What you need to know:
- Mr Taylor was highly respected in the industry and it was during his tenure at the EABL that pasteurising of the bottled beer was introduced in 1924.
- After 13 years, Mr Taylor sold his controlling stake in 1951 to Ind Coope and Allsopp (East Africa) Limited.
Over the years, I have watched the derelict Allsopps Brewery building overlooking the General Service Unit headquarters hoping that someone would find sense to rehabilitate and preserve its rich history as Kenya’s finest brewery.
I even entertained thoughts it could be turned into a museum of beer and brewing or a hotel; — or a bar! (Anything), but not tear it down!
Sadly, but not to my surprise, someone started bringing down this 80-year-old structure — yet another loss to Kenya’s beer brewing heritage.
Nairobi will for years regret the wisdom of destroying this heritage and there was no better candidate than the preservation of Allsopps brewery.
Built in 1938 as Taylor and Company brewery, this was one of the main competitors to Kenya Breweries, which had been established in Nairobi’s Ruaraka plains in 1922 by George and Charles Hurst — the two brothers who were initially based in Kitale as farmers who thought their future would be in a brewery.
Interestingly, Allsopps Brewery, as Taylor and Company was later known, was built by a former East African Breweries Limited Managing Director William Taylor — a man who had steered Kenya’s fledging bottled beer industry from 1931 to 1938.
The untold story is that the original Allsopps brewery was started with a meagre capital of £7,500 (Ksh979,00) before it expanded rapidly.
Mr Taylor was highly respected in the industry and it was during his tenure at the EABL that pasteurising of the bottled beer was introduced in 1924.
He also introduced and popularised the Tusker beer into the market — giving it an edge among other lagers. That record still remains.
The exit of Mr Taylor meant that EABL had a competitor across the valley but his timing went wrong; terribly wrong.
A year after he opened the brewery, World War II broke out in 1939 and for the next six years lack of raw materials hampered the growth of his enterprise.
Although the War brought in very thirsty soldiers, the troops were rationed to only two bottles per man per week.
Both the East African Breweries and Taylor’s Brewery went through economic turmoil, but there was some hope after the War when the British government announced that it would settle most of the former soldiers in Kenya.
The two breweries expanded on this promise and when the settlement scheme failed, the industry found itself with a serious over-production capacity.
It was, perhaps due to this that in 1947, the indigenous Kenyans were allowed to drink and sell bottled beer, thus opening a new market and saving the breweries from bankruptcy.
This was after the Liquor Ordinance of 1934 was amended by Attorney General J. Basil Hobson to allow liquor licence holders to sell wines, beer and cider to “any native, Abyssinian, Somali, Malagasy or Comoro Islander”.
Some of the Africans who entered into this market included Njenga Karume, who was in 1948 allowed to open a bar in Kiambu, and later a beer distributor thus turning him into a beer mogul in later years.
So broke was East African Breweries that one of the bar jokes of those times was that its flagship Tusker should be renamed “White Elephant” — since it had become difficult to either maintain or dispose of.
But it was not EABL which would be the first to go but Taylor. After 13 years, Mr Taylor sold his controlling stake in 1951 to Ind Coope and Allsopp (East Africa) Limited.
In May 1948 Ind Coope & Allsopp Ltd had acquired 49 percent of the Taylor and Company.
That is how they would introduce both Pilsner and White Cap into the market giving East African Breweries a run for its Tusker brand.
The entry of this giant brewery brand into East Africa would significantly alter the local beer market with the expansion of Taylor’s Ruaraka factory.
It was not lost to observers that that was part of the post-World War II recovery of British firms which were seeking entry into new markets.
The new extension of the factory was completed in 1954 and occurred at a time when Allsopps had, together with Schweppes East Africa, started manufacturing soft drinks on Plot No. L.R. 209/3829 in Ruaraka way before Coca-Cola entered into the scene.
But this expansion would also be hampered by the State of Emergency declared by Governor Sir Evelyn Baring due to the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule and which lasted between 1953 and 1959.
During these years, Allsopps started making losses and after recovery in 1961, its chairman H. Travis received a proposal in 1962 from EABL which was seeking to purchase the brewery.
The EABL was interested in the Allsopps brands which were growing steadily.
That is how Allsopp (East Africa) Ltd was amalgamated with EABL to form East African Breweries Group.
Its shares were acquired by Kenya Breweries which also acquired Nairobi Maltings and City Brewery.
Under the leadership of R.O. Graham, Allsopps brewery started huge investments in the region as demand for its flagship Allsopps Pilsner lager beer began to grow.
By independence, in 1963, a further expansion of the brewery at a cost of £150,000 commenced.
And to promote the new Pilsner brand, the brewery organised for a bottle to be carried in the fuselage of the Supersonic Scimitar which was to fly down the Mombasa Road from Embakasi.
The idea was to check whether it would taste as good after breaking the sound barrier!
And that is why my heart sank when an excavator arrived at Allsopps brewery to demolish it.
For the whole week, the lone high-reach excavator has been at the site tearing down what should be Nairobi’s iconic beer heritage site.
This was the original home of Allsopps Pilsner and White Cap.
Allsopps was not the pioneer brewery in Ruaraka. Actually, it was Charles and George Hurst who got interested in this area; by then a desolate bush, with a permanent clean river in the valley.
The river, known as Rui-Rwa-Aka, meaning women’s river, was reserved for Kikuyu girls during circumcision for its cold-morning anaesthetic waters.
Ruaraka was the corrupted version of the name. It was on the banks of this river that Charles and George had picked an expansive site to construct Kenya’s first brewery in 1922.
Interestingly, the two had not come to Kenya to build a brewery, and their entry into Ruaraka came after a frustrating gold prospecting venture that almost bankrupted them.
They had then tried flax farming, to no avail, while their coffee crop was devastated by hail. Ruaraka was to be their last experiment in enterprise in Kenya.
Always an entrepreneur, George had been a party animal in Nairobi’s newest hotel, The New Stanley, as well as the Norfolk, where he hobnobbed with other failed farmers, successful entrepreneurs, soldiers and game hunters.
It was at one of these parties — celebration marking the end of First World War — that he realised that the toasting was done using imported beer brought 6,000 miles by sea.
That is when he got an idea of starting a brewery. Charles had, in between drinks, sold his idea to his brother George and one of their friends, H.A. Dowding.
The three then started inspecting possible sites and ended up in Ruaraka, which they liked.
Besides having a permanent unpolluted river, the land beyond was undulating and teaming with wildlife.
Here, the three men contributed £2,500 each and Charles left for England to buy some brewing equipment. He loaded them onto a ship and sailed back to Mombasa.
The rest is history. One of his employees was William Taylor who would late build the second brewery in Kenya — whose building we are busy tearing down.
Once a historical heritage is lost, it is lost forever. Rest in Ruins, Allsops Brewery.