And so we were calling it kpótomenui. When you had a visitor whom you knew very well, then you ordered that kpótomenui be brought. This is akpeteshie, but it was never referred to by name."
The name "akpeteshie" was given to the drink with its prohibition: the word comes from the Ga language (ape te shie, the act of hiding) spoken in greater Accra and means they are hiding, referring to the secretive way in which non-European inhabitants were forced to consume the beverage. Despite being outlawed, Illicit spirits remained commonplace, with reports that even schoolboys were able to easily obtain akpeteshie through the 1930s. Demand for akpeteshie and the profits to be made from its sale was enough to encourage the spread of sugar cane cultivation in the Anlo region of Ghana.
Distillation was legalized with decolonization and Ghanaian independence. The first factory was established in the Volta Region, taking advantage of the area's supply of sugar cane plantations.
Akpeteshie is distilled from palm wine or sugarcane juice. This sweetened liquid or wine is first fermented in a large barrel, sometimes with the help of yeast. After this first stage of fermentation, fires are built under the barrels in order to bring the liquid to a boil and pass the resulting vapour through a copper pipe within cooling barrels, where it condenses and drips into sieved jars. The boiled juice then undergoes a distillation. The resulting spirit is between 40 and 50% alcohol by volume.
Akpeteshie is not professionally bottled or sealed but instead poured into unlabeled used bottles. The spirit can be bought wholesale from a brewer or by the glass at boutiques and bars. Although not professionally advertised, the drink is very popular. This is partially due to its price, which is lower than that of other professionally bottled or imported drinks. Its relative cheapness makes it a drink associated more with the poor, but even those who can afford better quality are said to consume the spirit in secret.