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 had worked for Barclay Perkins, the former London brewers, from the late 1930s until 1955, as 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?, that 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, which, 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, that I described here. But export to, and investment in, a host country are two different things.

The funds earmarked for Khartoum were finally released by the Bank of England for foreign transfer, that is, after a delay to secure approval.

Barclay Perkins took the majority interest, with Sudanese participation in the equity.

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 such a project, Courage agreed to complete it.

Finally, the brewery opened in 1956. Loughnan, who had taken retirement by then, died in a car accident in March that year in Sudan.

J.L. Loughnan was considered a first-rate executive. The completion of the project owed much to his vision and determination. So committed was he that he stayed on after retirement to see the plan 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 Brewery 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 Etsy.com, there appears an interesting, 1959 calendar from the brewery. It depicts the stages of brewing in humorous, cartoon-like frames. The marquee brand, “Camel” beer, is shown. A camel appears in some scenes, the use of spent grains is one.

Animal imagery in advertising has a long history, one might recall Guinness’ inspired use of the toucan and other animals (“just think what two can do”). 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 1964 trade study, Area Handbook for the Republic of Sudan, states that production was then 525,000 gal. annually. Barley malt was sourced from Egypt and the U.K. Hops came from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. No other cereals were mentioned, or sugar, although such 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, as 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 of the stout was produced. And there was certainly a Blue Nile Dark Beer, see here.

Online sources also confirm that a “stout” so-called was marketed. 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. That it was much reduced from former days, whether in the form of local production or imports, simply paralleled the decline of British influence internationally by the 1960s.

An American technical standards publication reported on the brewery in 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. As an example, substandard malt was rejected by the plant.

In this account, the year cited for Sudan’s independence appears incorrect. It was 1956, not 1970, but 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 that non-Muslims in Sudan will be permitted to drink alcohol. It’s part of a package of changes being introduced. See its report, here. 

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