The Blue Nile Brewery (1956-1983)

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

In my post today Loughnan figures yet again, for brewer Barclay Perkins’ investment in Khartoum, a project that started in 1951. Barclay Perkins & Co. Ltd., the former London brewery, had employed Loughnan as its Export Manager from the late 1930s until 1955. The role included seeking 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 largely on Thomas’ study to describe the project up to 1958.

Hence, to obtain more detail for that period, consult Thomas’ paper, which is well-written and researched. I employ mostly other sources to discuss the post-1958 history, as set out below.

In February 1951 the directors of Barclay, Perkins met at the firm’s Southwark headquarters to authorize the construction of a brewery in Khartoum. The name “Blue Nile Brewery” was finally chosen for the new facility. The investment was an unusual one for Barclay Perkins, which earlier had focused largely on the British market.

Of course, Barclay Perkins had exported beer from the London docks for generations. This included a drive before World War I in British Columbia, Canada which I discussed here. But exporting to and investing in a foreign country are two different things.

For Khartoum, there was a delay to obtain Bank of England permission to transfer funds for the project but finally consent was obtained. Barclay Perkins took a majority interest in the project, with Sudanese capital participating.

Another old London brewer, Courage & Co. amalgamated with Barclay Perkins in 1955. Blue Nile Brewery was still not yet operational due to nagging building and design delays. While a corporate merger often can derail a pending project of this type, Courage agreed the deal should be completed.

The brewery was finally opened in 1956. Loughnan had retired by then, but stayed on to see the project to completion. Sadly died in a car accident in March of that year in Sudan. Loughnan was a highly valued executive. The completion of the Sudan brewery, and its subsequent success, owed much to his vision and determination.

At the time, making beer in Sudan, a mostly Islamic country, was not controversial. Sudan’s accession to independence also had no impact on the project.

After opening Blue Nile met its revenue projections although the capital cost to build the brewery well-exceeded forecasts. Ultimately though, the brewery closed in 1983 when Islamic law was introduced nationally.

On we see an interesting 1959 calendar from the brewery. It depicts the stages of brewing in humorous, cartoon-like fashion. The marquee “Camel” brand is pictured in some frames, one shows use of the 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 Guinness series became ensconced in popular culture, to the point even non-drinkers, or non-drinkers of beer, knew it meant Guinness stout.

Blue Nile had a reputation for quality, as this Reddit conversation suggests. A trade study in 1964, Area Handbook for the Republic of Sudan, stated 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 brewing adjuncts may have been used.

In 1963, Overseas Business Reports stated that most Blue Nile production was lager, with the remainder stout. The data is expressed as bottled output. Most production was clearly bottled but some draft may have been produced. The 1959 calendar depicts a “jug” in addition to bottles.

Producing a stout derived from Barclay Perkins’ traditional expertise as a porter brewer. Possibly though Blue Nile’s stout was, or became in time, a dark lager. There was, too, a Blue Nile Dark Beer, so not labeled stout as such.

The use of the British term stout in a 1960s, East African context was a remnant of British global influence, although not quite disappeared in the African continent to this day.

An American technical standards publication reported on Blue Nile as of 1980. In that year malt was obtained from Belgium and France. Despite technical challenges the brewery made “commendable” efforts to maintain quality, for example, by rejecting substandard malt.

The year cited for Sudan’s accession to independence appears incorrect, however. It was not 1970 but 1956. The brewery had been nationalized by 1980 though, that part was correct. Thomas’s paper discusses the nationalization in more detail.

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

As I mentioned, Blue Nile labels and vintage advertising items may be viewed online, in auction sites typically. This coaster at WorthPoint presents a notable 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.


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