In the social and cultural history of beer the “tour” is of undoubted significance. Since the mid-1800s, breweries have seen it their business to welcome the open-eyed citizenry, not omitting a tasting, of course.
Journalists often participated, no doubt from personal interest and also to produce something offbeat for their paper.
We may add to these annals one journalist’s trek through the Palestine Brewery in Rishon LeZion, Mandate Palestine, 1944.
“Wayfarer in Uniform”
His account appeared in a column for the Palestine Post entitled “A Wayfarer in Uniform”, a regular feature in 1943 and 1944. The paper is predecessor to the Jerusalem Post. The tour is set out in the March 27, 1944 issue, see here.
(Per the National Library of Israel (NLI) website, its Jewish press archive is an initiative of the NLI and Tel Aviv University. The Palestine Post issues were made available courtesy the Jerusalem Post and Professor Ronald Zweig).
The “Wayfarer” author was anonymous but reading the columns it appears he was a private soldier. He refers in one story for example to “my sergeant”, and mentions dealing with different ranks.
In civilian life he may have been a teacher, artist, or writer, as he often refers to arts and culture including literature, theatre, and painting. The Army evidently knew he wrote the column – the sergeant even proffered ideas for future articles. Perhaps he assisted in some way the Army information service.
1944 was a year fraught with violence and conflict in Palestine, more than usual for that part of the world, quite aside the wider war. Yet his articles focused on human interest, on the comparatively benign. He might tour an ancient bell tower at Christmas, or describe a crafts competition, theatrical show, or soldiers’ gardening project.
He was clearly of English background and referred frequently to London and other parts of England. The tone is calm, equable, a characteristic of British journalism then, as I’ve noted.
Similar “soft” columns appeared in other parts of the world, a genre which offered readers a balm or distraction from daily life. Entertainer Bob Hope wrote one in the same period, albeit less literate than Wayfarer’s. I mentioned it recently in a post on brewing in Burma.
The Palestine Post
The NLI website outlines the history of the Post and states that the readership comprised Mandate officialdom, local Jews and Arabs, Christians on pilgrimage, and foreign visitors.
Units of the British Army in the territory and the Palestine Police Force were clearly part of the audience as well.
As noted, the brewery was the Palestine Brewery in Rishon LeZion. The images below show it in 1939. Wayfarer’s account is notable not for brewing details as such but more for its humour, and how an artistic temperament reacted to a brewery in full tilt.
The large vessels appeared to him as “vases” – something that never occurred to me I must say, but we are all different. He was plied with samples, evidently finding them quite satisfactory – the “Bohemian” beer about did him in on the bus home!
Wayfarer quite liked beer, to the point he tried an outing once without it but in doing so came to grief – read the account for why.
The brewery was founded in 1935 to supply a local demand but with the British Forces in mind. Previous to that, beer was imported, the civilian population favouring German or Czech beers. The brewery was financed by French and local capital, as detailed in this January 1937 story in the Palestine Post.
An article in a 1935 issue of The American Brewer, a trade journal, noted that Dostal & Lowey* of Milwaukee had shipped bottle washing units to a number of customers including one in “Palestine”. Quite possibly Palestine Brewing was the customer.
A 2017 story in the Atlanta Jewish Times by Rich Walter offers additional detail including viz a major investor, René Gaston-Dreyfus. He was a banker-brewer – a felicitous combination from the standpoint of the brewing ledger – and also financed breweries in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia.
Critical to the plan was a lowering by British administration of the excise tax on beer, from 20 mils/L to eight, as Walter explains and is confirmed in this 1934 article.
By 1936, the excise was seven mils/L, but a story that year shows the market was still challenging, as the brewery earned only one mil/L on the beer. Nonetheless that was enough, given the volumes sold, to make a profit and cut the quantities of beer hitherto imported.
There were 1000 mils per Palestinian pound.
Some Beer Details
The brewery initially released its Eagle lager, also called Nesher lager, and a dark, non-alcohol brew. Nesher means eagle in Hebrew and a distinctive, spread-winged logo was selected in a public competition advertised in the Post. The logo still appears on the Nesher label of Tempo Industries, the successor (from 1985) to Palestine Brewery.**
By WW II English-style beer was also made. In fact, by 1943 60% of the brewery’s products were sold to the British Army, as reported in the Palestine Post that year.
The brewery had studied how to brew English beer. A story on January 15, 1939 stated that F. (Fritz) Hirschbruch, the general manager, travelled to England that year to study the local methods.
Previous to that, the brewery made “Pilsener”, i.e., Bohemian-style; “Munich” – dark lager; and “malt beer” – probably a German malz-type or Schankbier.
Initially the malt and surely all hops were imported. This story of May 25, 1936 explains that the brewery intended to build a plant to malt barley, but we cannot confirm if it did so.
In the Comments below I add further links viz. brand labels and similar.
I’ll discuss soon further aspects of beer and brewing in Mandatory Palestine and early Israel. There are numerous facets including the imported beer market, a second brewery that opened in the 1930s, with British participation, and the expansion of brewing in the 1950s.
There is an active craft brewery scene there now. I haven’t visited to taste the beers, and others have chronicled this aspect well, so I’ll leave it aside, the same for Taybeh in the West Bank, a pioneer craft brewery in the region.
Note re images: images above were sourced from the Library of Congress, here. All ownership therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Still going strong.
**Tempo Industries is better known today for its Gold Star and Maccabee brands.