Chapman Is the Nigerian Non-Alcoholic Cocktail You'll Be Sipping All Summer
Chapman is the Nigerian drink that bridged my childhood and adulthood, and remains part of my "grown" stage. The classic ruby red cocktail is defined by a handful of essential elements -- ice, soda, cordial, bitters, garnishes -- and isn't hard or complicated to make. There isn't a single, special bartending technique to be learned or employed. All you need is a glass and some ice.
Making Chapman begins with a glass, traditionally a dimpled beer mug, filled with ice. Cold soft drinks follow, typically equal amounts of orange and lemon-lime soda, which form the bulk of the drink. Next up is a couple of capfuls of cordial or squash -- blackcurrant or grenadine are the most common -- add enough to make the drink a ruby red color. A few drops of Angostura bitters give Chapman its distinctive taste. Finally, you add the garnishes, such as slices of cucumber, lemon, and or lime sometimes with juice squeezed in. Then stir it, finish with a straw, and enjoy.
Chapman lovers consider it refreshment personified, thanks to its carbonated, citrusy and slightly tart qualities. It's is considered non-alcoholic, containing only the small amount of alcohol from the drops of bitters, so it's popular with kids and adults alike.
This drink is more than the sum of its sweet parts. The cordial, bitters and garnishes bring complexity to the mix, cutting through the sweetness. If you're dining or drinking out in Nigeria, your order of Chapman will arrive in a mug or highball glass at the bar, on its own or alongside "small chops" (appetizers like puffpuff, beef, chicken, snails, spring rolls, samosas) and snacks or you can have it accompany a meal, any time of day or week. It is rare to order Chapman and have it come in a jug or carafe. Even for groups, orders are individual and can be tweaked to taste.
I was 21 and, living in the UK when I first learned to make a Chapman. Growing up in Warri, on the southern coast of Nigeria, a drink of Chapman was both reasonably priced and readily available so there was no need to learn how to make it until I moved abroad and homesickness compelled me to start documenting recipes from home. For a fete one summer in Welwyn Garden City, I pulled out a punchbowl, uncharacteristic as that was, and made a batch of Chapman for some British friends. It reminded me of Jamaican Rum Punch and Sangria in a way—different ingredients but similar colors, and the same spirit of abundance. It was the first time my friends tried it, and they fell in love.
A few years later on my blog, Kitchen Butterfly, I shared my recipe, curious about its history and origins. How did a double-barrelled reference to men (chap, man) or an old term for peddler become the name of a drink? Was it someone's last name? Who invented it? I was thrilled to see a comment from a Ms. Sola Alamutu who wrote "Interesting to see different variations of Chapman, created by my dad, Sam Alamutu in the '60s in Nigeria."
According to this October 2020 feature in Business Day, Sam Alamutu, born in 1933, was a hotelier, manager at Nigerian Hotels and lover of wine and cocktails. He crafted the Chapman for his wife in the 60s because she preferred soft drinks to alcohol. After home taste tests, the first public introduction was at Ikoyi Hotel, and by extension Ikoyi club, a country club on Lagos Island. From there, it spread across the country, and remains a favorite of bartenders -- you'd be hard-pressed to find a Nigerian drinking spot where Chapman isn't on the menu.
Many variations on the classic Chapman exist. I like my New Nigerian Kitchen version, which uses homemade hibiscus and ginger cordial with locally-made bitters. I've also made Chapman with Campari. I've heard about versions where tonic water and ginger ale are the main soft drinks and citrus, cranberry cordials or pomegranate molasses are used instead of blackcurrant. Some people use different garnishes from bananas to pineapple, berries, a variety of citrus like grapefruit or oranges, others add herbs like, mint, rosemary, or bay leaf. You can freeze some soda to make drink cubes if you don't want your Chapman watered down by melting ice. In the late '80s and early '90s, Coca-Cola even sold a version of Fanta called Fanta Chapman. Today, you'll find it bottled and available on store shelves from Lagos to London.
Just like Jollof rice, Nigerian parties and celebrations aren't complete without Chapman. As we get ready for the Summer and BBQ season, get ready to make a version of this -- it is the perfect drink for a sunny day.