My book: Wi Briwri, Wi Salone (Our brewery, our Sierra Leone)

Commemorating 50 years of Sierra Leone Brewery Limited and celebrating the people behind the bottle

In late 2011, I was approached by the Managing Director of Sierra Leone Brewery Limited (SLBL), then Cor Honkoop, to produce a commemorative book celebrating the brewery’s 50th anniversary the following year.

Cor joined the brewery a few years earlier, brought in by Heineken to reverse its fortunes after it struggled to recover from the country’s 10-year civil war.

And recover it did. Cor rallied staff, distributors and farmers to turn the brewery into a successful, profitable and socially responsible business. Star beer was back on top as the nation’s favourite tipple and, with its 50th anniversary round the corner, they had something to celebrate.

For three months I lived, breathed (and drank) Star beer.

pg-13-imgp5994f_fotor The result was a 100-page full colour book documenting just some of the brewery’s history through the words of staff, former staff, partners, distributors, retailers and consumers.

This is my baby. I’m proud of it.

It was a huge project and it’s 100% mine – the research, the text, the photos and the design.

And yet, it is not mine at all. The story belongs to the brewery and the thousands of people past and present who have contributed to its fortunes.

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Here is a taster for you – the introduction:

Fifty years ago the first bottles of fresh sparkling golden Star beer rolled off the production line at Sierra Leone Brewery Limited (SLBL) for the eager consumption of a newly independent nation.

Since then, Star has become the nation’s favourite beer, consumed with patriotic pride and rarely absent from parties and celebrations. As many said during the research for this book: ‘a Sierra Leonean party without Star beer is not a party’.

Sierra Leone and SLBL have grown up together, thriving during the good times and persevering through the bad. Today they are phoenixes rising from the ashes, looking forward to a bright future.

Sadly, like so much else, the company’s archives were destroyed during the rebel invasion of Freetown on 6 January 1999. Fortunately, much of its history remains in the vast archives held by its major shareholders, Heineken and Diageo/ Guinness, former shareholder United African Company (UAC), and in the memories and photograph albums of current staff, pensioners and board members.

However, it must be acknowledged that this book is not a comprehensive SLBL history. More research needs to be done to build a complete narrative. Instead, as SLBL commemorates 50 years of ‘sharing the brighter life’, this book aims to chronicle some of that history, but mostly to celebrate SLBL, it’s products and the many thousands of people behind it, including the farmers, brewers, distributors, retailers and drinkers.

So, sit back, crack open an ice cold Star, Heineken, Guinness or Maltina, read and enjoy!

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