Not barley-based, but using other, local sources of starch. In South America that was in the form of the indigenous grain, maize. From which chicha is made. In Africa, millet is the grain of choice.
In the 19th-century the production method of millet beer was fairly rudimentary. As with chicha, the grain wasn't malted but instead chewed, letting the enzymes in human spit convert the starch into sugar.
Those who have studied books of travel on or have travelled in South Africa are familiar with that strong acid drink which is called Pombe or K*fir beer. Some few scientific data regarding it have already been published by Saare, who states that it is prepared from durra, a species of millet, growing wild in most parts of Africa. Quite recently D. Reinitzer had an opportunity of examining a sample of this K*ffir beer, which was obtained from the Orange Free State, where it is brewed and largely consumed by the K*ffir races. The preparation of the millet of K*ffir corn takes place before the brewing proper, and consists of crushing between stones and of chewing or mastication. No particular yeast is added. The product of K*ffir teeth and K*ffir grindstones is mixed with water and simply allowed to ferment by itself. The sample described by F. Reinitzer is similar to that which was described by Saare. It consisted of a thick milky white or even pale reddish coloured fluid, having a sour taste, which, though not exactly pleasant, could scarcely be considered disgusting. The smell of this K*ffir beer closely resembles that of curdled milk. It is more strongly acid. When a portion of it was distilled, alcohol was obtained and a small quantity of acetic acid. A microscopical examination showed the presence of many forms of bacteria, which appeared chiefly as thick and rather long rods, but there were some which were short and thick and even short and thin. Most of the bacteria seemed to resemble the bacteria of acetic acid. The beer also contained a copious amount of brown mildew spores and also mycelium remains, whilst a large ellipsoideus-like yeast was fairly plentiful. Some of the yeast was isolated, and some fermentation experiments conducted with it. From these it appears that the yeast belongs to the well-known Saaz type. The analysis of the K*ffir beer was as follows:
90.97 per cent. fluid matter.
90.03 per cent. solid substances.
The dry remainder contiiiued 0.5 g. ash constituents, therefore 5.54 deg. of ash in the dry substance. Saccharometer value of the filtrate, 2.05 per cent. Bllg. Acids in the filtrate=4.0, of which 5 per cent. are volatile acids (acetic acid). Alcohol in filtrate, 4.0 volumes per cent. The ferment which brings about the alcoholic changes in Pombe certainly originates with the K*ffir millet, for Reinitzer has succeeded in isolating from durra the ellipsoideus-like Saaz yeast. This yeast, as well as the saccharomyces from the Pombe, collect easily, and form a tough mass at the bottom, so that in order to attain the end—fermentation -—the wort should be shaken up as much as possible. Besides the ellipsoideus-like Saaz yeast, mould casts also appear on the dorra, and a saccharomyces of the Frohberg type, which in appearance distinguish es itself from the smaller ellipsoideus kind in form and larger dimensions. Besides the yeasts there are also discovered on the durra lactic acid bacteria and of mildews: penecillium and fusisporium. Mildews forming acetic acid were not found upon durra. This paper may be found in the Wochenschrift fur Brauerei, No. 3 , p. 477."
"The Brewers' Journal 1898", 1898, page 70.
I love the description of the flavour: " a sour taste, which, though not exactly pleasant, could scarcely be considered disgusting." Praise indeed. Personally, I'd be more concerned about all the mould and bacteria.
Saaz yeast - isn't that a type of Lager yeast? Weird that that would be present on millet.
It was at least a decent strength: 4% ABW or 5% ABV. Pretty much like standard beer.