Business & Economy

A century of Tusker, Kenya’s iconic beer

By Pedro Alonso

Nairobi, Jun 8 (EFE).- A cold bottle of Tusker beer offers up one of the small pleasures of life in Africa and now this iconic beverage, famous for its elephant logo, is celebrating its centenary year.

“We’re celebrating 100 years,” Jane Karuku, CEO of East African Breweries Limited (EABL), which manufactures the popular lager, a source of national pride in Kenya, tells Efe, adding that it was “no mean feat.”

“We’re celebrating the heroes and heroines that came before us,” Karuku continues from the EABL headquarters located on the outskirts of Nairobi, where the company was established in 1922.

Among those “heroes and heroines” are Welsh brothers George and Charles Hurst, who by all accounts had very different personalities — George, the oldest, was a serious character whereas Charles liked to party and drink.

George began his career in the military and Charles worked in banking until both were lured to what British press at the time referred to as the ‘promised land’ of East Africa, when Kenya was a colony of the British Empire.

Like many of their contemporaries, George and Charles invested in plantations, but their efforts were rendered unprofitable by constant plagues and harsh weather.

In a moment of inspiration, and growing tired of waiting for deliveries of imported spirits, Charles told his brother about a dream of his — to establish Kenya’s first brewery.

The two entrepreneurs chose to establish their business on the wooded banks of the Rui-Rwa-Aka River (currently Ruaraka), known as the “river of women” because it was reserved for girls of the Kikuyu ethnic group during circumcision due to its cold and anesthetic waters.

With machinery purchased in Britain and the help of the brewer’s manual and a friend, Henry Dowding, Charles boiled a solution in a copper bowl over a wood fire and produced the first beer, bottled by hand.

It spelled the birth of Kenya Breweries, the predecessor to EABL.

The first order of 10 cases was personally delivered to a Mr. Waterman, manager of the renowned Hotel Stanley in Nairobi, which years later would host literary legend Ernest Hemingway on one of his escapades.

At first, the beer was only available to colonizers, Karuku explains.

Then, in 1923, tragedy struck when George was killed by an elephant while hunting in the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.

An article from the Habari review described the incident: “Hurst fired two rounds, but Tusker dashed him against a tree. Death instantaneous.”

In homage to his brother, Charles decided to name the beer Tusker and the accompanying logo, a black elephant head with large tusks against a yellow background, would go on to become iconic.

Charles Hurst died in England in 1966, but the beer’s fame would live on.

Not only does it stock Kenya’s bars and restaurants, but the recognizable Tusker logo is emblazoned on shirts, hats and even street murals.

The refreshing lager is a commercial success across the region and is enjoyed by consumers in Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast market that helps underpin EABL’s contribution to 1% of Kenya’s GDP. EFE


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