It’s Lager’s World, and we Just Live in it
This continues my series on beer in the British Mandate of Palestine. It began with this post, a correspondent’s tour of Palestine Brewery Ltd. in 1944.
Heineken, famously of the Netherlands, was an early global seeker of markets. One difference from the British brewers is the latter generally eschewed footholds overseas as a long-term strategy. Outside of Britain they were more concerned to satisfy needs within the ranging British precincts as it were.
So that once those precincts narrowed or disappeared Britain’s beer did, too. Contrast with Heineken and some other European brewers who were more prescient to sink local roots, initially by strong export drives, later by licensing arrangements and direct investment.
There were exceptions to the British pattern. For example, Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd. had an investment in Sudan promoted by its Export Manager J.L. Loughnan, whom I mentioned earlier. (I will revisit this soon). And Guinness, long an active exporter, made direct investments in some overseas markets relatively early. It did so in the United States, in 1949-1954 (Long Island City, NY), and 1960s, Nigeria, for example.
Hence though why India Pale Ale never developed traction overseas. Once the British presence that sent it there vanished, ditto the ale and porter, with India Exhibit A. (Craft breweries in the subcontinent have brought it back, as a specialty).
When British capital invested in American breweries in the late 1800s and early 1900s no sustained push was made to introduce British beer types. Some beer of that type continued to be made locally as a heritage of the declining top-fermentation breweries, but it mostly disappeared by the Thirties. American attempts at revival of British pale ale in the 30s were courtesy admiring Stateside brewers such as Louis Wehle.
British beer was sent in some quantity to Mandate Palestine. The locals had to become familiar with it, if only to brew imitations for the military market, as the local breweries did. Still, once the British left, lager quickly became the standard style. Only recently have IPA and other British styles come in and it was through a sidewind again, the craft phenomenon.
Heineken and the German Beck’s may be contrasted to British brewers viz. their more expansive international ambitions. This study in the Netherlands by Keetie Sluyterman charts Heineken’s carefully planned global march since the 1930s. Full-length books have been written on the phenomenon that is Heineken, and justly so.
Heineken beer is so ubiquitous that no matter where it is, almost, it becomes effectively a local brand, de-anchored from the mystique of importation and, at least in part, the quality image that implied. Given the volumes a Heineken obtains, this is more than a fair trade-off.
Even in parts of Europe one sees this. On an Air France flight last year, at least in economy class, Heineken was the only beer available. I asked the hostess, why isn’t a French beer served?
She said, “but it’s everywhere in Paris…” – and France as such, for that matter. I wonder how many French people know the brand is Dutch-owned.
Heineken is one of the great business successes of brewing history, on an outsize level. I’d think Anheuser Busch-In Bev’s Stella Artois, which hasn’t done so badly in the last 20 years, uses Heineken as its model for expansion. But Heineken has long had a head start, and also, Heineken hasn’t had qualms about having its beer brewed in other countries.
Bremen’s Beck’s has gained impressive world markets since the late 1800s and is another inspiration from the standpoint of adaptability and growth. Indeed, as I’ve discussed, the export trade was key for Beck’s from the start.
Given all the above, and even though the Thirties is early days for Heineken’s expansion, one might expect it to see it in Palestine, albeit the area had few Dutch associations. Indeed it was there, as this forthright ad in 1935 showed. The ad claimed the beer was already Holland’s “world-famous” beer.
The ad touts Heineken’s exhibit at the foreign general pavilion of Tel Aviv’s Levant Fair. This was an industrial, commercial, and agricultural fair held in Palestine in the mid-1930s, on the lines of other international expositions.
The event reached its zenith by 1935-1936 as explained in a 2019 article by Rachel Neiman in Israel 21c. A picture of the fairgrounds follows, built in handsome International Style.
Heineken’s erstwhile Dutch competitor Amstel, now in the same fold, was in Palestine too. Isaac Diskin, whom we encountered earlier, had the agency, as the Palestine Post again attests.
It seems likely Palestine Brewery Ltd. in Rishon LeZion, a new venture of Gaston Dreyfus and local capital, was there as well, as it exhibited at the Paris International Fair in 1937.
Hundreds of commercial and industrial enterprises were present at the Levant Fair. Among the national pavilions were countries as diverse as Lebanon and Romania, as Rachel Neiman explains. Whether any British breweries exhibited I do not know, but it is possible. Great Britain had as expected a substantial presence, see below.
One might expect to see the queen bee of the lager world, Pilsner Urquell, on offer in 1930s Palestine. This sizeable ad in Cairo’s French-language l’Aurore shows it was available there, in the cafe Parisiana, served with mezes exquis. It was also distributed in other cafes in Cairo, and at Alexandria.
It seems unlikely distribution did not reach over to Palestine, but thus far no evidence has come my way. I’ve discussed earlier that Munich beer of various brands, as well as some Italian and American beer, reached the Mandate territory.*
With this background, and factoring too the worldwide lager Zeitgeist, it was long odds that top-fermented British beer would have the same allure in Palestine’s future, even when lightened for modern tastes.
London brewer Barclay Perkins did try with its Sparkling Beer, a lager made to taste like an “ale”, per a 1939 news report that must have originated with the brewery. In other words, it was made to taste British. By my gleanings that could take in the palate of bitter or mild ale – businesspeople in brewing, at least past a certain scale, never worried overly about style.
And lo a beer marketed in the same period as “mildbitter” was sold by a competitor, Palestine Brewery Ltd. See the label in the collection of the Dane Kim Jacobsen, among other striking Mandate and early Israel beer labels.**
Yet by 1947, Barclay Perkins is preparing to ship over “lager”, plain and simple, as this advert in the Palestine Post showed.
In the end blonde, crisp lager emerged as victor in the style wars. Whether “desert campaign” or any other, it won by a country mile.***
Note: the series continues with Part VI.
Note re images: the images above were sourced from the Wikipedia entry on Levant Fair linked in the text, and bear the annotation “public domain”. Any rights therein belong solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*[Added August 2, 2020]. Indeed it was available, see our Part VIII of the series.
*16 rows down, to the right. The strategy elsewhere was not unknown. Toohey’s in Australia had a “mild bitter”.
**Reversed to a degree by craft brewing in the last 40 years, but the global picture is still closely tied to lager.