Twiga Brewery - Craft Beers, Arusha Style
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
It’s been a recurring theme in our stories, but we’ll reiterate here: Chipp’s basically a hipster. He’ll fight it - but can’t really deny it. So, when he heard about Twiga Brewery, Tanzania’s first craft brewery, he naturally needed to check it out.
A Trip to Arusha’s AIM Mall
Chipp hates malls in the States - why go to one in Tanzania? Well, it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Malls suck. Breweries don’t. Turns out the desire to go to the latter outweighed the aversion to stepping foot in the former - especially when this particular mall hosts the first craft brewery in the country.
AIM Mall’s located about two miles west of central Arusha - pretty much smack-dab between the city’s central market and the Arusha Airport (a regional airport smaller than the larger Kilimanjaro Airport where we’d landed). And, it’s located immediately adjacent to the city’s Cultural Heritage Center, making it a pretty common stop off for visitors.
Realistically, it’s a place that only caters to visitors (and the absolute wealthiest Arusha residents). It’s a high-end mall with American or European prices placed in a city where most people certainly cannot pay those prices.
But, we (Chipp) wanted to try some local beers, get a bite, and swing by the cultural center, so that became our afternoon plan. Actually, Jenna needed some pants, so she appeased Chipp and agreed to his silly brewery plans...
Our Introduction to Mzungu Prices
Mzungu is not a word one would hear “in polite company.” Derived from Swahili, at one time, it meant European. Now, it’s a pejorative used throughout East Africa for any white person.
Kids would yell it out as we strolled through Arusha, but this fell more into the category of “kids being kids” - not hostility. If an adult called you a mzungu to your face, you were probably acting like a disrespectful foreigner to warrant it.
But, a phenomenon exists known as mzungu pricing. In Tanzania, two prices exist for most goods and services - the local one, and the mzungu price. As expected, the mzungu one tends to be significantly higher.
We’d talked to enough people to know about this dichotomy, but we hadn’t experienced it yet. That changed on our trip out to Twiga. As we were heading out for the day, we asked the hotel desk clerk if he could call a cab for us - said it would be no issue.
A few minutes later, a car showed up - not an official taxi.
Clerk: “Here’s your driver. It’ll be $10.”
Woah, pump the breaks, friend. For context, the Tanzanian shilling trades around 2,300 to the dollar. A two-mile cab ride for a local would’ve been 2,000 - 3,000 shillings. 10 dollars was exorbitant. And, this was an unlicensed cab - generally not a good idea.
Chipp: “Okay man, I was born at night, but not last night. We’ll go find our own taxi.”
Unrelated question: Can you use “parent sayings” when you’re not a parent?
We left, found a taxi a block from the hotel, and paid a reasonable price to get to the mall.
And, before people get up on their high horses with thoughts of well, it was only $10 - not a lot of money, it wasn’t about the money. It’s the principle. No one wants to feel ripped off. It doesn’t matter whether you're at a Michelin-star restaurant, your local bar, or haggling over cab prices in Tanzania. If you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. And, if people take advantage of you once, they definitely will again.
Cynical? Maybe - but an honest assessment nonetheless.
Twiga Brewery vs. Shopping
Chipp has about 10 minutes of patience doing any sort of shopping before he has a toddler-esque temper tantrum (see accidental “skinny jeans” purchase). Jenna knows this. AIM Mall offered the perfect compromise. Jenna could take as much time as she wanted browsing through stores, and Chipp could go straight to the brewery. Win-win!
With seemingly millions of craft breweries in the States, it feels like everyone fights to punch you in the face with a more unnecessarily adventurous “beer.” Sure, that’s fun (and Chipp’s certainly consumed his fair share of creative brews). But, sometimes it’s nice to just go get a delicious, reliable beer. That’s what Twiga offered.
There’s a great patio outside, but it’s a small place inside - just a short bar, a few tables, and the brewing tanks visible in the back. They sell bottles to go, but there were only two taps at the bar - strange compared to all of the craft breweries that have dozens of beers to try.
Chipp: “First time here - what do you recommend?”
Bartender: “We have a lager, a stout, and a halfer.”
Chipp: “A halfer?” Bartender: “Half lager, half stout.”
Chipp: “I’ll start with the stout.”
No frills - just cold, delicious beer. And, served in iced mugs, it absolutely hit the spot out on Twiga’s patio in the hot Tanzanian afternoon. For the next hour, as Jenna tried to find some pants - to no avail - Chipp worked through that cycle of stout, lager, halfer, repeat. Life was good.
If you make it to Arusha, swing by Twiga for a few (or more) - well worth the trip.
A Search for Banana Mash - And A Sign to End That Search
As we left the mall, with Chipp in a proper “merry state,” we figured we’d check the culture box. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be - the Cultural Heritage Center had already closed for the day. Enter Plan B.
A good friend of ours - the one who was spot-on with the mango smoothie recommendation - insisted that we try some of the Tanzanian banana mash. Called mbege (“em-beg-ay”), this banana-based booze is a central part of social life for the Kilimanjaro-area Chagga tribe.
With some good local beer in the system, why not go out and try to find another Arusha treat?
Jenna - with some pause - agreed to go off on a wild goose chase with Chipp to find a place pouring mbege. And, we set out wandering around different side streets and the main drag, popping in and out of places to try to find some of this banana mash. No luck.
On a whim, we headed down a road towards what looked like a cafe in the distance. As we got closer, we realized the cafe was behind a gate - with an armed guard blocking the entrance. Looking at a sign next to the guard shack, it dawned on us that we were about to enter the headquarters of an African war crimes tribunal. Figured that was a pretty good sign to call it a day on our booze search.
In no real rush to get back to the hotel - and enjoying the beautiful day - we started strolling back into central Arusha. Not more than 100 yards into our walk, an enterprising fellow pulled up next to us in a tuk-tuk, asking if we’d like a ride.
If you haven’t seen a tuk-tuk before, they’re an absolute riot - basically a motorized tricycle, with two covered seats in the back for passengers and a single seat up front for the driver. They’re ubiquitous in a lot of the developing world, and they’re definitely an asset when bombing in and out of stand-still traffic.
We negotiated a price and hopped into the rig.
Good choice. We’d still be sitting in traffic if we had taken a normal taxi. But, with our clearly-unconcerned-for-his-life tuk-tuk driver, we used a combination of road, shoulder, and sidewalk to make it back in about 10 minutes.
Not a beer drinker, Jenna wished she’d had some sort of alcohol in her system to calm the nerves during her first tuk-tuk adventure!