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Beers in Kenya: A sober opinion

Peroni - One of the best beers in Kenya.
Did a taste of canned and bottled Italian, and bottled Tanzanian
I like the tangy flavour and body in Tanzanian Peroni. The can is close.
Heineken drinkers will like the Italian one. 
I have had a short beer swigging stint in my life. It has however been long enough for me to share my opinions of Kenyan beer. Interestingly, over the course of sharing such opinions with other drunkards connoisseurs,  I have found that we all have different views as to what beer is the best, which one makes you too drunk, or which one gives a free,  extra hangover for every hangover you get from it.

For starters, like everyone else, I discovered that beer isn’t as sweet as it looks like in those adverts that show golden barley swaying in breezes,  happy men smiling and toasting chilled, foaming glasses of beer as a deep voice does some narration in the background.

Beer is bitter! Now, it turns out beer is intentionally made bitter. See,  beer shares the same ingredients as bread. The major difference is that bread isn't fermented. Bread is sweet, so why isn't beer sweet?


Well if we left beer to be sweet - we would have a problem on our hands. Sweet things have a very high rate of diminishing returns. If you order packaged juice,  or soda - the first one is sweet,  and you gobble that down. Some people are able to stomach the second. Few, if any people, will make it past a third serving of a sweet drink - it begins to get irritating to our palate.

Therefore - if beer was sweet,  most bars would only end up selling 1 or 2 bottles per person. If we however reduce the sweetness of beer - many people can handle many more servings at one sitting. Enter hops. Hops are herbs whose main purpose in beer is to bitter the beer, and to preserve it.

Hops come in a variety of flavours - some are mainly bitter,others have very spicy/flowery/fruity flavours. The flavourful variety is mostly preferred by smaller brewers - like craft brewers,  as it sets them apart from mass brewed beer which settles for the more available variety.

Secondly - hops vary depending on the beer. Irish Pale Ales (IPAs) and craft beers tend to be light on hops, in an effort  to appeal to a wider base. Ladies, especially, have little patience for bitter beers. Some cultures too - like Indians,  can’t stand bitter beer,  and this will be reflected in their country’s offerings. Sikhs however are an exception here.

Short overview of beer done, we can now proceed to sample a selection of what is on offer in Kenya. These are mostly my views - and some people will swear that some beers taste different, or are better or worse.

After my shocking discovery that beer tasted nothing like it does on adverts - I settled on Tusker Malt. Tusker Lager is a lot of hype and a lot of bad beer. Pilsner is a lot of hype and for those who love bad tasting beer, but with a lot of kick (if you need stronger beer).

Tusker Malt


Tusker Malt has one of the best flavours you will find in a beer. A full body, and a tangy taste, probably from the hops. It’s a well done, “golden” beer. It’s good too for a starter. My only issue - every time I drank this, I got two hangovers. I missed enough social functions nursing hangovers from this thing - just because I happened to drink one bottle more. Interestingly, I know someone who does not get hangovers from Tusker Malt. It is worth a shot,  and you can prefer it if it doesn’t give you hangovers.

White Cap


White Cap is a good substitute for Tusker Malt, if it gets you hangovered. White Cap is quite the light beer. It even has this pale yellow/golden colour. It has a weak body, but is strong on the tanginess too.

You also need to have a good loo near where you are having White Cap, for your visits will be many. The hangovers too will be negligible, or easy to sort out. You don’t get two hangovers with this.

There are however better alternatives to White Cap.

One of my friends happened to get employed at SAB Miller, and being my duty to support them, decided to try out there beer. It also occurred to me that being loyal to a product might be a stupid thing to do. Products should not be accorded the same respect we do to people - life has so much to offer,  why settle?

And there started my adventure of trying out many varieties of beer.

Peroni


Of course, one of the first beers I tried was Peroni - an SAB Miller beer. Originally Italian, Peroni tends to be light bodied with a hint of bitter, on your side palates, mid palate and back palate. This is the Italian variety though. If you love Heineken, this one will do.

I prefer the Peroni brewed in Tanzania. This one has more body, is quite more tangy and its flavor is pronounced on the tip and front palates. Surprisingly, nothing on the back palate.

Even surprising is that the canned Italian Peroni has more of the Tanzanian characteristics, of course, with a slight metallic flavour , which disappears at some point. Cans always have that metallic taste.

If you are the Italian who once exhorted the virtues of Peroni at the bar in the Delhi Taj Mahal during a Nokia event, and are reading this, I drank Peroni, and I loved some of it.

One thing you will notice - is depending on where a beer is brewed, the same brand will taste differently. Barley and even hops tends to be locally sourced, hence Tanzanian barley will taste differently from Italian barley, unless we try hard to ensure all conditions they are grown under are as close as possible.

Castle

SAB Miller Lager's. Have only found it in one outlet - the local branch of South Africa's Ocean Basket. It's a crisp, well bodied and a little tangy (not much) lager. Much as I don't have much to say for it, it is a nice beer. 

Castle Milk Stout

Castle Milk Stout is SAB Miller’s stout, equivalent to Guinness. It is a strong beer with alcohol percentage of 6.5%, compared to 3% - 5% in most beers. 



It has a mild to strong bitter taste over the tip half of the tongue, with the bitterness progressing over the sides, but with an increasing sweetness near the middle. No taste on the back palate and extreme side backs.

CMS uses milk sugar (lactose) as a sweetener. It however is a very viscous stout (flows easily), which I dislike.

Guinness

In my opinion, Guinness is the better stout here, compared to CMS. It’s thicker (less viscous). It’s also bitter - sweet. Now, if you are used to taking sugar, or have a sweet tooth, you will find it hard to believe that there is sugar in Guinness - but there’s quite a pack of it in there.

Guinness is also a strong beer - 6.5%.

Sierra Imperial Stout

2015 was the year, Ozbecco, commonly known as Sierra, was the brewery. They decided to show them how it is done. They created one beer, one stout, to rule them all.

They called it Sierra Imperial Stout - a name not so imposing. True to Sierra, they used the best of hops in this stout, resulting in a beer that literally tastes like coffee (real coffee, not one drowning in sugar or milk).

This is possibly the most flavour rich beer I have had. It’s simply awesome. Only problem, can’t seem to find it in most bars. Seems like they hit the ground running - but never came back.

Sierra Amber and Sierra Blonde

Sierra also has other beers - including Amber and Blonde. These two are quite similar - with Amber being more bodied than Blonde, and less acidic. Amber is also quite flavourful, probably due to a higher class of hops.

If you love your beer, Amber it is. If you're just drinking beer today, Blonde it is.

I however, for a strange reason , don’t get drunk on these two. Seems great, but comes irritating at some point. Amusing, I could swear I never drink to get drunk, it’s just a side effect, but clearly, not the case.

Give them a try, they may work for you. Spicy, flavourful. Light-ish, though.

Brew Bistro

While Ozbecco is sort of a small brewer/craft brewer, Brew Bistro is definitely a craft brewer. Thankfully, they allow you to try all their beers in a single serving.

Sadly, their beers lack the kick (probably intentional to widen the appeal). They have some flavour, but I find them missing in character.

Chui is a bready, light beer.

Simpilis is sharp, or acidic and has a bit of that bready taste

Temstout is Brew’s equivalent of Guinness. It tastes like that 80%, sugar free chocolate that many people dislike.

Nyatipa is an IPA having more maturity/body in its flavour and also taking more bitterness from its hops. It’s closest to your typical beer, but still shies away more towards the light side.

Marzen is a sweet, tangy beer, with the tanginess especially on the back palate. I’m however unsure if this is a regular beer. It should be a seasonal one.

If you doubt beer tastes like bread, Brew’s beer will help cast your doubts away.

Sirville Brewery

Over at the very windy Galleria Mall, is the Sirville Brewery, which can sometimes have a band too loud for a conversation. It’s also the best craft brewery, with their beers looking to cater to both those who prefer light beers to those who love stronger beers.

Tsavo is light and sweet with some bready taste in it.

Mara is a medium sweet beer, but with more body.  

Amboseli is a light beer, but with more hops, hence more bitter.

Aberdare goes for more body and more hops, hence is bitter.

Sirville’s beer go from lightest, sweetest, to more bodied, bitter as described above.

Heineken and Carlsberg

Sorry, we don’t save best for last. That I bundled this too together should be clear I don’t have a strong preference for them.

Heineken is a light beer, and is also not heavy on hops. It’s one of the world’s leading beer, thanks to marketing.

Carlsberg is also a popular beer. The one in Kenya is a bit light though, both in taste and body, but not as Heineken.

These are mostly travel beers - what you take when you travel to a new country and are a little apprehensive in trying the locals.

Conclusion

To conclude, beers will make you fat. They are mostly carbohydrates, and many contain sugars. Stouts needs to be classified as meals by themselves. Their advantage over spirits is that they are gentler on livers and kidneys.

They however do not hold a candle to wine. 

Smirnoff Ice, Redds Vodka, Redds and Snapps are not beers. The first two are vodka mixes, Redds Apple is a Cider (apple juice fermented, similar to wine, but not one since an apple isn't a grape) and Snapps - I don't know what this is, but it is not a beer, and it contains alcohol.

The best thus are Tusker Malt, Peroni (Tanzania) and I’d go with Sierra Imperial Stout if it was readily available, but we will have to settle for Guinness. The rest, as they say, is advertising.

Ratebeer.com is a good resource for beer lovers. Here is their page for Kenyan beers (excludes beers that originate in other countries, but still sold in Kenya).



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