Tusker : The story behind the name

Officially brewed in 1929, Tusker lager is the most popular beer in Kenya and the largest selling beer in East Africa. Kenya loves it, Africa loves it and so does the rest of the world. Its well-known emblem, the elephant, has become a symbol of great pride and a representation of that divine African taste and flavor.

..But with all great triumphs lies an underlying tragedy. Herein lies the tragic tale of how an elephant gave tusker its name.

It was in the early 1900’s when the construction of the railway, infamously known as the lunatic line had come to a much anticipated end.  Its construction had brought much misery and had cost the crown millions and millions of pounds.

In effect, the British government sought to find a way to recover from its losses by encouraging settlers to come and invest in the country. The settlers were lured by promises of large tracts of land, favourable climatic conditions, exhilarating safaris and many more ‘untold’ African treasures.

Among the many settlers who made the decision to come and establish a new life in Kenya , were brothers Charles and George Hurst. They were experienced brewers, gold prospectors and farmers.  The brothers set up a brewery in 1922 and formally registered their company as ‘Kenya Breweries ‘on December 8th of the same year.

In the beginning, their operation was relatively small scale and hands-on. They used small copper vessels for brewing and all the beer was bottled by hand .The very first batch of ten cases was delivered to the Stanley hotel, which was then the most prestigious hotel in Nairobi, having hosted queens , government officials , presidents and many other dignitaries.

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Offices of Kenya Brewery & British American Tobacco around 1920’s .Courtesy of http://www.sikh-heritage.co.uk/

A year after the two brothers founded Kenya Breweries, George’s  fate took a rather tragic turn when they went on a catastrophic hunting trip from which he never returned.

Hunting and especially big game hunting was a popular sport in those days. George was known to be an avid hunter and an adventurous one at that. One record states that several months before he met his death he had been mauled by a lion and was lucky enough to have escaped alive.

However, on that fateful day in 1923, luck was not on his side, George was trampled on and killed by a rouge male elephant.

Large male elephants which are indigenous to East Africa were  commonly known as Tuskers. In memory of the death of his brother, Charles decided to name their very first lager, “Tusker “.

Branding and advertising begun as early as 1924 though Tusker Lager was officially brewed in 1929.

Tusker was an instant success in the market and by 1935, Kenya Breweries bought out Tanganyika Breweries and the following year changed their name to East African Breweries Limited. In 1938, the brewery won its first brewing prize in an international competition.

One account says that George was merely attempting to take a photo of the tusker and had not intended to kill it. Regardless of his intentions, the story of his death still remains a tragic and gruesome one.

To this day, Tusker remains the best selling beer in Kenya with a 30% market share and is sold in different parts of the World. From table covers, to t-shirts, from beer mugs to key holders, tusker merchandise can be found in restaurants, pubs, shops and supermarkets all around the country.


Tusker Lager Image courtesy TIM BISHOP / DIAGEO

Tusker merchandise is  also commonly sold alongside traditional Kenyan crafts in curios and craft shops. Implying that Tusker is as much a part of Kenya as Kenya is a part of it. A bond cultivated over  more than 80 years and one that is bound to last much longer.

   In memory of George Hurst ( 1923)

Tusker , ” Bia yangu , Nchi yangu ! ” , ” My beer, My country  ” (1929 – 2014)