The Blue Nile Brewery (1956-1983)

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

Loughnan figures yet again, for Barclay Perkins’ investment in Khartoum, a project that started in 1951.

Barclay Perkins, the former London brewery, employed Loughnan from the late 1930s until 1955 as Export Manager. The role included examining 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 relied largely on Thomas’ study to describe the project until 1958. For a deeper dive, read Thomas’ paper, which is well-written and researched. For post-1958 history, I use mainly other sources, as explained below.

In February of 1951 the directors of Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd. met at its Southwark headquarters to authorize building a brewery in Khartoum. The name they would choose for the venture was Blue Nile Brewery. The investment was an unusual step for Barclay Perkins, which earlier largely focused on the British market.

There is no question of course that the brewery had exported from the London docks for generations. This included a drive before WW I in British Columbia which I described here. But exporting to and investing in a foreign country are two different things.

There was a delay to obtain Bank of England permission to transfer the necessary funds to Sudan 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 will often derail a pending project of this nature, Courage agreed the deal should be completed. The brewery was finally opened in 1956. Loughnan had taken retirement by then, and sadly died in a car accident in Sudan in March of that year.

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

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

On one can see an interesting, 1959 calendar for the brewery. It depicts the stages of brewing in humorous, cartoon-like frames. The marquee brand, “Camel” beer, is shown. A (four-legged) camel is pictured in some frames, one depicts the use of spent brewery 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. This series became part of popular culture, known even by non-drinkers of stout, or even beer.

Blue Nile prospered for years. It had a reputation for quality, as this Reddit conversation suggests. A trade study in 1964, 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 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, the rest being 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” in addition to showing bottling at the brewery.

Producing a stout derived from Barclay Perkins’ original expertise as a London porter brewer. Possibly though Blue Nile’s stout was, or became in time, a dark lager. Little certainly was produced. And there was a Blue Nile Dark Beer (so not labeled stout as such), see e.g. this label.

Yet, online sources also confirm that stout, so-called, was also marketed so maybe these were the same beer, but this is unclear.

Either way use of the Britannic term stout, in a 1960s, East African context, is a late remnant of British brewing tradition in the region. That stout had much declined, whether as local production or in the form of importation, simply paralleled the decline of British brewing influence internationally.

An American technical standards publication reported as of 1980 on the brewery. In that period malt came from Belgium and France. The study reports that despite technical challenges “commendable” efforts were made to maintain quality. For example, the plant would reject substandard malt.

The year cited in the study for Sudan’s independence appears incorrect, however. It was not 1970 but 1956. The brewery had been nationalized at the time of writing, that part was correct. Thomas in his paper addresses the nationalization in more detail.

Recent development: earlier this month Reuters reported that non-Muslims in Sudan will be permitted to drink alcohol. This is part of a package of changes being introduced. See a news report, here. 

As mentioned earlier, some Blue Nile labels and period advertising may be viewed online, on auction sites generally. This coaster at WorthPoint is an interesting early example of the brewery’s graphic art.


2 thoughts on “The Blue Nile Brewery (1956-1983)”

  1. The Blue Nile Brewery produced a very fine beer by any international standards, and it was a great shame to hear that production of this excellent beverage had finally been halted because of politico-religious reasons.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: