The first time I tried Uganda Waragi Gin, it was in a 100 mL plastic bag. You had to cut the corner with scissors. Presumably, the 100 mL size was a serving suggestion because it was nigh impossible to reseal…
But here we are, several years later and I’m seeing Uganda Waragi Gin stateside. A couple things to note, whereas the product I tried the first time just called itself Waragi. That being the generic word for moonshine in parts of Africa. Similar to moonshine’s reputation, Waragi had reputation for being dangerous and poorly distilled, often containing metahnol or other harmful alcohols. Uganda Waragi Gin invokes the spirit of do-it-yourself Ugandan culture, and like moonshine today, is meant to invoke a certain feeling. It’s not Waragi, it’s Uganda Waragi Gin.
Uganda Waragi Gin has been produced continuously since 1965 by East Africa Breweries Ltd. (a short couple years after Uganda ceased being a protectorate of the British Empire). Certainly, the nation’s colonial heritage is the genesis of the Ugandan People’s taste for gin; however, this gin truly is their own. Created after Ugandan Independence, not only did the nation forge ahead on its own path, it declared independence from British spirits.
At the time of independence, Uganda’s chief agricultural export was cane, producing over 152,000 tons. Uganda Waragi Gin as distilled from cane, owing to the local agricultural boon. Even though the Ugandan sugar industry nearly collapsed in the late 80’s, the gin today is again distilled from cane.
The nose is juniper-forward with a simple straight-forward nose. Slightly herbal juniper and pine notes. There’s a softness and a mildness to it; rather clean, it opens up to me slowly showing a slight touch of orange candy. The citrus that emerges is a big artificial, but its showing a side that my tastes hadn’t quite showcased.
The palate is straightforward juniper with a mid-palate peak of candy orange, lemon and lime. Faintly reminiscent of skittles, and many other inexpensive gins that have this note. The finish is an only faintly pine note.
The finish is medium-short in length, but rather hot, even for 40% ABV. The back of the palate burns gently after the flavor passes. Not unpleasant though.
One of the places where I find Uganda Waragi Gin most underwhelming is in the mouthfeel. It’s incredibly thin, almost watery. There’s no perceived thickness or viscosity. It never quite coats the tongue or palate. It just washes down a bit flat.
Secondly, I find the botanicals to be a bit disjointed. There’s a few notes on the palate, but they never quite come together. They’re just there, and too simple to really be pleasing or inviting.
To Uganda Waragi Gin’s credit, I will point out that while other cane gins in general can often have a rum-like funk, or they can taste a bit like cane, Uganda Waragi never does. It’s a very clean and simple base spirit that works for what it needs to do here.
It’s lack of botanical fortitude and watery mouthfeel doesn’t help Uganda Waragi Gin much in cocktails. I found it to be sheepish in a Gin and Tonic, almost recalcitrant in its unwillingness to add something to the drink. I also found that the thin mouthfeel left much to be wanting in the Martini. Overall, it simply gets lost. This is a gin that certainly can get you a good buzz, but I just find it to be a little wanting in terms of juniper, gin, or any character once you start mixing it.
As a curiosity, Uganda Waragi Gin is worth seeking out. African gins are still incredibly rare, and as a milestone in Ugandan Independence post-British influence, it’s kind of interesting.
Unfortunately, as a gin, beyond the curiosity factor I have a hard time recommending it to anyone other than collectors and completists.