Ian Cheruiyot inspecting one of the distillery chambers
Ian Cheruiyot inspecting one of the distillery chambers. [Photo/ Courtesy]

With a growing popularity in the Kenyan market, Kenyan Originals (KO)  (now African Originals) prides itself as the leading Kenyan distillery using 100% local materials and products to manufacture its drinks, both cider and gins.

Some of its major ingredients include bitter orange leaves from Kilifi, lemongrass from Kabati, Bay leaves from Kinangop, Roses from Mt Kenya region, Hibiscus from Meru, and Baobab from Kilifi. 

The ingredients in their freshest possible state are assembled at Nairobi’s Baba Ndogo area, inside KO’s craft room which has been the hive for the manufacture of some of the country’s leading gins and cider drinks.

Some of the KO’s drinks which have taken the market by storm include the latest gin that comes in two brands – the Classic and the Tambuzi. Others include Kenyan Originals (KO), African Originals and the 58.

Business Today managed to access KO’s craft room in Baba Ndogo, where all African Originals brands are made.

At the distilling plant, we are received by 26-year-old Ian Cheruiyot, who serves as a senior distiller of the company, overseeing every process there-in.

In one of the sections of the plant. Ian introduces us to tens of workers sorting out the ingredients that are used to make the KO brands.

The workers select the best ingredients, which include locally-sourced fruits, clean them and prepare them for processing.

 

Kenyan Originals workers sort out frui
Kenyan Originals workers sort out fruits at the firm’s factory. [Photo/ Courtesy]
Once all the ingredients are ready, the distillers embark on a mission to get them weighed out to ensure the right balance, a process that Ian terms fun.

“The first thing when we get into the office is to weigh out the botanicals (which includes the spices and herbs) for different brews like our KO has 11 ingredients, the charge the spirits and then dilute it with water so that we get the desired concentration,” says Ian.

“After that, we put in the botanicals and then f**e up the mixture, which takes some hours until it reaches the boiling point of ethanol. The ethanol now evaporates to the chambers where we have condensers. We have heads, hearts and tails where we collect the hearts,” he explains.

At this point, Ian and his team have to keep smelling and tasting to ensure that they are getting the best product.

After distillery, a clear GIN comes to an ABV of around 80 per cent. ABV, or rather alcohol by volume, is a standard measure of how much alcohol is contained in a given volume of an alcoholįc beverage.

“To be able to bring it down to a level that unlocks the flavours, we dilute it to a concentration of around 40 per cent. You have to keep checking how the flavours are coming through so that you keep adjusting the recipe,” he explains.

Ian says that at times it may take up to 60 trials to get the perfect flavour that goes to the market.

If the beverages are in their perfect condition in terms of concentration and flavours, they are canned and ready for the market.

Inside his office, which is next to the lab, Ian and his team have a number of flavours and ingredients that they use to create new products, and experiment before going into full production.

Ian Cheruiyot with a KO bottle
Ian Cheruiyot with a KO bottle. [Photo/ Courtesy]
African originals was founded a couple of years ago by Alex Chappatte, a British-Belgian national who has 10 years of building brands such as Kit Kat and Stella Artois in the UK.

“We wanted to invest our skill set, knowledge base and time in a continent where we believed significant growth would be in the next 10-20 years,” says Ms Chappatte.  “We are also adventurers and wanted to live out the African adventure both in our personal and business lives. “

She first moved to West Africa, living in Ghana and eventually to Kenya five years ago and fell in love with East Africa’s biggest economy. In Kenya, she quickly learned the ropes and soon she founded Kenyan Originals, a company that makes craft tonics, fruit ciders, ice teas and craft spirits.

“These are all made with real Kenyan ingredients from across the country,” she notes, “for example we source our mangoes from Makueni and our passion fruits from Meru.”

Chappatte hopes that African originals will grow into a Kenyan/African brand, built by the indigenous people of Africa for the African population.

“Since 2019 the Kenyan Originals brand has come to represent much more than just our drinks. We want to provide a platform for all Kenyans igniting originality in modern Kenya. The movers, the shakers, the risk takers, the Kenyan Originals,” she told Business Today in a previous interview.

Read: How I Became A Senior Distiller At 26 – Ian Cheruiyot

>>> African Originals to Cede 10% Stake To Customers Through Crowdfunding

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