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How Kyrgyzstan's Favourite Fermented Drink Became a National Symbol

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Images by French illustrator Nicolas Journoud. Images belong to Journet. Featured on

Kyrgyzstan's largest non-alcoholic beverage retailer has a motto that echoes across communities and generations, translating as “Shoro is Strength”.

After the company's legendary co-founder Tabyldy Egemberdiev passed away aged 64 earlier this month, the slogan now has even more resonance.

Few figures have been as publically mourned in Kyrgyzstan as Egemberdiev, who took part of his country's nomadic cultural heritage — fermented drinks — and turned it into one of the few distinctive commercial brands in the mountainous Central Asian state of nearly six million.

The co-founder of "Shoro" company

The co-founder of Shoro, Tabyldy Ergamberdiev. Scan of front cover of One Magazine.

While beverages such as the tangy-tasting kumis have always been popular on the country's mountain pastures or jailoo, the success of Shoro was in bringing the countryside to the city.

In the country's capital, Bishkek, Shoro stations staffed by ladies in distinctive uniforms sitting behind barrels of easily affordable, healthy refreshment are part of the summer scenery.

French illustrator Nicolas Journoud, who spent a month in Bishkek, was inspired to immortalise these street corner vendors selling national drinks in a series of comic strips titled Shoro Girls.

Ian Claytor, an expatriate working in Kyrgyzstan's tourism sector, provides some background to the Shoro story:


Here Journoud takes an iconic Soviet-era painting of a Kyrgyz schoolgirl and adds some Shoro. Image belongs to Nicolas Journoud, featured on

Exactly why Taalbyldy Egemberdiev decided to call his company “Shoro” is not clear … in Kyrgyz it means something like “salty”. For example, in the South of Kyrgyzstan there is a mineral water spring called Kara Shoro – and the waters from this particular renowned for being salty.

Brought up by his mother, Taalbyldy graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Bishkek and became an engineer. After Independence he because a popular figure, writing articles for newspapers on a wide range of subjects. He is most well known, however, for establishing and developing the Shoro Company and brand … which produces mineral waters as well as Maksym. He has been invited to lecture in Turkey and the US – and even met President Clinton.

The Shoro company is a family affair, run by Taalbyldy and his relatives. He is on record as saying that they began with working capital of just two hundred US dollars, which he got by selling four of his mother’s sheep – and two goats. He also says that they began with one “pail” of the drink – which they took to the market and the 80 litres sold out in two hours. They gave up their jobs and started the company. Originally, the family produced the traditional Kyrgyz beverage from his grandfather’s house – but eventually demand grew to exceed the supply … the day’s production, all prepared in the traditional manner using large (100 litre) kazans, would be sold out before mid-day … so production was expanded to meet the demand and now there are five factories producing seventy tons a day. Much of the production is exported – especially to the Moscow area of Russia.

Egemberdiev's death on May 15 produced a tumultuous reaction from local Twitter users.

One wrote of the Shoro brand's addictiveness:

I started to save money for a car, but couldn't resist the temptation to buy Shoro

Every Batman needs a Robin, and Tabyldy owes much to his brother Jumadil, who helped him realise the joint project. Backed by ever-growing demand for their drinks, the pair made enormous investments and never stopped innovating, moving into mineral water .

In a touching interview in 2012, Jumadil told #One magazine:

МОЙ СТАРШИЙ БРАТ – генератор идей. Он – человек творческий, немного рассеянный и очень мудрый. Даже в школе он делал за меня задания, писал сочинения, а я выполнял его часть домашних обязанностей: колол дрова, таскал воду.

My older brother is a generator of ideas. He is a creative person, a little bit absent-minded, but very wise. Even at school, he did homework assigments for me, wrote essays. I fulfilled his part of the house work: chopping the wood and carrying the water.

Company sales are not only limited to Kyrgyzstan — Shoro has also appeared in the Kazakh and Russian markets. The company's most popular line of national drink, Maksym, was presented to bypassers outside the Kyrgyz embassy in the capital of the United States of America, Washington, D.C. as part of an Open Doors Day on May 3. For the unseasoned palate it can be an “acquired taste”.

Tilek Mamytov, a Kyrgyz who works as a Technical Program Manager at Google, summed up the feelings of many when he tweeted:

Egemberdiev and Shoro, I think, is a wonderful success story for everyone. Now he lives only in our memory. Very sad.

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