The Rise of Kenyan Brews

written by Ivy Nyayieka 20th March 2018

With their focus on developing amazing craft beers and stout, Kenyan breweries are bang on the worldwide trend, discovers Ivy Nyayieka as she researches the rise of the African stout.

The aroma that welcomes you into the newly opened Brew Tap Room in Galleria Mall is reminiscent of the scent inside one of those coffee shops that have an in-house bakery. Mounted on the wall as you enter is a series of kegs that looks like a control panel. On the next section, bottles of craft beers from around the world look like they are floating in the air with the same abandon of dancing party goers. Even though there are already a number of diners inside, Brew Tap Room boasts an airy ambiance with the large windows looking out into the parking lot and the road, allowing all the light in.

As a Kenyan, there are specifically Kenyan things that fill you with pride: The Big Five; a Kenyan winning the Olympics; Lupita Nyong’o killing it in Black Panther; a Nigerian man insisting Kenyan women drink too much Guinness. In recent years, another reason for Kenyans to be proud is the fact that we now have craft breweries that make beers and stouts from scratch.

If you are wondering how stouts are differentiated from other beers, you could try asking Lawrence Nunda, Head Brewer at The Big Five Breweries – the parent company of Brew Bistro and more recently, Brew Tap. Nunda, however, will probably look at you with pity and then, as if remembering that acts of charity are good for the fate of his soul, carefully explain to you that beers are mostly divided into lagers, ales and most recently wheat brews. “There are so many ales. Stout is an ale,” the expert on brewing will tell you, towering in his white coat and hairnet.

The world’s best selling stout is Diageo’s Guinness Draught, which is classified as a dry stout. Made in Dublin, this is the backbone upon which most stouts are conceived. Guinness’ journey from Dublin to Africa, which currently consumes 40% of all Guinness produced worldwide, began in 1827 when they shipped Guinness Foreign Extra Stout first to the British Colony of Sierra Leone and then to other colonies where their soldiers were stationed. To start with, Guinness collaborated with local breweries to bottle the beer and then, in 1962, Lagos became the home of the first successful Guinness brewery outside of the UK.

In African countries, Guinness switched from using barley to maize or sorghum because, although they were more bitter, they were ingredients used for existing local brews and thus more attractive to consumers. Guinness in Kenya boasts a higher alcohol content (6.5%) than Ireland’s (4-5%) but slightly lower than Nigeria’s (7.5%). Stronger alcohol levels were originally due to the fact the Irish brewers used to add more hops to the drink in order to preserve it when it was transported to Africa. By the time local Guinness breweries had popped up around the continent, people had gotten used to the stronger version.

Like Guinness, The Big Five Breweries evolved the flavour profiles of its in-house stout, Temstout, in order to match local palates. “We had to adapt a couple of the recipes so that they are not too hoppy, spicy or strong,” says Aleem Ladak, a self-proclaimed beer freak and the company’s brewmaster and managing director.

“All the names of the beers are derived from the Swahili names of animals and the style of beer,” says Ladak. Temstout comes from tembo for elephant. Like an elephant, Temstout is strong, full-bodied and dark in color.

“How will you determine the full body? The mouthfeel it gives you: ukikunywa beer, you feel ni kama mdomo imejaa [if you drink the beer you feel as if your mouth is full]. A full bodied beer will fill that mouth,” explains Nunda.

While crafting the recipe, Ladak explains the company wanted the craft beer to appeal to Kenyans as well as tourists, “We wanted it to relate to the region and one of the things that relate to the region is the big five animals. Everyone knows them, so we felt it would help tap into the tourist market.”

Through the growing craft beer options at Brew’s outlets and Sierra, the line of premium beers brewed by the owner of Sierra Brasserie, Kenyans join a worldwide trend and one that Ladak is proud to be part of. “I moved back to Kenya ten years ago because I saw a gap in the market and that was in the craft beer market which was a big industry all around the world: in North America, Europe, South Africa and Asia,” he says.

At Brew Tap Room, if you follow the sound of something steaming and the can-you-smell-what-the-rock-iscooking aroma, you end up in a steel world behind the bar where all the brewing magic happens. To make Temstout, Brew Tap Room follows the German Beer Purity Law known as Reinheitsgebot. “That basically means that you can only use hops, water, yeast and malt to make beer and no other grains or spices,” says Ladak.

First, Nunda’s team mills a malt blend containing chocolate malt into a coarse flour. While chocolate malt is low in extraction, it is rich in color and is responsible for the stout’s dark color and coffee aroma. The coarse flour is mixed with water in the mashing process to produce a thick sugar solution called wort. The aroma resulting from this conversion signals to them that it is successful. The mash is then pumped into a lauter tank, a filtration system which separates the thick sugar solution from the barley grain husks. This thick sugar syrup is pumped into a wort kettle and boiled for 90 minutes to sterilise the products. At this stage, they also add hops in order to determine the brew’s bitterness and aroma and to act as a preservative. After cooling to around 16-18 degrees, the wort is pumped into a fermenter where they add the ale yeast. After fermentation, the tank is cooled to around 3 degrees allowing the green beer to mature. The next step is to filter the beer to get the crystal clear product and then keg it into barrels.

As an ale, stout differs from lagers in the yeast variety required, the higher fermentation temperatures and speeds, and the fact that the yeast used is top fermenting. It takes around 12 to 15 days from the start of brewing to the point where you can sit down to enjoy a Temstout with friends at Brew Tap Room.

The Brew establishments exclusively serve their own stouts at their three outlets around the city. Ladak admits this was quite a risky gamble and that in order to attract people who could have shied away from the nouveau beer, Ladak’s team was careful to tailor both the menu and the entertainment around customers’ preferences.

When asked about who the establishment’s target demographic is, Ladak answers: “Young professionals who have disposable income who want to experience something different”. Mostly, these are 25 to 45-year-olds, from people who’ve just finished college and have their first jobs, to people working in SME’s, investments and trading.

To keep customers coming, Ladak also tweaked the restaurant menu. He explains that: “When we first opened we had a lot of fine dining food but the style of food now is more bistro or pub-y. It’s still good food but it’s more casual dining and that’s what people prefer.” Ultimately, he says, the secret to their success has been in understanding that primarily, “people just want a comfortable environment where everyone feels they can be themselves” and that their love for the craft beer was simply a result of this feeling.

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