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 larger British brewers is the latter generally eschewed footholds overseas, or did not pursue them with the same assiduity. Outside of Britain U.K. brewers 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 Heineken and numerous other European brewers who were more prescient to sink local roots, initially by strong export drives, later by licensing or direct investment.
There were exceptions to the British pattern. Barclay, Perkins & Co. had an investment in Sudan promoted by its Export Manager J.L. Loughnan, whom I mentioned earlier. (I will revisit this soon). Guinness, long an active exporter, made a direct investment in the United States in 1949-1954 (Long Island City, NY), and, 1960s, in Nigeria. The latter was a clear success; not the former.
The English brewer Simmonds had interests postwar in Gibraltar and Malta, for example, see Dr. Ken Thomas’ doctoral study, from 2004. He concluded that varying success attended these, but Britain turned its attention increasingly in the 1970s to the European Community, which fated investments of this type (mostly) to insignificance.
Their main importance, he writes, was to strengthen Simmonds for merger – in the 60s it became part of Courage, Barclay & Simmonds.
Hence though why India Pale Ale never developed traction overseas, in the sense of becoming, as lager did, a permanent part of the local brewing scene. Once the British presence that sent it there departed, so did 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 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 mostly disappeared by the Thirties. American attempts at revival of British pale ale in the 1930s 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 local breweries did during WW II. Still, once the British left, lager became the standard style, as it was before WW II for the general market. Only recently have IPA and other British styles come in and it was via the craft phenomenon.
Heineken – especially – and, say, the German Beck’s stand out viz. British brewers for their more expansive, and persistent, international ambitions. Carlsberg of Denmark is a further example, perhaps Tuborg as well.
A study in the Netherlands by Keetie Sluyterman charts Heineken’s carefully planned global march. Full-length books have been written on the phenomenon that is Heineken, and justly so.
Heineken is so ubiquitous that no matter where it is, almost, it becomes arguably a local brand. This de-anchors it, essentially, from the mystique of importation. Given the volumes a Heineken obtains, that is more than a fair trade-off.
In the 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer, Michael Jackson noted how Heineken developed strong positions on the African continent together with some German, French, and Swiss brewers, in contrast to British brewers. Jackson assigns the cause to the superiority of lager over ale from the viewpoint of stability and a quenching quality. That argument, which could apply to the Middle East, oversimplifies: British business didn’t have the same heart in those markets, in my view.
Even in parts of Europe today, one sees this power of Heineken. On an Air France flight last year it was the only beer available. I asked the hostess, why isn’t a French beer served?
She said, “but it’s everywhere in Paris…”. France as a whole, too. I wonder how many French people know the brand is Dutch-owned.
Heineken is one of the great business successes in brewing, on an outsize scale. I’d think Anheuser Busch-InBev’s Stella Artois, which has expanded internationally in the last 20 years, uses Heineken as its model. But Heineken had a long head start, and hadn’t any qualms, as well, about brewing its beer outside Holland.
Bremen’s Beck’s gained impressive world markets since the late 1800s, another example of adaptability and growth. In fact, as I’ve discussed, exportation was key for Beck’s from the start; the domestic market was never the foundation of its business, contrary to most breweries.
Given all the above, one might expect to see Heineken in 1930s Palestine, even though the area had few Dutch associations, and the 1930s was still early days for its global expansion.
Indeed the brand was there, as this forthright ad in 1935 shows. The ad billed the beer, even then, as “world-famous”. It touted Heineken’s stand 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. Below is a picture of the fairgrounds, built in the handsome International Style.
Heineken’s erstwhile Dutch competitor Amstel, now in the same corporate fold, was in Palestine, too. Isaac Diskin, whom we encountered earlier, had the agency, as the Palestine Post attests.
It seems likely Palestine Brewery Ltd. in Rishon LeZion, a new venture (from 1935) of Frenchman Gaston Dreyfus and local capital, was there as well, as it ewas present at the Paris International Fair in 1937.
Hundreds of commercial and industrial enterprises showed at the Levant Fair. Countries as diverse as Lebanon and Romania were represented, as Rachel Neiman explains. Whether British breweries exhibited I do not know, it is possible. Great Britain had as expected a substantial pavilion, 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 in Egypt, in the cafe Parisiana in that case, 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 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 staying power in Palestine, and Israel to come, even when lightened for modern tastes.
London brewer Barclay Perkins did try with its Sparkling Beer, a lager made to taste like an “ale”, said 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.