In 1952 an American brewery executive, Louis Hertzberg, invested with associates $2,300,000 to erect a brewery in Netanya, State of Israel. This was the National Brewery. An American press account told the tale, published on July 20, 1953 in the Berkshire Eagle, Mass.
Hertzberg owned a number of breweries including in New York and New Jersey. In the 1950s, he was said to be the largest supplier of private label brands to chain supermarkets, using his string of breweries to service different regions. Hertzberg also had acquired New Jersey’s Champale, a pioneering malt liquor.
In 1960, he capped his success with the purchase of Spearman Brewery in Pensacola, FL. Spearman has its own interesting history, which I may revisit. The Spearman deal was described in this story of August 1960 in the Pensacola News.
National Brewery was the first serious rival to the first (modern) brewery in what is now Israel, Palestine Brewery Ltd., founded 1935. In 1973 the two rivals finally merged. Their corporate successor today is publicly traded Tempo Beverages Ltd.
Tempo also has interests in soft drinks, wine, and coffee, and is Israel’s largest brewer. It is still based in Netanya. Heineken of the Netherlands owns a sizeable stake, a further example of its global reach. I discussed Heineken’s international success in Part V of the Mandate Palestine series.
As the Berkshire Eagle stated, much of the Netanya plant Hertzberg built came from Fidelio Brewery in New York. The September 1960 obituary of Hertzberg in the New York Times put it that “he transported to Israel the operating machinery of the old Fidelio Brewery here”.
Fidelio is notable for many reasons including as the supplier of stock ale to the famed McSorley’s Ale House, East Village, Manhattan. McSorley finally had its own label in local supermarkets, brewed by Fidelio, perhaps the same recipe as the stock ale, sometimes called cream ale, or very similar.
From Joseph Mitchell’s classic 1940 New Yorker essay, “The Old House at Home”:
Except during prohibition, the rich, wax-colored ale sold in McSorley’s always has come from the Fidelio Brewery on First Avenue; the brewery was founded two years before the saloon.
This ad from Fidelio, in a 1934 issue of the Glens Falls Times (via NYS Historic Newspapers), gives a flavour of its importance:
The inaugural beer of National Brewery was Abir. It was a lager in keeping with the European lager tradition evident during the Mandate, a position British ale imports, mainly for expats and the Forces, never displaced. Early Abir (at any rate) was probably all-malt, as were early lagers from Palestine Brewery Ltd. and lager imports in the 1930s.
To the objection that most American beer then was adjunct, a label survives from the Metropolis era of Fidelio brewing (see below) that shows it brewed some all-malt beer. Another example is seen in an eBay listing. The two are the same except in one case, Fidelio is by then produced in New Jersey vs. the original Manhattan location.
To this, we must add that Hertzberg engaged Anton Masaryk, a Czech, as brewmaster. A 1954 New York Times piece profiling National Brewery noted that Masaryk was related to Tomas Masaryk, founder of Czechoslovakia. It is unlikely a Czech brewer, then or now, would brew a lager with corn or rice adjunct!
Still, it is possible National Brewery borrowed not just physical plant but the adjunct recipe of Fidelio, or another in Louis Hertzberg’s quiver. (Fidelio’s flagship lager was certainly an adjunct brew).
The 1954 article has detail on the plant design. Everything was on one floor vs. a 19th century tower design, now obsolete due to modern power generation. It appears all the grain was malted in Israel, with some barley locally grown, and some imported. Hops were imported.
An obituary in 2000 recorded the passing of Alfred Woldin, a long-time employee with Champale. An engineer with an impressive academic background, he worked on the design for the Netanya plant.
This shows us that as ever, brewing is a combination of the old – here, the venerable Fidelio plant, and likely all-malt recipe – and the new, the latest technology of the period.
More specifically, while National Brewery seemed symbolic of a new country, Israel, in many ways it reprised the 1930s brewing tradition of the Mandate era. This was lager-based, as shown by local production and the reputed brands imported from Europe.
The Bay Bottles site has excellent background on Fidelio Brewery. It was one of the oldest breweries in New York, apparently with roots in the 1840s but claiming a formal start in 1852..
After a long and eventful history and a name change or two, Louis Hertzberg bought the business (1940s). He renamed it Metropolis Brewery, after his brewery of that name in Trenton, NJ. After being closed, dismantled and warehoused, the Manhattan plant found a new home as discussed above. To similar end, Hertzberg earlier had sent his Old Dutch Brewery in crates to South Africa.
Bay Bottles mentions the National Brewery connection, and shows an early bottle for Abir. For other early Abir labels, the website of a Danish collector is helpful. Among them is “Abir Royal”, showing a crown. A descendant of Fidelio’s noble stock ale? I’d like to think so.
During WW II, as I wrote earlier, Palestine Brewery Ltd. made a beer called Crown for the Australian forces in the country. It was a lager, as the Australians wanted that style of beer. An example of the label appears at WorthPoint.
Abir Royal, while brewed 10 years later by a different brewer, shows a similar crown on the label. Of course by then there were no U.K. or Empire troops in Israel. If Abir Royal was meant to recall the earlier brand, then it was likely a lager. It may have been one anyway, following the wishes of Hertzberg and/or Masaryk.
One Israeli brand which, at least circa 1977, apparently reflected an ale heritage, was Goldstar, still a big seller. Michael Jackson, the great beer author, called it an ale-type in his World Guide to Beer published that year. Goldstar emerged during WW II, produced by or for Palestine Brewery Ltd. The oldest labels in a collector’s site state the brand was for “HM Forces”. These labels state “beer”.
But later Goldstar labels in the same collection read “amber lager” and “dark lager”. If Goldstar today, or an iteration of it, is still an ale-type, it is probably bottom-fermented. The mainstream beers of Israel are all lagers and stout seems to have died without a trace.
Abir. A beer. In the end, the vocation of every brewery, no matter where it is, no matter what style it makes, is to brew a beer. Hopefully, you, the consumer will like it. If you don’t, there is always another next to it to try.
If the story of brewing tells us anything, anywhere, it is that competition is inevitable, and remorseless.
See our Part II.