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Zombies who are the brew ‘tasters’

Wednesday September 14 2011

By JAMES KARIUKI and DAVID MACHARIA [email protected]

Kenya’s coffee and tea industries have professional tasters to help identify the quality of their products before they are graded and sold.

In Nyahururu alcoholic brew dealers have their own breed of “wine and spirit tasters” whose profession can take them to the graveyard after a “tot”. (Read: Lethal brew kills 11 in Kenyan towns)

It was after a similar grading activity that the town in Nyandarua county woke up to a rude shock, with seven residents succumbing after their habitual drinking spree.

But as their families mourned the deaths, scores of people who jammed the murrum road outside Mikiki Mikiki Depot could not hold back their laughter; they were relishing the “juicy” tales about the goings-on behind the closed doors of the depot as the spirits are made.

Impotent and filthy

Residents blame the partakers for the drinking has made some of their closest friends become zombies they say are “impotent and filthy”, while those who die become just a statistic at the local morgue.

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A survivor, Mr David Elimlim, who worked as a watchman at the depot told the Nation — as those within ear-shot laughed — how he had become “taster”.

Every consignment that arrives is tasted by watchmen, street boys and loaders, he revealed, before it is taken to the pubs around the town and to satellite centres for sale.

It is an act comparable to giving your dog food to test whether it is poisoned.

“In addition to off-loading the brews from lorries, these people are given free drinks to taste and test the effectiveness of its alcohol content, and are given Sh500 for all the work,” said a Jua Kali artisan near the Mikiki Mikiki Depot near Maili Nne matatu terminus.

“Each 250ml bottle is sold for Sh50, but last Saturday the taste was different. It tasted like shit! I swallowed, and my bowels immediately started aching. I tried a second time and I threw up on the floor, prompting the owner to eject me from the ‘party’,” he said as onlookers laughed their hearts out.

For 25-year-old Emily Muthoni, the story is painful. She lost her husband Benson Ndirangu last week during a drinking spree, but she is yet to stop drinking herself.

Their two children aged seven and three years are at home with her mother but she spent all her time drinking with Ndirangu until his demise.

“I would wish to see these alcoholic drinks banned permanently. I’m hooked to the drink and all my friends want, is more drink and nothing else.

“About my husband, he stopped being a man in the house after he became a habitual drunkard. So I followed him and has never left,” she adds.

Outside Baron’s Ranika Hotel, is a blue wooden easy chair next to a stone covered with a yellow polythene bag where Mr Warui Karucu used to operate from.

His long time friend and colleague Peter Mwai said Mr Karucu spent the whole of Monday complaining of stomachache before he went to rest at the Nyahururu Botanical Garden.

He was found dead Wednesday morning, prompting a hunt across the township for other known partakers of the brews who are said to have lost sight. Some were found dead.

Karucu was among five people identified to have died who reside at Maina Village, while two others were identified as street boys.

Inside Mikiki Mikiki Depot, police found cartons, empty bottles, and labeling papers believed to be for use in packaging the spirits after it is concocted.

“They mix water and ethanol before it is labelled and counterfeit Kenya Revenue Authority Stamps and a Kenya Bureau of Standards logo put as proof of quality. The finished product is then given to ‘tasters’ who confirm its palatability before it heads to the market,” said a man only identified as Bonny ‘G’.

Maina location chief Muraya Waithaka said a house to house visit was being conducted across the vast slum with a view to rescuing anyone holed up there after imbibing the brews.