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Echoes From The Past: When a brewer and a hotel shape the destiny of a country

By Amos Kareithi | May 4th 2021
File: Standard

How can the destiny of a country’s economic engine be tied to a bottle of beer and a hotel? It is rare that beer drinking and investing go together unless in insolvency cases. But in Kenya, the history of the country’s thirst for quality beer can never be told without mentioning the New Stanley Hotel, presently known as The Stanley and Nairobi Stocks Exchange, now known as Nairobi Securities Exchange.

And the story of this unusual trinity is almost a century-old, as it started in 1922, only two years after Kenya became a colony. All these memories of 100 years are brought alive by a single picture. In this rare photo, two Africans, impeccably dressed in suits, ties and peaked caped hats are posing by a lorry.

The caption states that this vintage “lorry” was among the first to transport beer from Ruaraka to New Stanley Hotel in 1922. This picture must have been taken shortly after East African Breweries Ltd was set up. The first beer was produced on December 14, 1922 and was delivered to New Stanley Hotel.

As fate would have it, George Hurst, the pioneer brewer was killed by an elephant, which unwittingly earned itself a permanent place in the hearts of beer lovers as it gave birth to Tusker, Kenya’s most enduring brand of beer.

Undeterred by this upset, the Ruaraka brewery got a power line, enhancing its production to 20,000 gallons a month. At the time, a glass of beer was retailing at 50 cents but Africans were, of course, not permitted to taste the beer, and neither could they get into hotels and clubs where such drinks were sold. Being found in areas designated as White areas was enough to earn one a prison stint or public flogging. Some establishments boldly posted notices on their doors stating that dogs and Africans were not permitted into their premises.

As Tusker and the Ruaraka brewer was making it mark, quenching people’s thirst, New Stanley too was immortalizing its name in Kenya’s history. This hotel, which had started in 1902, offering five rooms for accommodation, became the first stocks exchange in 1922. According to the new Stanley Hotel’s website, this started in 1922, when “a group of accountants, auctioneers, lawyers and estate agents who met to exchange prices over a cup of coffee proposed a stock exchange at the Exchange Bar in the New Stanley Hotel. The trading took place on the basis of a “gentleman’s agreement.”

A century later the hotel, the brewery, its famous brand Tusker and the stocks exchange are still going strong. The hotel is still located on the two plots bought from Lord Delamere, EABL is still manufacturing its bitter sweet juices from Ruaraka but the stock and securities exchange has moved to Westlands.   

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