You are what you eat & drink

Do they have beer in….

South Sudan?

South Sudan: new country, new anthem, new flag … new beer

The world’s newest country’s manufacturing sector is almost non-existent, but one South-African-run brewery on the banks of the Nile is giving South Sudanese citizens what they want

Freshly-labelled bottles of White Bull Lager at the South Sudan Beverages Limited Brewery in Juba. Photograph: Simon Allison

On the outskirts of Juba proper is a brewery. “That’s too far,” said the motorcycle taxi, before charging me double to get there. He knew where it was, of course; everyone knows where the beer is made. As we drive, the new concrete roads of the city become rough dirt tracks, and the cheap single-story constructions turn into iron shacks and straw huts. And then, like some incongruous science fiction fantasy, it looms ahead of us: a giant warehouse of pipes and vats and bottling lines; a fully mechanized, fully modern beer factory in a country that makes almost nothing else of its own.

This is South Sudan, the world’s newest country, and one of Africa’s poorest. Its appetite for beer has always been strong: brands like Tusker from Kenya and Bull from Uganda have long been staples of the local bars and nightclubs. But it has never made its own beer. It’s an expensive undertaking, to start with. For another thing, the region spent much of the century in the midst of a messy civil war. On top of this, prior to secession, the explicitly Islamist Sudanese government in Khartoum was never likely to agree to a facility producing the forbidden alcohol.

This has all changed. Independence Day for South Sudan was last year, on 9 July, but even a few years before that it was running its own affairs as an autonomous region. Global beer behemoth SABMiller saw an opportunity: a new country would need a new flag, a new national anthem, a new coat of arms…and, naturally, a new beer. A local beer. A beer called White Bull, brewed with water from the river Nile and bottled in the capital.

White Bull Lager A local bar near the brewery advertises White Bull Lager. Photograph: Simon

Allison The factory was built, the staff hired, the raw materials imported (Nile water aside, although that needs some heavy-duty filtering) and the first beers were sold in 2009. Since then, millions more have left the factory, and the company has added two new brews – Nile Special and Club Pilsner – and a range of soft drinks. It’s a difficult but rewarding business.

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So, yes, they have beer in South Sudan.

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