Pining for an Old-time Brew

Franz Schwackhofer was a Vienna-born professor of chemical technology. He specialized in the subjects of malting and brewing and was active in the later 19th century. The LinkFang site offers a biographical sketch, in German, see here.

In 1894 Schwackhofer wrote an extensive study of the American brewing industry, Amerikanische Brau-Industrie auf der Weltaussellung in Chicago. It is catalogued in HathiTrust but not available in full view. In effect, it is a full-length book, with 60 folded-in plates that surely would be most interesting to view. Some chapters were co-authored with another writer.

A good summary of this work is contained in a book review that appeared in 1896 in vol. 62 of the British journal Engineering. It is a careful, detailed account of the book that relates Schwackhofer’s views on the progress of American brewing, with which he was generally impressed. Malting, grain and corn types, filtration, bottling, and much more are covered.

So widespread was the use of corn in American brewing by the 1890s that Schwackhofer states other beer was now the specialty, meaning the all-barley malt beer that still had writ in Continental Europe.

The review recounts that American wood kegs were usually lined with pitch but sometimes with lacquer. Pitch was prepared from the sap of coniferous trees. A brief description from an American brewing chemist’s paper in 1942 explains the properties of good pitch, one of which is that it impart no odour to beer.

Beer casks were lined to keep out a woody taste in the beer and prevent microorganisms in the wood frame from souring the beer. Wood vessels were widely treated with pitch in Continental Europe as well, for this reason. The taste of pitch nonetheless by some accounts circa 1900 entered the beer, and was considered part of its “profile”, we would say today.

Brewers from Central Europe brought the cask-pitching tradition here. There is the odd remark in brewing literature in America as well of a taste in the beer from pitch. An 1899 Budweiser ad I mentioned earlier vaunted, in fact, its “pitchy” taste. See my discussion, here.

The review in Engineering, summarizing Schwackhofer, wrote that where American brewers used lacquer in lieu of pitch:

… a little spruce pitch is dropped into the wort for the benefit of customers who are unhappy without that by-product.

This almost incidental remark reveals to us that American beer had, or very frequently had given the scope of Schwakhofer’s brewery tour (see review), a piney tang.

A pine taste has sometimes been assumed by those projecting how American beer might have tasted then, but no one is really sure because later, as we see from the 1942 commentary, it was thought the pitch should be neutral on the beer. Evidently technology caught up by the mid-century to the properties of lacquer, an inert finish made from shellac dissolved in alcohol.

For guidance on lacquer practice in the 1890s, this 1898 article in American Brewers’ Review is helpful. It is called varnish here but the same thing is meant.

Off-piste additions to a food product like beer – outside that is malt, hops, corn, rice, sugar – were not trumpeted at the time. Yet through a side-wind we gain an insight on a key attribute of the beer palate in the Gibson Girl era.

Today, an endless variety of ingredients is added to beer. I’m sure pine or spruce is, of occasion, but I can’t recall the last ones I had. Brewers hark.

N.B. I wrote up Quebec spruce beer in this early post – a true survival of nineteenth century Canadian tastes. It is still made, I must look for it when in Montreal soon. If I get a bottle and pour a dash in a good craft lager, ergo I’ve made an 1890s American lager – maybe. The specialty kind Dr. Schwackhofer wrote of. 🙂

 

A Pioneer of the Modern Food Scene

A key figure in the revival and promotion of American food culture after National Prohibition was Jeanne Owen.

She was a longtime senior officer of the Wine and Food Society of New York, from 1934 until 1965. In that period she was the motivating force for its taste events and dinners. Her great knowledge of cookery, wine, and the New York hotel and restaurant scene proved invaluable for the job.

She knew James Beard well, among many other New York food luminaries, and helped promote his career. She also published on cookery, including A Wine Lover’s Cook Book (1940), and wrote for food and wine magazines around the country.

A detailed profile of Owen by journalist Naomi Jolles appeared in the New York Post in August 1945. It started this way:

Some seven times a year a group of approximately 500 New Yorkers gather at one or another of the city’s swankier hotels to give their taste buds a workout. In an atmosphere of esoteric gourmandizing, they sip at Madeiras, stouts, champagnes, rums and brandies (depending on the occasion) and nibble away at smoked fish and exotic cocktail biscuits.

Lady Make-It-All-Possible of these affairs is Jeanne Owen, a fluffy white-haired woman with a face that really expresses what she tastes. As secretary of the Wine and Food Society, Inc., Mrs. Owen serves as a liaison between the wine, liquor and food companies and that portion of the public that really cares about food and drink.

The numbers attending these events speak for themselves, bearing in mind too the war in Europe had just ended and the Pacific War was still ongoing. Despite the travails and sacrifices of the war consumer America was reviving, and looking to the future.

The story described some of the high and occasional low points of the Society’s work. A high point was its Long Island oyster-tastings, which I’ve described earlier.

Owen was French-born, which clearly assisted working with the International Wine and Food Society in London. Its founder André Simon was a Frenchman who had transplanted to Britain after World War I.

Before moving to New York Owen had lived in northern California, a centre of food innovation through the 20th century into our own. In the late 20s and early 30s she worked in New York theatre and on radio, and became an accomplished amateur chef. This diverse background made her perfect for the Wine and Food Society job.

She quickly became its driving force and wrote its monthly newsletter as well.

Jolles wrote:

The bill is $10 a year [to join the Society], $15 for a couple, and is an excellent investment for those who are not so well off, according to Mrs. Owen. “When you are not too rich, but still want a bottle of good wine, you can’t afford to make a mistake,” she says. “You can’t sample brands and stocks in a shop, but through the tastings, you always know what pleases you the most.”

Social media today operates in much the same fashion …

In 1958 the New York press again profiled Ms. Owen, see herein the New York Times. The second treatment is more sophisticated, but what comes through in both is the intention to popularize what had been an elite activity: food and wine for their inherent enjoyment, vs. mere sustenance or as received tradition.

This implies as well a learning opportunity, viz. cultures and experiences different from one’s own.

In 1958 Owen noted that young people were the most enthusiastic members of the Society. In the early days (1930s-40s) event programmes were cast on the floor when people left. By the 50s, people took them home: they wanted to learn.

1945, 1958. Food and wine in New York. What looks like distant times, distant preoccupations, is very much a piece of where we are today.

 

 

 

 

The Seventh Committee (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed the Delegates Lounge at the New York headquarters of the United Nations, reaching back to 1958 for a comparison.

Today I’ll go back even further, to December 1952, an article in the New York Times by A.M. Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an award-winning, long-time journalist and senior editor at the NYT.

The Times had a number of articles on the Lounge in the 1950s and 60s. All are good but Rosenthal’s perhaps is best, given too the early year of appearance.

His sharp depiction of scene and personalities is as good as being there, almost – maybe better because a top journalist sees things many will not.

He notes that while open barely three months, life at the Lounge developed into a reliable pattern. Some nations hung out in specific areas, e.g. the Americans had “squatters’ rights” on two tan couches.

Some delegates would cluster near the entrance, so anyone else wishing to talk to them had to “help them cluster”.

Some had a “broken-field” style, striding across the near-60-yard length of the lounge to chat with different parties. We call that working the room today.

Its nickname then was “chicken-yard”, where “kernels of diplomatic information are strewn and picked up”.

He pegged the nature of the place in a few words:

When the General Assembly is in session as it is now, that is where the delegates, main and otherwise, confer, read, write, drink, telephone, do some stage setting for diplomatic bargaining, trade shop news, and sometimes even lounge.

Surely that applies today no less, making allowance for the cell phone.

For drinks, he noted the popularity of Scotch and soda, also cited in the 1958 account. Dutch gin, Danish beer (likely Carlsberg or Tuborg), French and Greek brandy, and orange juice are also checked.

From then until now, OJ has been a staple UN refreshment – the sugar and vitamins must work a special energy in the systems of envoys and retinues.

One difference from today is, in those years the Lounge had a martini trade before lunch. Its liveliest time, per Rosenthal again, was an hour after lunch, after which delegates left for meeting rooms and sessions.

Today, the Lounge features a nightly scene, with Friday the busiest night.

Few design details are conveyed, due perhaps to the plush but minimalist decor. He did note “fan-backed Danish chairs”, “facing a sea of mud”. The UN Complex was not quite complete in late 1952.

But the main workings of the bar seem to apply in pretty much the same way today.

I think this is true with any bar anywhere. Habits form early from the clientele and management, and endure for decades. The people change over time but they follow the template of early days.

 

 

 

 

 

The Seventh Committee (Part I)

The North Lounge, NYC

I didn’t think I’ve ever mentioned the United Nations here, or if so only in the most indirect way.

These contes deal with beer, food, and spirits in the sense of their characteristics in time and space. Hence, their confection, taste, price, markets, and similar.

This seems at arm’s length from an organization of world states, now almost 200 members. Its goals essentially are to prevent conflict among states and foster goodwill or at least co-existence; probably cultural exchanges as well. All to the good, but not directly connected to the gastronomic or epicurean, or anything that seems proximate such as trade, investment, manufacturing.*

Nonetheless this post deals with the U.N. because I’ve learned that it has a bar, called the North Delegates’ Lounge. It’s the bar and social centre of the U.N., reserved to delegates and staff, Secretariat staff, U.N.-accredited media, and their guests.

I’ve passed by the U.N. in New York many times. I’ve never been inside, and tended to focus on the striking tall tower, completed in 1952, the Secretariat. There is also the low, pavilion-like structure next to it, the General Assembly.

But between them further back, facing the East River, is the Social and Economic Conference Centre.

On its second story on the north side is the Lounge. The Delegates Dining Hall, partly open to the public (in usual times), is on the fourth floor.**

A few years ago, the North Lounge underwent a significant remodelling and partial restoration. This article explains the background, by Jordan Kushins at Gizmodo in 2013. A Dutch “dream team”, as dubbed at the time, did the design and renovation work.

I thought they did a nice job. The use of pastel is effective; it reminds me of conference rooms at university in the early 1970s, updated of course with all mod cons for information technology.

This work was undertaken by the Netherlands at its expense, and presented to the U.N. as a gift of the Dutch people. This was part of a larger revamp of U.N. facilities, with different countries assuming responsibility for a building or portion.

Below is how the North Lounge looked in 1952 (UN Photo, Walter Ethelbach).

 

 

Winston Aldworth, a New Zealand journalist, profiled the renovated bar and “scene” a few years ago. Another profile appeared in a 2016 article by A.M. Brune at Atlas Obscura.

Aldworth mentioned a few craft beers, and Brune mentioned an ESB (extra-special bitter) from Rockaway. Evidently a large list of beer, wines, and other offerings is available, although I haven’t succeeded as yet in finding the bar list.

A “Beer of the Month” program has been publicized, which is salutary. The Lounge picked Bira91 IPA from India a couple of years ago, see a report at the NDTV site.

The North Lounge in 1958

We can gain some historical perspective in that a detailed news story covered the bar in 1958. It appeared in the Iraq Times, but clearly originated elsewhere, probably Britain.

The hook: “the world’s only unlicensed bar”. It makes very interesting reading.

Lots has changed since then, and some things haven’t. Gin was big among the delegates then, not so much martinis (too strong) but G&T and other mixes. And gin is popular everywhere today, presumably including the North Lounge in 2020.

Beer was, and evidently still is, a stand-by. Note how Britain had no beer represented at the U.N. bar, 10 years after the U.N. opened in New York. Evidently its delegation was satisfied with gin, whisky and soda (a classic mid-20th century drink in the British world), and other nations’ beers.

The American diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge liked sherry. I don’t think it has the popularity outside Spain it once had, though.

Russian diplomats at the time weren’t able to secure Russian vodka in New York. There was American-made vodka, which they disdained as “Connecticut gin”.

Now that one, I can’t figure out. Maybe it was grain neutral spirits distilled in Connecticut for gin with the leftover sold as vodka?

The main tipple was orange juice, i.e., sans booze. OJ still has a big sale at the UN, from my recent reading.

N.B. The United Nations has six working committees at its New York headquarters. The seventh committee is staff vernacular for the Lounge.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the United Nations website identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Our study continues, in Part II.

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*In contrast, an organization such as the European Union can influence many aspects of food and drink policy, which can impact their taste, consumption patterns, or social status. Legislation enacting appellations of origin is an example. The best example in brewing is probably the articles of the European Treaties that were held to prevent Germany from banning as “beer” beer imports from other member states that did not comply with its Pure Beer Law (Reinheitsgebot).

**Just as for the Lounge, a restaurant can provide interesting grist for the historical food mill. I’ll bear this in mind for the future. But information is not easy to come by, e.g., the menu of the Dining Hall seems not to be available online. When I can next get to NYC, I’ll try to have lunch there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Edwards Dishes on Steak and Kidney

Anne Edwards was a supremely successful columnist and author in the mid-20th century. She wrote mainly for Beaverbrook’s Daily Express but also other media.

The long-lived writer (1909-2005) had the magic touch for her chosen subjects: fashion, food, etiquette, celebrities, and youth advice, in the main.

Her Monday morning column was widely read by the nation. Some columns were reprinted far afield, including this 1956 example in the Iraq Times.

The article showcased a typical British dish, steak and kidney pie. In trademark crisp fashion she solicited the views of three chefs. She challenged them to cook their version for a compare and contrast.

She even included the recipes.

The modern-sounding piece, with its democratic spirit, presaged the cooking competitions and other food shows of today.

Good old steak and kidney pie. And the lesser-known pudding version. Most, surely, would rank them among the trad dishes of the British kitchen. Beth Watson of British Study Centre put steak and kidney in her top 10 listing a few years ago.

I like her other choices too, e.g. roast dinner, fish and chips, chicken tikka masala, and full English breakfast.

I confess I’d never heard of Eton Mess, but it looks worthy.

Mr. Allouis, of a “theatrical restaurant” known for its steak and kidney pie, told Edwards beer was optional at best for the dish. I was pleased to read that, as it’s my own conclusion from years of experimentation and reading.

(Beer is great in many dishes, but different ones).

Anne Edwards diplomatically gave the palm to each version, and marvelled how different opinions and methods can all produce a fine dishe. True then as now.

The inclusion of steak and kidney pie in the British pantheon belies an interesting fact. The dish cannot be traced before the mid-19th century. Presumably it did exist in oral tradition, or in manuscripts for home use, but not published cookery works, to my awareness.

But that’s a different matter – of food history. Anne Edwards was writing for the here and now, to inform and entertain. The typical reader might ride the morning bus to Piccadilly, or take the tube.

Through the simple passage of time, her article is today very much a part of food history. One of those interesting inversions.

 

 

 

 

A Stout Supply of Beer

RAF Margil, 1948

In February 1948, a notice appeared in the Iraq Times announcing an auction at RAF Station Margil of “surplus NAAFI stores”. Next to it a notice advertised an auction at another base in the country, RAF Habbaniya.

Offerings included tens of thousands of empty beer bottles as well as office equipment and beds and other furnishings. The empties at Habbaniya amounted to some 200,000 bottles, at Margil, about 60,000.

RAF Margil, aka RAF Basra, in August 1948 advertised for auction beer itself, a seemingly large quantity. Once again large amounts of empty bottles were being sold, and other supplies.

A further auction at Margil the next year advertised a large amount of kitchen equipment, furnishings, and other items associated with canteen and base operations.

RAF Margil was just outside Basra, the port city in Iraq. It was not the main RAF base in Iraq. That was RAF Habbaniya, west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. RAF Shaibasome 12 miles from Basra, was next in size.

RAF Basra had a small airstrip and, from our study, operated as a maintenance and aircraft assembly unit during the Second World War. According to a listing of RAF stations, it ended operation in 1946.

It seems, though, some presence did continue after, see e.g. this news report, 1956.

In this period Iraq was a monarchy ruled by a Regent, as Faisal II had yet to attain majority.

On January 15, 1948 Britain and Iraq signed a new treaty that would transfer the existing air bases to Iraq. The treaty permitted Britain to re-assert defence rights including control of aerodromes, in certain instances. Due to popular protests, by the end of January the treaty was a dead letter.

(This Britannica discussion offers good background including how the air bases came to be, the monarchy, etc.).

It appears by 1948 Britain was downsizing its military presence regardless whether air bases would be immediately transferred.

They were finally turned over in the mid-Fifties when the 25-year term of an earlier, 1930 treaty expired. Despite this, British commercial presence continued in Baghdad and Basra into the 1960s and 1970s including an expatriate community.

The Beer, the NAAFIs

The August 1948 notice stated 2000 cartons (cases) of “Guinness stout” would be sold, each containing 24 pint bottles.

This seems rather high for a relatively small facility. Maybe some of the beer was originally meant, given the nearby Basra port, for transhipment elsewhere. Maybe too inventory built up by the end of WW II was now surplus.

The Guinness was almost certainly the strong Foreign Extra Stout, about 7.5% abv. See this 1954 ad in the Iraq Times picturing a bottle of “FES”. Continuity would suggest the NAAFI sold the same brand earlier.

48,000 pint bottles at that strength represented almost 100,000 standard units of drink. That’s about 300 drinks per day annualized if all had been intended originally for RAF Margil.

I don’t know how many personnel were stationed there, at what periods. Other drinks would have been available as well. It’s hard therefore to say what 2000 cases meant for supply management. Still, taking all with all, it seems a lot of beer!

It is probable The Iraq Brewery Co., newly established in the late 1940s as I discussed recently, bought the empties or some of them.  As to the full ones, I’d think liquor merchants, hotels, and clubs bought them, but details are elusive.

In a recent documentary on the air bases produced in part by a RAF Habbaniya veterans group, the three stations are shown on a map. Life is discussed in particular at Habbaniya. A recurring feature of the interviews is the extreme heat unaccustomed Britons were met with in those pre-air conditioning days.

I think that explains in part what what seems like a high beer consumption. The other part is the traditional beer-drinking culture of HM Forces, which I discussed earlier.

At 1:28 a plan of Habbaniya is shown that depicts a substantial facility. One can see the NAAFI canteen in the lower part of the plan. Margil was much smaller but evidently had a NAAFI canteen as well.

Stout in Early Modern Iraq

Guinness was certainly available in Iraq before WW II. Numerous ads can be found for it in the 1920s Baghdad English press. One example from 1922, in the Baghdad Times, lists Guinness with six or seven other beers. The others are all lagers and mostly or all German, but Asahi from Japan is also represented.

Asahi is today a potent force in the international beer business, and we see here an early example of its prowess.

(And these were by no means the only imported beers in Iraq at that time. There were at least a dozen others. I may return to this later).

Finally, as we saw above, Guinness was promoted in Iraq in the 1950s, quite outside a British Forces context that is.

While I’ve stressed how lager became the default international style well before World War II, Guinness is an outstanding example of success in the top-fermented category. I think being a very dark drink of unique palate helped it on that path.

Just as Heineken became pre-eminent internationally in lager (IMO), so did Guinness, for stout.

Of course it had competitors – even in Iraq in 1948. This ad in Baghdad that year touted stout from Holland and Belgium, a Two Lions brand is mentioned. I am not sure who made that, maybe one of our learned readers can tell us.

And, as I showed in recent posts, The Iraq Brewery Co. introduced its Diana Stout in about 1950. That would have taken part of the market from Guinness, but not all clearly, as the 1954 ad picturing Guinness “FES” shows.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Today

For a depiction of the current label and a bit of history (there is a lot more), see this page of Guinness’ website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windy City, non-Windy Beer (Part II)

I know some people read missives such as my Part I with a sigh, “yes Gary thank you, nicely done, but I want to see the place, almost stroll in”.

Your wish is my command.

Courtesy British Movietone, and YouTube, here is the Nag’s Head in Chicago, in 1956.

It’s under a minute in length, with no sound, but still offers good detail for brewing and social historians.

Those china hand pulls do look kind of decorative, vs. working. (If so, they probably were in Britain, too).

But see the barrel with a tap driven in the head, on a metal frame, with a cooling jacket? Certainly looks like draught beer.

Was it real ale though, unfiltered, unpasteurized British beer? Maybe they flew it over. Whitbread had the brass to do it. Non-windy beer there may have been.

Lots of dark-suited men holding half-pints, probably both British and Americans. The Britons would haverepresented Whitbread Brewery and the British travel association that organized the promotion. Consular staff would be present, too.

Probably the executive of the American travel agents association was there as well.

In fact, the dope sheet states the names of some persons present, clearly from these categories.

It looks like the inaugural party, to open the pub. The venue was Palmer House in Chicago.

We can see English publican Frederick Esgen, also in suit and tie, supervising behind the bar.

The women are formally dressed too. A few are having a beer, one in a fur stole accepts her beer with a flourish.

Bottled beer is poured, with some impressive-looking cheeses on offer. One is just readable, Cheshire. Cheddar would have been another. One would expect Stilton, too. No cheese seems to resemble it though, but it can be hard to tell with a newsreel like this.

(And maybe it was white Stilton, the type without the blue veining. This was quite popular at the time).

Looks like they had fun.

It reminds me of the first English pubs in Toronto I patronized in the business district circa 1980. And they were fun.

Windy City, Non-windy Beer (Part I)

British pub in the Second City

A news story originating in Britain in December 1956, reported:

A replica of an English pub will open in Chicago this month to show Americans the attractions of this characteristically British institution.

The great beer writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) wrote in the 1970s that the pub was more than just English, yet not quite wholly British; this ambiguity is reflected in the statement above.

But this post is about the pub in America. The article describes how the landlords of a Streatham, Greater London pub, the Sussex Tavern, travelled to America to host a replica pub in Chicago.

The pub would operate in a hotel at a convention of American travel agents.

It was planned as an annual affair. The pub came festooned with authentic trappings sent from the old sod: china hand pumps and spigots (likely just for show though?), dart board, board games, pictures, horse brasses, beer mats, and more.

For beer, imported British brands were offered, probably bottled only although this is not clear.

Frederick and Kathleen Esgen, seen here pulling beers smilingly in Streatham, hosted at the replica pub. It was called, not Sussex Tavern but Nag’s Head, after a pub of that name near Hastings, Sussex.

The real Nag’s Head obligingly sent its own pub sign to adorn the Chicago simulacrum.

I’ll bet more travel agents than not got down a couple, two, three beers at the Nag’s Head each night. Dollars to donuts lots of stories were exchanged over the bar, not a few I’m sure viz. the Second World War, ended just 12 years before.

The account states the Esgens were to take a cross-country tour after the convention, appearing on radio and tv to promote British tourism and hospitality.

In a similar development, just before and after WW II the British pub appears as an exhibit at various trade fairs and expositions, American and Canadian. In Europe something similar occurred, the English pub at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair is a good example.

I described here how another replica went down a treat in Toronto the Good (?) even earlier, 1949.

These promotions were launched by careful organizational work. In a more complex consumer society, marketing the English pub naturally took more active cooperation with British-based interests.

For the Chicago replica, London-based Whitbread brewery played a large role. It owned the Mackeson and Fredrick Leney and Sons mentioned in the press account, as well. It was a Whitbread party, in other words.

Outside brewing the British Travel and Holidays Association participated as well.

Yet, the long-standing appreciation of the English hostelry in the public mind here cannot be discounted. One can promote to the nth degree, but if a receptive audience is lacking, success is less certain.

The Midwest is a mix of many ethnicities and social backgrounds. Still, there can be no doubt a receptive audience awaited opening of the Nag’s Head in Chicago.

The old English inn, the comfortable nook where darkish beer, oak, brass, and copper contrive to work a certain magic, is irresistable to the North American.* When enhanced by a soft south London accent, as in the Nag’s Head Chicago in 1956, the sundae had a cherry on top.

A Briton wouldn’t put it that way, but I can.

Part II follows with a film of the Nag’s Head in Chicago.

N.B. The Sussex Tavern was located at 668 High Street Streatham, a Whitbread house of course. Originally it was the Brass Farthing. The pub endured to about 2002. It became offices, and is now a restaurant. For details see here at What Pub.

The Nag’s Head, for its part, carries on in charming St. Leonards, Hastings, in seaside East Sussex. It is now an Admiral Taverns property. For details, see here.

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*Of course, too, the travel agents would have hailed from all over the United States, a factor surely in the decision how to feature the pub to Americans.

 

 

U Fleku in two Periods

The Roadmap of Palate

U Fleku is the venerable (“from 1499”), world-famous tavern brewery in Prague. I’ve spent some time in Prague, and Slovakia, but hadn’t the chance to visit U Fleku.

Modern reports on the place vary. Some love it, some are disenchanted with commercialism, but all seem agreed the beer is prima.

And for me, that’s what really matters in the end. Whether the place changed as Prague became a magnet for tourism post-1989, concerns me much less.

As many who read my accounts know, that’s my main interest in brewing: the palate and taste. I like the history – a good deal to be sure. I follow the beer business closely. But I’m primarily interested in taste and production methods: the roadmap of palate.

The same for my interest in food history: what did it taste like?

It’s interesting to compare two portraits of U Fleku in different periods. The first is from March 1982, by Henry Kamm of the New York Times. The other is from December 1956, an equally detailed account published (but likely not originating) in the Iraq Times of Baghdad.

1956 was still the Communist era in what is now the Czech Republic. This is addressed in the 1956 article, including the effects of the 1950 nationalization of the brewery.

Nonetheless a quite active business was still being run. Some 2,600 gallons were produced weekly, using three brewers.*

The tavern was undergoing renovation when the 1956 account appeared, and the details will interest those who follow its architectural history.

Like Henry Kamm’s story, attention is given to frescoes and paintings, the different rooms, and personalities associated with U Fleku including some legendary tipplers.

Where both accounts especially shine for me is they give a recipe of sorts for the single dark lager of U Fleku. Well, not really a recipe, but a list of ingredients. But that’s of value unto itself, especially as no official recipe has ever been published, to my knowledge.**

Both accounts state that four malts were used, and sugar, apart hops of course. The NYT’s enumeration is more accurate technically, but considering that beer journalism hardly existed in 1956, the earlier account can be parsed as consistent.

Henry Kamm had it that “fixed percentages of Pilsen, Bavarian, caramel and porter malts, hops and unrefined sugar” were used. Hop type not stated.

So, pale malt (the Pilsen), Munich malt (darker), caramel malt (a stewed form of malt, sugar-rich), and roasted black, or porter, malt. There are many kinds of brewing sugar, type is not stated.

The 1956 account specifies four malts as well, type not stated, with “caramel cream, roasted sugar and … white hops” also used.

White hops have no fixed meaning to my knowledge in modern brewing, so it is hard to tell what was meant.

The term was sometimes used loosely in 1800s British brewing, to contrast hops meant for pale ale, a high grade drink, with “brown” hops, often used for porter. Brown hops were said often to have a coarse or “strong” aroma. This was considered acceptable when porter was aged for months in vats to soften the taste.

I think perhaps “white hops”, as conveyed to the reporter in Prague in 1956, simply meant top-quality hops.

Caramel cream was probably a misunderstanding of caramel malt, likely one of the four malts the story stated were used in brewing.

As to roasted sugar,  that is not a trade term to my knowledge. I’d think probably it meant some type of dark, unrefined (per 1982 account) sugar. Maybe Muscovado, or one of the Belgian “candi” types. See an example of candi here from Amazon.

The 1956 account specified the amount of hops used, 250 grams per hectolitre of beer, useful to know.

Of course we aren’t told details of yeast, the mashing regime, aging, boil length, and more. But to my mind, indications look good for consistency of results over that time span, anyway.

The apparent use of sugar was a reminder to me that German-style, all-malt brewing, while characteristic of pale lager brewing in Czech Republic, didn’t apply to all beer types in the country, when these accounts were written. I’d think that is still true today, but have not checked.

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*This number seems high to me even for the time and such an institution, but perhaps it was that.

**That said these are unofficial sources, to be taken for what they’re worth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mild ale on the Main, Part II

Introduction

In our Part I, we discussed the brewery of HMS Menestheus, a Blue Funnel cargo-passenger liner converted to minelaying use during WW II. It was refitted as an “amenities” ship in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1944-45.

We address below the ultimate destination of its brewery, one that at first blush seems unlikely.

Two Ships and Their Breweries

HMS Agamemnon, also of Blue Funnel origins and used for minesweeping earlier in the war, was being refitted to similar purpose, in Victoria across Vancouver Bay.

Each was to carry a functioning brewery along with other rest and recreation facilities for HM Forces. There was a cinema, NAAFI shopping, a stage for shows, and more. The intended theatre of operations was the Pacific.

The brewery was fabricated by a brewery engineering firm in Bristol, U.K., George Adlam & Sons. It was meant to operate with malt extract and hop concentrate vs. a full grain mash and leaf hops. This resulted from practical and cost concerns. As I showed in other writing, interwar breweries on German passenger lines did something similar.

George Adlam’s design featured a closed fermentation system. It was originally developed by an English brewer, Stephen Clarke, in the early Forties. Clarke came up with the idea as a stop gap for his bomb-damaged brewery, Coopers, in Southampton.

The war with Japan ended in September 1945, with work mostly completed on Menestheus. The conversion of Agamemnon was still incomplete. Admiralty made the decision to return Agamemnon to Britain, but the Menestheus entered service according to the original plan.

It embarked on a postwar tour through the Pacific, returning home finally in July 1946. During the tour a low gravity mild ale was brewed on ship, a success by all accounts.

Some of the details above are drawn from Geoff Dye’s informative “The Menestheus ‘floating brewery’: a history of the ship and brewery”. See in Brewery History (Winter, 2019, Number 181).

Dye explains that on its return to the U.K. in July 1946 the Menestheus was restored to its pre-war condition and returned to the Blue Funnel line. The brewery, after passing through a couple of intermediaries in London, was sold to John J. Calder Brewery in (Alloa) Scotland.

Specifically,,“a lot” was sold to this buyer, meaning I think a parcel, or possibly a majority but not all the equipment.

Of the brewery meant for Agamemnon, neither Dye nor any other source I know addressed this aspect. Perhaps one was never fabricated, as Agamemnon’s refit was partial and abandoned. Yet, a second brewery may have been ready in storage for installation, and sold with the Menestheus plant as surplus.

John J. Calder

Brewing historian Ron Pattinson offered a sketch of John J. Calder in his blogpost of October 27, 2011. As he points out, Calder’s was absorbed by a larger concern in 1960 and for 40 years previous, had no brewery of its own: it outsourced needs to other breweries.

It therefore makes sense Calder’s wanted to buy a recently tested, relatively compact operation to make some beer in-house. Nonetheless, no account I know of mentions Calder’s doing this.

I then examined what happened to that plant, and concluded it likely ended at The Iraq Brewery Co., founded in 1945-46 in Baghdad.

The Iraq Brewery Co.

In 1945 Iraq was a Regency, with King Faisal II taking full power on reaching his majority in 1953. Brewing was in that period considered an acceptable activity in the country.

The British were still influential in Iraq, indeed had re-occupied it during the war to keep supply lines open to India and foreclose an Axis invasion.

The Iraq Brewery Co. supplied a local demand that included a small group of Britons, Europeans and Americans. They were business people, diplomats, and other expatriates. It was located on Rashid Street in Baghdad.

In 1956 a second brewery was established in Baghdad, The Eastern Brewery.

In 2006 an article by Michael Jansen in the Irish Times reported on the declining alcohol market in Iraq. This resulted from sectarianism in the wake of the American-led invasion of 2003. He interviewed Yaqthan Chadirji, who had brewed for decades at The Eastern Brewery.

Janssen wrote the following viz. the origins of modern brewing in Iraq:

The first Western-style beer was produced during the British-backed monarchy by a wealthy Shia businessman named Madhaf Khedairi, who bought a small brewery from a British naval vessel shortly after the second World War.

Khedairi’s brewery was, it seems clear, The Iraq Brewery Co.

In 1951, the U.K.-based Journal of the Institute of Brewing recorded the election of “Al-Khedairi, Madhat” as a student member of the Institute of Brewing.

Al-Khedairi was described as a pupil (trainee) at Harman’s Uxbridge Brewery Ltd. He remained a member of the Institute of Brewing for almost 30 years. He resigned in 1980 according to this notation in the journal.

There seems no doubt Al-Khedairi was the gentleman named in the Irish Times as a pioneer of European brewing in Iraq, or possibly his son.

Plant and Operations

In 1950 a description of the brewery by James Kennedy (p. 386) appeared in Nos. 13-14, Wallerstein Laboratories Communications. Wallerstein were well-known brewery consultants based in New York.

Kennedy stated that construction of the brewery began in 1946 and was completed in 1948.*

He described a number of challenges attending the brewing. One was the temperature variations in the country. This was addressed by having “fermentation conducted under pressure according to a patented pressure fermentation system”.

While Kennedy doesn’t mention the source of the equipment, his account underscores the link to the Menestheus. Its brewery used the pressure fermentation system devised by Stephen Clarke earlier in the war. Geoff Dye described it as all-enclosed fermentation, a method half way between a Burton Unions system and modern continuous fermentation (a 20th century innovation pioneered notably in New Zealand).

Dye states this pressure fermentation method was applied in a number of breweries in Britain after the war, presumably in consequence of the patent mentioned by Kennedy. One was Crowley Brewery in Alton, where Clarke later worked, owned by the London giant Watney. Clearly this was newly fabricated plant that followed the Clarke-George Adlam design for fermentation.

Dye states the system was also used “in some other breweries abroad”, but does not name any.

Evidently The Iraq Brewery Co. was one. Perhaps new equipment was made for it using the Clarke/George Adlam design, a la Crowley’s. But everything points I think to actual use of ex-shipboard plant, either Menestheus‘, Agamemnon‘s, or parts of both.

The Beers

In the period discussed an English language newspaper, The Iraq Times, served the English-speaking community. It carried adverts over the years for products of both The Iraq Brewery Co. and The Eastern Brewery Co. (later known as Eastern Beer Company). Other English-language papers in the region also carried some advertising.

Historical issues of The Iraq Times and other newspapers are archived in full view at the East View Global Press Archive.

See e.g. this ad in 1950 for Diana Beer and Diana Stout. A 1954 ad showed a filled glass of black stout – did it subliminally appeal to the oil people? It mentions the port city of Basra as a distribution point for the beers.

These beers were not lagers, but The Iraq Brewery Co. did introduce lager later, as stated in the Irish Times. The launch was circa 1962, this advert suggests.

In 1966 the brewery advertised in the Baghdad News a Golden Lager, another lager, Diana Ale, and Diana Stout. The last two were introduced in 1948 and 1950, respectively, and were brewed into the 1960s.** They demonstrate an unusual example of British-style brewing offshore, as by that period lager had become generalized almost everywhere outside Britain.

Shadowing the old school ale and porter brewers in their surviving redoubts was international lager, of which the savvy Heineken was avatar. Is it any surprise Heineken was advertising prominently in the Iraq Times in 1955?

The Iraq Brewery Co. did finally make lager, as noted, and The Eastern Brewery brewed it from the beginning, its well-known Ferida brand.

For a high quality image of the Diana Stout label, see this image at Worthpoint. The goddess of mythology is depicted, with fawn. Perhaps the association with country life and hunting was thought appropriate to market English styles of beer, but this is speculation.

This image at Worthpoint shows the Golden Lager label c. 1975, post-nationalization.

Early Brewing Personnel

My research disclosed the names of some who brewed at The Iraq Brewery Co. between 1946 and 1955. Three I found in order of service were J.N.E. Whitton, Dick” Kennedy, and Gustave Michiels.

A 1956 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing states that Madhat Al-Khedairi was then Assistant Brewer of The Iraq Brewery Co. Presumably he became head brewer in time.

James Kennedy writing in the Wallerstein publication may have been – likely was I think – the “Dick” Kennedy mentioned. Geoff Dye does not mention Whitton, Kennedy or Michiels in connection with Menestheus or Agamemnon, but there may have been an indirect connection.

The Iraq Brewery Co. was nationalised in 1973-74 according to the Irish Times account. Production continued for a time but I am unclear when brewing ceased. The Eastern Beer Company continues to brew in the country according to its website.

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*A pen and ink drawing of the brewery is linked in the Comments below.

**Diana Beer and Diana Ale were almost certainly the same recipe. These were mashed and hopped in standard brewing fashion, as the article by James Kennedy makes clear. The malt extract and hop concentrate parts of the Clarke/George Adlam process were not taken over, in other words. The water distillation mentioned by Dye may have been, though, due to problems experienced with water drawn from the Tigris river.