Imported Beer in Mandate Palestine, Part I

This continues our series on beer in the British Mandate of Palestine. It began with this post, on a correspondent’s tour of Palestine Brewery Ltd. in 1944.

Beers from numerous sources were imported to Mandate Palestine in the 1930s. As demographic background (apart the obvious), see census details for 1931 in this link. The total population that year was 1,035,821 which included a small number of H.M. Forces.

The permanent residents comprised Muslims,* Jews, and Christians plus small numbers of other denominations. It is beyond our scope here to examine alcohol patterns in the various groups but the British presence, which increased after 1934 due to the Arab-Jewish conflict, likely formed a disproportionate part of the market.

Below is an image of Bialik Street, Tel Aviv, 1930s, via The Library of Congress.

 

 

In the interwar period, some countries exported small quantities of beer to Palestine, often too small for mention in news stories or advertisements. Italian beer is a good example, see this table in The Dynamics of the International Brewing Industry Since 1800, T.R. Gourvish & R.G. Wilson (1998). There was a spike in 1933 to 1200 hl but generally the amounts, at least to 1936, were tiny.

I’d think Italian diplomatic presence, and perhaps trade or social groups connected to Italy, formed the customer base.

Small amounts of Cyprus-made beer came in as well, from AETOS Brewing aka Cyprus Beer Co. set up by Christodoulos Platanis in Athalassa, Nicosia. An evocative period label can be seen in an enthusiast’s outline of the history. See also this 1938 account in the Palestine Post.

Interestingly, AETOS also used a wide-winged bird logo, akin seemingly to Palestine Brewery’s eagle logo. Whether it was used in Palestine or caused any other issue between the two breweries I cannot say. As far as I know there were no ownership links between them.

As well, German beer was imported into the late 1930s. Of course the Jewish market in Palestine evaporated with the Nazi persecutions but there were other beer consumers. The German Colonies, as they were called, were established in Haifa and other localities since the late 1800s, and formed a natural market.

Their history is connected to the German Templar movement and avatars Christof Hoffmann, father and son. The communities probably brewed on a small scale for local use, as well.

Pross’s Restaurant and Beer Garden, German Colony, Carmel Avenue, Haifa, was connected to the Templars into the early years of WW II. Joan Comay, in her Introducing Israel (1962, 1969), gives some background.

In April 1937 an ad from Pross’ advertised real Munich Spaten beer. Pross’ advertised regularly in the Palestine Post until (at least) August 1939, except by then German beer is not referenced. Some Pross’ ads state it was “In-bounds to Sergeants and W.O.s in Plain Clothes”, see e.g. here, in 1939, which speaks for itself.

The famous Czech Pilsner Urquell was likely available in Palestine in the mid-30s, although I haven’t found an instance. It was certainly available in Cairo in 1937: a Jewish-owned cafe sold it with pride “very cold” alongside a kosher kitchen.

Omar Foda, a scholar of Egyptian brewing history, states at p. 58 in Egypt’s Beer: Stella, Identity, and the Modern State that in the 1920s Palestine was among the regular export markets for the Crown Brewery (Cairo, Alexandria, est. 1899) but the market declined in the 1930s.

Finally, in 1939-1940 canned U.S. Budweiser and bottled Pabst Blue Ribbon appeared in Palestine. The latter was advertised in the Palestine Post, January 1940.

In contrast to all these cases, beer described in the Jewish press as from Syria had a prominent position in the import market. Even after Palestine Brewery started production this remained the case to a point.

Palestine Brewery was completed in late 1935. It first marketed beer on January 15, 1936 per this report in Chicago’s The Sentinel. A January 1937 story in the Palestine Post gives a snapshot of the Palestine beer market between 1934 and 1936.

Per the account, total annual consumption was:

  • 15,000 hl in 1934
  • 26,000 hl in 1935, of which 60% was Syrian
  • 30,000 hl in 1936, of which 22,000 from Palestine Brewery

Hence, imports dropped significantly with the onset of local brewing. Despite this, as mentioned, Syrian beer continued as a factor in the market, much of it marketed with “Hebrew labels” according to a June 1937 issue of Palestine Post. Even after duty was imposed on the importation (1938) Syrian beer continued to find sales in Palestine, per this 1938 news item.

The latter notes that a factor was a lower beer excise in Syria than Palestine.

Where did the Syrian beer actually come from? Despite the name, I don’t think from Syria proper. I have not been able to document commercial brewing in Syria in the 1930s, although possibly it did exist.

More likely I think the beer came from Grande Brasserie du Levant (GBL), founded 1930, famed for its Laziza brand, or Brasserie Franco-Libano-Syrienne (Almaza lager), founded 1933. Each was headquartered in a different zone of Beirut. As covered in the Daily Star of Lebanon, GBL, a handsome, International style edifice, was demolished some years ago to build luxury flats.**

As to why beer from Lebanon would be called Syrian, if it was, perhaps this was due to Syria being mentioned in one of the company names, and/or because Syria and Lebanon were administered together under the French Mandate (until 1943).

In Part II I’ll look at British beer in Palestine in this period and a second Palestine brewery built in the mid-1930s, partly owned by a venerable British brewery.

Note: our series continues with Part II.

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*A former version read “Arabs” for Muslims. I intended reference to the language of the 1931 census article I linked to, but mis-recollected Muslims as Arabs. Now corrected.

**These have their own interesting history which I may examine later. Ditto for the Cyprus brewery.