Introduction to Mandate Palestine Beer Series
[Added August 2, 2020. This post inaugurates my series on beer and brewing in the British Mandate of Palestine (1923-1948). For a description of and links to the full series, see this post of August 2, 2020].
The Brewery Tour – General
In the social and cultural history of beer, the “tour” is of undoubted significance. Since the mid-1800s, breweries have seen it their business to welcome the open-eyed citizen – tasting included, of course.
Journalists didn’t lack on these treks, from (undoubted!) personal interest, and to find an offbeat assignment.
So, to these annals we can add a journalist’s tour of the Palestine Brewery in Rishon LeZion, Mandate Palestine, in 1944.
“Wayfarer in Uniform”
His account appeared in the “Wayfarer in Uniform” column of the Palestine Post on March 27, 1944, see here. The column was a regular feature in the paper in 1943 and 1944.*
The “Wayfarer” was anonymous but reading the columns, it appears he was a British soldier in the enlisted ranks. He refers in one story to “my sergeant”, and to officers and different aspects of army life.
In civilian life, he may have been a teacher, artist, or writer, as he often mentions the arts and culture: literature, theatre, and painting, especially. The Army knew he wrote the column – his sergeant even made suggestions for future articles. Perhaps Wayfarer was a war correspondent, but remained anonymous for the column work.
1944 was fraught with violence and conflict in Palestine, more than usual for that part of the world, quite aside the wider war. Yet, the columns focus on human interest, on the comparatively benign. He might tour an ancient bell tower at Christmas, or attend a crafts competition, theatrical show, or a soldier’s gardening project.
He was clearly of English background as he refers frequently to London and other parts of England. The tone is calm, equable, a characteristic of British journalism then, as I’ve noted.
Similar “soft” columns appeared in other parts of the world, a genre that offered readers a balm or distraction from daily life. Entertainer Bob Hope wrote one in the same period, albeit less literate than Wayfarer’s. I mentioned it recently in this post, viz. brewing in Burma.
The Palestine Post
The National Library of Israel’s website recounts the history of the Palestine Post. It states the readership included Mandate officialdom, local Jews and Arabs, Christians on pilgrimage, and foreign visitors.
Units of the British Army in Palestine and the Palestine Police Force were clearly part of the audience as well.
As noted, the brewery visited was in Rishon LeZion. The images below show the brewery in 1939. Wayfarer’s account is notable especially for its humour and how a brewing plant struck someone of artistic temperament.
The large vessels appeared as “vases” to him – something that never occurred to me, I must say, but we are all different! He was plied with samples, evidently finding them quite satisfactory – the “Bohemian” beer about did him in on the bus home!
Wayfarer quite liked beer, to the point (he says) he tried to do an outing once without it, but it still didn’t end well. Read the account for why.
The Palestine Brewery was founded in 1935 to supply a local demand but with the British Forces in mind. Prior to that, beer was imported, from Britain, the Continent, Egypt, and Syria. The brewery was financed by French and local capital, as detailed in a January, 1937 story in the Palestine Post.
An article in a 1935 issue of The American Brewer, a trade journal, noted that Dostal & Lowey** of Milwaukee shipped bottle washing units to a number of customers including one in “Palestine”. Quite possibly Palestine Brewing Ltd. was the customer.
A 2017 story in the Atlanta Jewish Times by Rich Walter conveys additional detail for the brewery. The major investor, René Gaston-Dreyfus, was a French banker-brewer – a felicitous combination from the standpoint of the brewing ledger. He also had financed breweries in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia.
Walter states that the government assisted the Palestine Brewery plan by lowering the excise rate on beer from 20 mils/L to eight mils/L. This is confirmed by a 1934 article in the Palestine Post.
By 1936 the excise was seven mils/L, but a story that year explained the market was still challenging, as the brewery earned only one mil/L on the beer. Nonetheless, that was enough, given the volumes sold, to make a profit. The quantities of beer hitherto imported therefore fell.
(There were 1000 mils per Palestinian pound).
The brewery initially released its Eagle lager, also called Nesher lager, and a dark, non-alcohol brew. Nesher means eagle in Hebrew. A distinctive, spread-wing logo was selected in a public competition advertised in the Palestine Post. The bird still appears on the Nesher label of Tempo Industries, the successor (from 1985) to Palestine Brewery.***
By WW II, English-style beer was also brewed. In fact, by 1943, 60% of the brewery’s products was sold to the British Army, as reported in the Palestine Post that year.
The brewery studied how to brew this English beer. A report on January 15, 1939 stated that F. (Fritz) Hirschbruch, its general manager, travelled to England that year to study local methods.
Previous to that, the brewery made “Pilsener”, i.e.,the Bohemian-style mentioned, “Munich” – dark lager, and “malt beer” – probably the German malz or Schankbier.
Initially, the malt and surely all hops were imported. A story on May 25, 1936 explains that the brewery intended to build a plant to malt barley, but we cannot confirm if it did so.
In the Comments below I add further links viz. brand labels and similar.
I’ll discuss in future posts other aspects of beer and brewing in Mandatory Palestine and early Israel. These include the imported beer market, a second and third local brewery that opened in the 1930s and early 40s, and expansion of brewing in the early 1950s.
There is an active craft brewery scene in Israel now. I haven’t visited to taste the beers. As others have chronicled it well, I’ll leave that aside, ditto for Taybeh in the West Bank, a pioneer craft brewery in the region.
Note: For the next post in the series, see here.
Note re images: images above were sourced from the Library of Congress, here. All ownership therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*According to the National Library of Israel (NLI) website, the Jewish press archive is an initiative of the NLI and Tel Aviv University and the Palestine Post was made available courtesy the Jerusalem Post and Professor Ronald Zweig.
**Still going strong.
***Tempo Industries is better known today for its Gold Star and Maccabee brands.