The Blue Nile Brewery (1956-1983)

I mentioned J.L. Loughnan recently in this post. It links to an earlier one where he figures, part of my ongoing Mandate Palestine series. That series starts here. 

Loughnan figures in our story below as well: Barclay Perkins’ investment in a Khartoum brewery, a project that began in 1951.

Loughnan worked for Barclay Perkins, the former London brewers, from the late 1930s until 1955 as its Export Manager. The role entailed looking for investment opportunities in the Near East and environs.

In 1995 the U.K. scholar Kenneth Thomas authored a paper, The Brewing Industry in Post-War East Africa: a Second Scramble?,which described the Sudan investment.

I rely below on Thomas’ study for the period up to 1958. Those interested in a deeper dive should read Thomas’ paper, which is well-written and researched.

In February, 1951 the directors of Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd., meeting at its Southwark headquarters, authorized building a brewery in Khartoum. The name they later chose for it was Blue Nile Brewery. It was an unusual step for the U.K. brewer, until then largely focused on the British market.

There is no question the brewery had exported widely from the London docks for generations. That included an export drive before WW I in British Columbia, Canada which I described here. But exporting to, and investing in, a foreign country are two different things.

There was  delay to obtain Bank of England permission to transfer the necessary funds outside the country but assent was finally obtained.

Barclay Perkins took a majority interest in the equity, with Sudanese capital participating.

Another old London brewer, Courage & Co. amalgamated with Barclay Perkins in 1955. Blue Nile was still not operational due to nagging building and design delays. While a corporate merger can often derail a pending project of this nature, Courage agreed it should be completed. The brewery finally opened in 1956. Loughnan had taken retirement by then and sadly died in a car accident in March that year in Sudan.

J.L. Loughnan was considered a first-rate executive. The completion of the plan owed much to his vision and determination. So committed was he that he stayed on after retirement to see the project through to completion.

At the time, bringing such brewing to Sudan, a mostly Islamic country, was not controversial. Sudan’s accession to independence also had no impact on the project. Once open, Blue Nile met its original revenue projections although the capital cost well-exceeded the original forecast. It closed in 1983 when Islamic law was introduced nationally.

On is an interesting 1959 calendar from the brewery. It depicts the stages of brewing in humorous, cartoon-like frames. The marquee brand is shown, “Camel” beer. A camel is pictured in some scenes, one shows the use of spent grains.

Animal imagery in advertising has a long history, one might recall Guinness’ inspired use of the toucan (“just think what two can do”) and other animals. The series was widely known even by non-drinkers of beer or stout.

Blue Nile prospered for years. It had a reputation for quality, as a Reddit conversation suggests. A trade study in 1964, Area Handbook for the Republic of Sudan, states that production was 525,000 gal. annually. Barley malt was sourced from Egypt and the U.K. Hops came from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. No other cereals are mentioned, or sugar, although adjuncts may have been used.

In 1963 the serial publication Overseas Business Reports stated that most Blue Nile production was lager, with the rest stout. The data is expressed as so many bottles. Most production was clearly bottled, but some draft may have been available. The 1959 calendar depicts a “jug” along with the bottling process.

Producing stout derived from Barclay Perkins’ original expertise as a porter brewer. Possibly though Blue Nile’s stout was a dark lager, as so little comparatively was produced. And there was certainly a Blue Nile Dark Beer, see here.

Online sources also confirm that a “stout” so-called was marketed, so maybe they were the same beer, but this is unclear.

Either way, use of the Britannic term stout in a 1960s, East Africa context was a late remnant of British brewing tradition in the region. That it was much reduced from former days, whether as local production or in the form of imports, simply paralleled the decline of British influence internationally.

An American technical standards publication reported on the brewery as of 1980. In that period, the malt came from Belgium and France. The book states that despite various technical challenges “commendable” efforts were made to maintain quality. An example was the rejection by the plant of substandard malt.

In the account, the year cited for Sudan’s independence appears incorrect. It was not 1970 but 1956. The brewery had been nationalized by the time of writing, that was true. Thomas in his paper discusses the nationalization.

Earlier this month Reuters reported non-Muslims in Sudan will be permitted to drink alcohol. It’s part of a package of changes being introduced. See the report, here. 

As mentioned, examples of Blue Nile labels and other advertising may be viewed online. A coaster is illustrative, at WorthPoint, an early example of the brewery’s commercial art.