Mild ale on the Main, Part II


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.


*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.




1 thought on “Mild ale on the Main, Part II”

  1. The brewery is pictured in black and white illustration in an early ad (1948) in the Iraq Times. A substantial structure is shown, with the Tigris alongside. The Rashid Street address (see text), mentioned in some advertising or related material, was likely the head office. This is the only image I found of the brewery. The building to the right is likely the maltings.

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