Food & Drink Lifestyle

Traditional Brews and Licensing in Kenya: A Discussion With 254 Founder Eoin Flinn

the land of homebrews
Patrons drinking at 254’s Taproom
Photo Credit: 254 Brewing Company

It’s last call in Nairobi. Among the orders for gin and tonics, ciders and Tusker lagers is a newcomer to the beverage scene: 254 Brewing company. Founded in 2020, in the wake of a global pandemic, 254 is a brewery with a message. Everything you need to make the perfect beer is right here at home. 

Kenya: The Land of Traditional Brews

While not included in ‘magical Kenya’ promotions, the country is home to a multitude of brewing cultures. For example, muratina, a drink brewed by Kenya’s Kikuyu community, is a fermented beverage made from the fruit of the “sausage tree.”

Fruit hanging from a ‘sausage tree’

Though a derivative of the drink is being sold in the UK for a whopping 1,940KSH, it is not available for purchase in stores throughout Kenya’s cities.

The problem is that traditional brewing culture has been demonized in Kenya. Throughout history, muratina has been used by Kikuyu communities for wedding ceremonies and celebrations, but oppressive brewing regulations have made it hard for local brewers to take their products to a mass market. 

“When barley beer entered the market 100 years ago, with the colonialists, all of those traditional ferments were suppressed in the end to clear the way for those products to dominate commercially, even though the traditional brews weren’t even intended as commercial things,” said 254 Brewing Company’s founder Eoin Flinn in an interview with ThisNairobi.

254 Brewing Company founder Eoin Flinn

One of central Kenya’s famous muratina makers maintains a brewery in Kikuyu, a town in Kiambu. The brewer’s daughter, Wambui, has a government license to produce muratina, but is not allowed to advertise her services or sell her product commercially.

“There’s just this confusion where people have conflated traditional brews with things that are dangerous. But, what they are, is a lot more nutritious,” said Flinn. 

Recognizing the value in traditional brewing, Flinn worked to collaborate with local brewers and share expertise. Through his research, he learned firsthand about the power and peril of developing a craft beer in Kenya. 

The power was that Kenya’s robust agricultural sector provided almost everything Flinn and his team needed to develop a world-class craft beer.

 “The agricultural sector here is world-class and we can actually improve ingredient quality by using the supply chain in Kenya,” 

The all-too-familiar peril came with getting the proper permitting to sell and distribute beer in Kenya. I

Licensing and Certifications: A Kenyan Startup Story

It took 254 Brewing Company almost two years to get licensed. Obtaining a license to distribute beer in Kenya requires a Kenya Bureau Of Standards (KEBS) certification. Before the certification is issued, KEBS also requires samples of the product made from the manufacturing equipment the company plans to use in production. 

This means that before a company earns a dollar, thousands have already been spent on licensing and certifications.

“[We had to] invest and build the entire brewery, Flinn explained. “In order to do that, obviously, you need to raise money. That creates a lot of stress and sleepless nights, two years before we were actually legally able to sell.”

Photo Credit: 254 Brewing Company

But Flinn and his team pushed through and developed an amazing product. According to Flinn, what defines a craft beer is its freshness. Unlike large, commercial brews, 254 doesn’t pasteurize or filter their beers. They’re fresh and crafted with Kenya in mind. 

Understanding Great Beer

254 produces five categories of beers: hop-led beers (IPAs), malt-led beers (stouts, porters), yeast-led beers (Belgians, Hefeweizen), neutral beers (lagers), fruit beer.

They may come with cute names like ‘Ni-how’, ‘Karibrew’ and ‘Golden Rump’, but they pack a huge punch. Whether you taste 254’s beers at home, courtesy of their Beer Club, or at their taproom in Kiambu, Flinn says that you must, by all means, drink it with care and out of a glass.

“Pour your beer in a glass and take a normal sip, then take another sip as you hold your nose. You will find the taste goes way down when you hold your nose. This is because 50-70% of your taste derives from smell. Your brain combines it with your taste buds to create the sensation of taste. When you drink from a bottle you pretty much cut your nose out of the equation.”.

Grab one of 254’s beers today! They’re sold at Chandaranas and Carrefours in Nairobi. If you’re at an independent liquor store with very little fridge space, check the bottom shelf for one of their fresh beers. Also, keep an eye out for 254 at Total stations and Naivas stores –they just rolled out in 10 Naivas stores and 10 Total branches in the city. Also check them out at some of your favorite restaurants like Shamba Café, Geco Bar, Alchemist, and Pantry & Provisions.

And, to get the full experience you must, must, must visit their taproom in Kikuyu (add map link). 

Let’s close things out with some parting words from Eoin Flinn:

A human being consists of about 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion bacteria cells – we’re like a forest where we got out of our way to kill over 50% of the trees and expect the ecosystem to be healthy.

…why not treat yourself to a refreshing, Kenya-made, craft beer today?

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