James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Is the World Ready for a Nigerian Soft Drink That Contains Alcohol?

Is the World Ready for a Nigerian Soft Drink That Contains Alcohol?

Chapman in Lagos

When Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ordered a Chapman once, she found it matched the color of her red shoes, but it was “very sugary, very sweet”.

The Chapman is a non-alcoholic, fruity drink that Nigerians love. When I landed in Lagos in the summer, it was one of the first things recommended to me. After that, I made it a point to try it everywhere. I had varying versions of Chapman. Because it’s a mix of so many ingredients, there is no standardized version apart from the bright red color, but you will always know a good Chapman from one that isn’t. Ms. Adichie probably had one that wasn’t well made.

The best version of Chapman is found at the place that is credited with creating it, the Ikoyi Club, a club in Lagos that dates back to the 1930s. Back then, its membership was restricted to Europeans. The club now reflects Lagos’s growing multiculturalism, but like most colonial-era clubs, it seems stuck in the past, with a strict dress code and a prevailing feudal order.

Nobody is quite sure of the exact history of the drink. One version states it was invented by a Nigerian bartender at the Ikoyi Club for a British expatriate named Chapman. At the club, it is certainly the most popular drink, served in large beer mugs, and the flavor is a little tart and a little sweet, juicy, zesty, and refreshing.

The first time I had it and asked what went into it, and was told Fanta and Sprite, I turned up my nose. Many things go into the Chapman, apart from Fanta and Sprite. There is Grenadine syrup, lemon syrup, freshly cut cucumbers and oranges, but the secret ingredient of the Chapman, the thing that lifts it up from a mere sweet, summery drink, is a liberal dose of Angostura bitters. So, the Chapman is not entirely a non-alcoholic drink, even though it is advertised as one.

The Chapman is served at every restaurant, at weddings, at parties, at homes. Nigerians take great pride in its indigenous origins. There are bottled versions of it available in the country that tap into the “be proud and buy Nigerian” sentiment, but nothing captures the taste of a freshly made Chapman.

Two British brothers, however, have decided that Chapman should no longer be enjoyed only by Nigerians Mike and Garry Robinson grew up in Lagos in the 1960s. “We enjoyed playing squash, tennis, golf, and swimming at the Ikoyi Club, and after these exertions, there was nothing more refreshing than a Chapman. When we returned to England we continued to play a lot of sport and we would ask the bar staff to make us a Chapman just as we enjoyed it in Nigeria,” says Garry Robinson, over email.

The brothers recently launched a commercial version of the drink in the UK and named it Ikoyi Chapmans. They are selling it to independent bars, sports clubs, and coffee shops, along with wholesalers and distribution companies. It took them five years to tinker with the recipe and come up with the final version. It is a way to recapture their childhood, but they also think it is possible to grow the business and introduce Chapman to the world.

6 Ikoyi Club 1938
P.O. Box 239, Ikoyi, Lagos

Phone +234 (01)773757 (Members only)

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