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 this current post, Loughnan figures once again, viz. 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 developing 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 have relied largely on Thomas’ study to describe the project up to 1958. For a deeper dive readers should consult Thomas’ paper, which is well-written and researched.

For the post-1958 history, I use mainly other sources, as set out below.

In February 1951 the directors of Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd. met at the firm’s 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 had 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, Canada which I discussed 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 funds for the project to Sudan but consent was finally obtained. Barclay Perkins took a majority interest in the project equity, with Sudanese capital also participating.

Another old London brewer, Courage & Co. amalgamated with Barclay Perkins in 1955. Blue Nile 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 taken retirement by then, and sadly died in a car accident in Sudan in March of that year.

J.L. Loughnan was a highly valued executive. The completion of the Sudan project owed much to his vision and determination. So committed was he, that he stayed on after retirement to see the project properly concluded.

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

Once opened, Blue Nile met its revenue projections although the capital cost to build the brewery well-exceeded forecasts.

Ultimately, the brewery closed in 1983 when Islamic law was introduced nationally.

On there is an interesting 1959 calendar from the brewery. It depicts the stages of brewing in humorous, cartoon-like fashion. Its marquee “Camel” beer is also shown. The humped animal is pictured in some frames, one depicts use of the 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. The Guinness series became part of popular culture, even known by non-drinkers of beer.

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, from Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. No other cereals are mentioned, or sugar, although adjuncts may have been used.

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

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 stout certainly was produced. And there was, too, a Blue Nile Dark Beer (hence, not labeled stout as such), see e.g. this label.

Maybe these were the same beer, but this is unclear.

The use of the British term stout in a 1960s, East African context was a late remnant of British global influence

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.

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