Lager: Success in U.K. and 1950s Iraq (Part I)

Lager Catches a Wave

In 1960 23-year-old English journalist Sally Vincent (1937-2013) offered a lively portrayal of a new phenomenon in the British drinks industry: the young female drinker. Sample line: “The hand that rocks the cradle has a firm hold on the bottle”. Arresting.

The drinks favoured were not new but the audience spotlighted was. Vincent held that from now women will supplement the “intensely masculine personification” of the beer drinker that had been modelled on the British workman.

First on the radar for this segment of the Now Generation was lager. Next in order, champagne (sparkling) perry, wine, then vodka. Sales of each were spiking due to the rising female audience.

Vincent noted that women of different backgrounds including “well-bred, suede-coated, county-type young lad[ies]” favoured a half-lager. They liked its “dry” character and tendency not to intoxicate.

(In truth the alcohol level was similar to, if not sometimes stronger than, bitter and mild ale but perception was everything in branding, then and now).

All these drinks, except I think perry,* have burgeoned since Vincent wrote, almost everywhere too regardless of gender or walk of life. The young female drinker of ca. 1960 proved a bellwether.

Beer in “Expat” Iraq

Vincent’s article, as I found it, was reprinted in the Iraq Times in Baghdad, far from “metropole”. The paper was read, judging by its content, by British expatriates and other international types resident in Iraq then.

Business and diplomatic postings, and those in education, the church and HM Forces, represented the bulk. British influence was still notable in that period, a vestige of the colonial era.

As early as 1921 British-origin ales and lagers were advertised in The Baghdad Times by a trading corporation. A 1922 notice in The Baghdad Times advertised at auction seven cases of Guinness stout at the Ordnance Citadel. Surplus military goods being liquidated, it appeared, but clearly Guinness was “on tap” for the Forces.

In the same newspaper and period, Australia’s Foster Crown Lager was present, while a “Muniche lager” also made an appearance. Scottish Tennent’s lager was repeatedly advertised, 1920s again, in the Times of Mesopotamia along with the brewery’s stout.

In other words, lager is present from early days of the European presence, sharing billing with the ales and stouts typical of British tradition. Press advertising in later decades suggests ale and stout declined in popularity in favour of lager – certainly the pattern in most ex-and post-colonial settings – although hard data is elusive for Iraq.

Post-World War II

In 1948 when the newly established The Iraq Brewery was just finding its legs, Pilsor Lager was advertised, a Belgian label of Lamot Brewery. Branded items on eBay suggest there was widespread promotion for the brand, which by our canvass included numerous international markets.

In the same same year Barclay Perkins of London vaunted its lager in The Iraq Times. In the same newspaper, a series of repeating ads in 1949 touted Thompson & Son’s bottled beers including Dover Pale Ale. This Kent, UK brewery was absorbed by Charrington’s only two years later, which likely foreclosed this source of supply for expats in Iraq.

The image below is via the Brewery Wiki.



Also in 1949, Dutch-made Antelope-brand pilsener appeared (same newspaper). Around this time British journalist Bernard Wicksteed wrote a chatty profile of the British brewing industry, reprinted in the Iraq Times. He noted the importance to Continental breweries of their lager yeast.

Lager could not be ignored, in other words, even in a British context. This point would have resonated even more in hot countries where lager’s writ was established since at least 1900.

Tennent’s lager, promised as “brewed and bottled in bonnie Scotland”, was touted in 1950 (The Iraq Times again). If McEwan’s Scotch or pale ale was still available in 1950s Iraq, I could not find the evidence. Available evidence suggests lagers were driving the market by then, for imported beer certainly.

Lager From the Eastern Brewery

This lager trend took root locally as exemplified by Ferida beer, released by the Eastern Brewery on its opening in 1956, in Baghdad. Of the many Ferida ads in the Iraq Times, some full-page in size, this one has particular interest due to the additional context disclosed.

The Embassy Gardens mentioned was a club or dinner-dance venue, operated by “old Gregor”. It would be interesting to know more of this personage, but our researches have been fallow to date. Gregor promised “ice-cold draft” Ferida in gardens overlooking the Tigris River.

The Eastern Brewery was the second brewery established in Iraq in modern times. The first, as I discussed earlier, was The Iraq Brewery. Its Diana Ale and Diana Stout, pictured in this 1951 ad, were produced from the late 1940s until the 1960s (The Iraq Times).

Such classic British styles waived the flag for the older British tastes I mentioned, but the brewery did finally release a lager, in 1962.

Pattern of Imports, 1954-1959

In the 1950s tenacious Guinness of Ireland invested in sizeable box adverts in the Iraq Times, as an example in1954 shows. The type sent was the weighty Foreign Extra Stout. The market envisaged by this ad was evidently manual workers and similar-class drinkers, vs. the managerial class which seemed more the target of lager ads.

The image of a period British auto raised by a human jack conveyed the idea of a winter or fortifying drink. Even in 1966 Diana Stout is still billed as a winter drink, as seen here (Baghdad News). Guinness was playing too on the idea of strength, a popular association with porter since the 1700s.

British Allsopp’s lager had found its way around a good part of the British colonial and post-colonial worlds, and duly appeared in Iraq. A 1954 advert attests to it (“The best English lager is again on the market”, The Iraq Times). Below is a period label, the snow-capped mountain suggests both a drink to be taken iced and something also associated with distant climes, where thirsty expats range.



(Image source: Kings Own Royal Regiment Museum).

In 1955 a full page advert touted Guinness, Worthington (the pale ale), Bass (pale ale), Carlsberg, and Heineken (The Iraq Times). Bass and Worthington in that period were among the biggest names in British ale.

They were still hanging on in Iraq, but production of ale and stout locally by The Iraq Brewery had to dim their future, already enervated by lager’s appeal.

In 1955 Beck’s beer from Bremen returns, not seen in Iraq since before the war per the advert. Also appearing in 1955 are St. Pauli Girl and Holsten, both German lager (both in The Iraq Times).

In 1959 again St. Paul Girl appears, a Beck’s stablemate, one of many such ads in the period (The Iraq Times). Yet, 1959 seems rather late for German, or any foreign lager, as a. 1958 studyThe reconstruction of Iraq, 1950-1957, stated beer imports by then were prohibited.

This was a spin-off of the 1958 Revolution, whose promoters had promised to secure control of the national economy. Maybe the St. Pauli Girl of 1959 came in just before the prohibition took hold, or perhaps an exemption was accorded.

In 1962, we see Dutch Amstel beer, but the Eastern Brewery is brewing it under license, which ties into the ban on imports (The Iraq Times). European breweries were content in many cases overseas to have their product made locally under license, or brands similar to their trademark lager; this was an instance.


Returning for a moment to Sally Vincent’s Britain, lager steadily gained converts from the 1960s, famously boosted by 1970s hot summers. By the late 1980s lager has triumphed definitively over ale in the U.K. – overtaken it in sales.** The pattern was set long before, of which we see markers above in 20th century, pre-fundamentalist Iraq.

The overall pattern is similar to other places where Britain once projected power. Australia, India, Sudan, and Mandatory Palestine were all instances, as I discussed earlier here and in journal articles.

Note re images: Images above were sourced as identified and linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

See Part II.


*Really cider did the job, ultimately.

**See data gathered by Ron Pattinson in his blog, here.







Ameringer on Andechs

Oscar Ameringer (1870-1943), how to introduce this American one-of-a-kind? He was a socialist organizer, publisher-and-journalist, and humorist following earlier spells as artist, musician, and factory worker.

The humorist part seemed an indelible part of his personality but came in handy for his labour work. He would wind up crowds before a speech by Eugene Debs. German-born (Achstetten), the son of a furniture-maker, Ameringer was an iconoclast even as a youth, earning the suspicion of schoolmasters for his outré opinions.

His 1940 autobiography If You Don’t Weaken: the Autobiography of Oscar Ameringer, states that a reading group he joined with his mother had an important influence on his development.

She might read Lessing, for example. In part this explained, unusually for his milieu and time, Ameringer’s sympathy with the Jews, among whom he counted numerous boyhood friends. After schooling to only 15, he left the hearth to travel to America, initially Cincinnati.

There, he engaged in a self-study programme assisted by a kindly librarian. Ameringer was one of those spirits, it seems, who had to leave the birthplace to find himself. After wending through different parts of the U.S., he settled finally in Oklahoma, after World War I.

University of Oklahoma’s Stephen H. Norwood has penned a good outline of his career. See also his Wikipedia entry, whence the image below is drawn.



Ameringer’s memoir has many references to beer. The context is usually labour-related, a brewery strike, say. But Ameringer always retained the predilection of his homeland for a good glass of beer.

I stress “good”, as he comments often on the relative quality of beer in America and Germany. For the U.S., Ameringer did say union shops made better beer, because the owner was less motivated to cheapen the formula under union control.

That seems questionable, but anyway the best beer passages in the book have a comic undertone, reflecting this part of Ameringer’s personality. He describes in a completely offbeat way his admiration for the beer of Kloster Andechs, which the self-taught man insists to spell Andex, on a visit to Germany.

He states the high quality can be laid down to the water used, but not in the sense one normally thinks. In Ameringer’s scheme, due to the time and cost incurred to draw water from their deep well, the Benedictines ennobled Andech beer with extra malt and hops.

Whereas in America, by “tragic coincidence”, the great breweries of St. Louis, New York, Milwaukee, etc. were surrounded by vast expanses of cheap water. This led to blasé American brewing that used “cornmeal, saccharine, and liquorice”.

While the humour can’t be gainsaid, at the same time this distinction, to borrow the title of Van Halen’s final album, may hold “a different kind of truth”. Anyway, I have tasted Kloster Andechs, from fresh bottles in Florida last year, and on draft earlier, in New York.

Unquestionably among the world’s great beers, in my top five certainly.




Corn, Casks, and Can-do

For much of the 20th century, the American way with brewing was derided conventionally by consumers, although professional opinion was more nuanced, even in Europe. Yet, American methods had undoubted early influence in western Europe.

This influence, although more in prospect, is already perceptible in distant 1894, in Belgium. In that year, one of the protean 19th century industrial expositions was held in Antwerp. Among the many categories of products, brewing and distilling were not omitted.

A report that year in the Indianapolis Journal contained some wry language about American beer making a play in an already well-populated field. While taking a swipe, quite literally, at Belgian beer, the implication was clear: selling Yankee beer in Europe’s beer-drinking lands was a mug’s game, at least short-term. (Or not a mug’s game, I suppose).

From the report:

In spite of the seeming incongruity of giving drink to those whose thirst is already so well provided for, there may be here the germs of a successful commercial venture. The taste and strength of American beer are as different from what traveling Englishmen are apt to call irreverently Belgian swipes as is the soda water itself. English porter and pale ale have had no difficulty in making their way into these beer-drinking countries, as may be seen from the quaint names of the imitations in the Belgian section – gold ale, sport ale, stout national, barley wine and Anglo-Bavarian pale beer.

The modern-sounding sport ale was probably a poor rendering of export ale. The Anglo-Bavarian beers, as we saw in a recent series, were made by an English brewery, not Belgian. I suspect the writer was confusing beer made in Belgium with English beers handled by Belgian importers.

An official catalogue for the Exhibition in part confirms the account – for example Bergner & Engel are listed, well-known Philadelphia lager brewers of the time. It is likely the catalogue was not complete though. I could not locate a Belgian (or other) “barley wine” among beers exhibited, for example.

Where the Indianapolis story shines is the perception that American beer held the germ of a successful commercial venture. This proved to be completely true. Not in the sense that American brands would enjoy a large export business to Europe – they never did – but in the sense that Belgium ultimately embraced the American way to brew lager.

As the story noted, Belgium was still a top-fermentation country then. By the mid-20th century that had changed, lager was the bulk of production, as today. And not just that, it was adjunct brewing. Germany, Austria and Bohemia were of course always a notable influence on Belgian brewing but their keynote was all-malt lager.

The Americans used corn, rice, or other adjunct to bulk out the malt base of their beer, a technique later usual in Belgium and far beyond. Of course, the respective beers did not taste “the same”, in part due to differing base malts and percentage of adjuncts used.

But American innovation clearly influenced Belgian brewing in this regard. Yes, the British were using sugar in brewing by then (and some grain), and might be viewed as also influential, but Belgian lager has relied mainly on grains, not sugar, to supplement the malt.

Therein the Americans excelled, motored by supportive brewing scientists such as Anton Schwarz.

In the (1996) Belgium by Beer: Beer by Belgium, authors Annie Perrier-Robert and Charles Fontaine include (p. 110) a table for six years between 1970 and 1989. In 1989 rice and maize, about equal quantities, and small amounts of wheat and “other farinaceous substances” together represented about 36,000 tonnes in Belgian brewing.

Against that about 11,100 tonnes of sugar were employed. Total barley malt used (1989) was 181,962 tonnes, which gives an idea of the relative position of adjuncts in that country then. The breakdown for all sample years was broadly comparable.

These numbers included all forms of brewing, top-fermentation as well, but the bulk was clearly lager by then.

I have not checked lately, but would think adjuncts in brewing are least as high today.

The percentage used is less than is generally taken as the American average (i.e., for the mass market), but the pattern is the same. The authors explain that cost was a major factor, and that after the American Civil War America promoted actively sales of maize to Belgian brewers.

For its part, the 1894 Catalogue does not seem to stress sales of maize by American growers. A milling company in Buffalo did advertise various starch-based products (amidon) including nourriture de maïs.

But maize was exhibited from sources closer to home by 1894, especially Bulgaria which listed multiple producers. While a process was necessary to reduce the oil content to make corn suitable for brewing, Perrier-Robert and Fontaine state that in 1892 Keulemans & Windelinckx Maltings in Mechelen took a licence from Gillman & Spencer in London to de-germ maize.

The result, wrote the authors, was “the stunning growth of this raw material, from its debut” (see in general at 93-94).

After WW II the taste for English-style porter and ale, already popular in Belgium before 1900 as we see above, was mostly supplanted by this newer adjunct lager. That style of beer was pioneered in practical, commercial terms by Americans.

Similarly, the American style had writ finally in France, many other parts of Europe, and Britain itself.

The Catalogue has some good points of interest, e.g. this page (p. 514) in the British section. One brewery had no issue stating its beers were made with “25% grain”, probably corn in some form. The breweries in the main were smaller ones, except for Ind Coope in Burton.

The American section* (p. 258) included Bieckert of Buenos Aires. A contemporary portrait of Bieckert (1899) appeared in the The Brewers’ Journal. The founder was an emigrant Alsatian, looking for new pastures even before the 1870 war that saw Germany snatch his native province from France.

Bieckert-labeled beer is still available. The company endured into the 1990s, but was picked up by the well-known Quilmes nearby. It was spun-off to an investors group in the mid-2000s, and is now part of CCU, a Chilean-based public company partly owned by Heineken.

Bieckert’s beer was all-malt, as the 1899 description was careful to explain. I would think it is not, today, but don’t know for certain.


*Interestingly, Bergner & Engel also listed ale and stout, presumably top-fermented in this case. Indeed eBay lists a handsome label for its brown stout in about the same period.






R.D. Blumenfeld on Drinking Ways. Part II.

Lager Takes a bow

Although beer did not figure directly in my Part I, I had a feeling R.D. Blumenfeld appreciated good beer. His memoir R.D.B.’s Diary: 1887-1914 published by William Heinemann in 1930, confirms this.

It’s 1890 and R.D.B. is in Paris. He passes a restaurant where Munich beer is consumed, which he notes is unusual. He explains that 20 years after their ignominious defeat by Germany, the French try to sidestep anything German, so a German beer offering is exceptional.

Certainly cultural manifestations such as Wagnerian opera were shunned. Finally Blumenfeld frequents, on the advice of a friend in Paris, another place where German beer could be had, although it was described as Viennese.

This suggests Blumenfeld’s predilection for “the real thing”. Having German-Jewish roots probably helped, as a cultural orientation to good beer would have accompanied the family to America.

I must say though, the best anecdote on beer in the book concerns American beer. In New York in 1900 Oscar Hammerstein I related to him the successive uses of his (first) Manhattan Opera House, built 1893:*

Hammerstein told me yesterday of his Manhattan Opera House venture in 34th Street, New York, which began with opera, changed over to drama with Mrs. Bernard Beere in “As in a Looking Glass,” and ended as a music hall and drinking place. “First,” he said, “it was Meyerbeer. No good. Then it was Bernard Beere. Also no good. Now it is Lager Beer. Great success!”


*Hammerstein I built many theatres in New York, but only two were named Manhattan Opera House.

R.D. Blumenfeld on Drinking Ways. Part I.

Countering the American Sumptuary, 1930

A concise biography of the American-born editor and journalist Ralph David Blumenfeld appears in Fairly long-lived, 1864-1948, serious illness ended his active career in 1936. Much of his adult life was spent in Britain, where he was naturalized in 1907. He became an influential Fleet Street editor, rising to editor-in-chief of the Daily Express, a post he held until 1932.

His father was a German-Jewish immigrant to the American Midwest who had founded a German-language newspaper. The son worked for his father as a compositor. He later gained experience as a telegrapher, and wrote for newspapers in Chicago and New York. He became an editor in New York even before reaching 30.

Blumenfeld settled in the U.K. in 1894, initially to sell linotype equipment to British newspaper owners, so he had left journalism for a time.* He was successful in such line but could not resist journalism’s lure. In 1900 he re-entered the fifth estate, this time in his adopted country.

Together with Canadian-born Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) and another Canadian journalist, Beverly Baxter, Blumenfeld injected an American flavour in British journalism. The Daily Express was partly refashioned on American lines, using a large-type format and featuring human interest stories.

I discussed Baxter earlier in my post “When the Americans Arrived”. His smooth interviewing and Yankee-style writing now make even more sense, as further sources indicate Blumenfeld was a mentor.

In 1930, towards the end of his active career, Blumenfeld delivered a portrait of drinks and drinking at Christmas-time, “Seeing old Year out in wet England”. Printed in a Washington, D.C. newspaper, it offered a tantalizing view of foreign drinking ways to a society sapped by years of bluenose National Prohibition

Reading the opening paragraphs, I was reminded of Jack Kerouac’s portrait of a well-stocked cafeteria in wintry New York in the novel Visions of Cody. Kerouac described luscious foods as perceived by an impoverished Beat wanderer. The misty showcase disclosed technicolor glazed cakes and pastries, all beyond the means of the artist forever estranged from conventional society.

Americans reading Blumenfeld in 1930 had to react with similar longing. Beer is not mentioned as such but one photo shows a server drawing beer in a pub. Another, more telling, shows savants dressed à la City judging beer at a competition. I discussed one such event in the post “The Bitter Test”.

A snippet from the piece shows the Blumenfeld style well:

His [shop] window is a blaze of electric lamps, shining on imitation snow and ice. Lying on the snow are sledges piled high with every drink you can imagine. There are bottles of very old brandy which you may buy for the price of a bottle of inferior bootleg gin, graceful Hock bottles with their long stems, jolly, fat Hollands [a gin], clarets, Burgundys, Bordeaux, bottles of Scotch and bottles of Irish, and in a sledge all to themselves the succulent, insidious French liqueurs so dear to women and so cheap to buy.

On and on he went, readers’ eyes widening apace:

…at one end of the display Santa Claus is loaded to the white and bushy eyebrows with kummel, white port, Gordon’s gin—the real, not the synthetic—Rhine wine, vodka, and a sack over his shoulder from the neck of which peep the golden tops of bottles of champagne by such firms as Heidsick, Pol Roger, Pommeroy, Lemoine …

Blumenfeld’s sketch of the wine vaults at the London Docks, built by the great engineer Rennie in the early 1800s, evoked an institution that lasted for much of the last two centuries but has now (2020) passed. An invitation to taste wine in the dank cellars was a mark of social distinction.

Such connoisseurship is now more broadly disseminated in our society, for wine, beer… almost any drink you can think of, or food. By revealing the arcane rituals of wine and beer experts in 1930, Blumenfeld forecast our modern time where everyman (metaphorically) can be an expert, should he wish.

Increased democracy and the capitalist ethic, boosted by the information age, have made it so. The National Portrait Gallery harbors today a painting of R.D. Blumenfeld. He looks a man of discernment, and judgment.

Part II.


*On this point see this death notice printed in Australia.

A Beer Feast

Nita Brewing in Ottawa has innovated with its mixed packs, meaning here beers both from Nita and other Ottawa breweries, or within hailing distance let’s say.

Last year Bridget Carey explained the rationale on their website. The current pack, pictured, is available by different delivery methods (see website).  Some Ontario Beer Stores carry it as well.

That’s where I found it, the Leaside outlet in Toronto.

This pack hits all the bases for me. None of the beers are flavoured with coffee, chocolate, spices, etc. Most are classic English styles. The can description shown is for the Pitch Stout.

As Nita has two selections, five south-eastern Ontario breweries are represented, which is pretty cool. I’ve noticed, as I used to get to Ottawa a few times a year, that Ottawa breweries seem more interested than Toronto’s to render classic UK styles. Most I’ve tasted are very nice.

Of course the breweries make everything, but the UK niche seems larger than I see around Toronto. This is great for devotees of the British way with beer – the pre-craft way, I mean although craft – done right – only improves it.

As I can go on nineteen to a dozen about the English beer palate, I’ll leave you to enjoy the Holiday season.*



*There’s a new expression for me, courtesy matchless UK food writer Elizabeth David. No better context to use it than the present.

Christmas Ale O’er the Sea

As I discussed recently, in 1857-1860 Hallett & Abbey advertised their Christmas Ale in Brighton, England.

A few years later the Hole-in-the-Wall saloon (HITW) located in Sprague’s Alley off Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York, did something similar. Ads in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle between 1865 and 1867 trumpeted that “Thomas” would “broach” his Christmas Ale.

A string of ads may be viewed, here, of which this one was typical (via the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archive):



The Cadman Plaza park covers today the street where saloon-keeper Thomas ministered to his faithful. The Forgotten New York historical website sets out additional background in a  blogpost from 2001.

The photo below via Wikipedia showed land being assembled for the park in 1936. One of the crosswise roads or paths in the image likely traced the alley where HITW was located.



Its earthy name – unpretentious understates it – was probably inspired by English example. A pub of that name was (is still) located at a railway arch next to Waterloo Station, London. Advertisements for HITW stated “the London papers”, could be read, a further clue to its character.

As in Britain, it wasn’t common then in the United States to brand a beer Christmas Ale. The occasional instance did make express the old connection between ale and the Yule period. Christmas Ale was brewed traditionally in England on December 21 and typically consumed in December and January, as I showed yesterday.

Before 1980, some American breweries did advertise a Christmas Beer, here and there. In 2016 Judy Steffes of the Washington County Insider recalled the mid-century Lithia Christmas Beer, in Wisconsin.

But paging through James Robertson’s 1978 The Great American Beer Book I could not find a single example of a Christmas beer, American or other. He did include a Holiday Beer from Potosi, Wisconsin but the brewery’s name was Holiday Brewing.

The few Christmas beers then were probably a standard beer in the inventory, maybe made a little stronger or darker. Lithia Christmas Beer in fact came in a special dark version, as Steffes mentioned.

Breweries might also advertise their regular line around Christmas, linking them to festivity, just as ale in Britain was always linked to Yuletime. This was enhanced advertising for normal brands, not Christmas beer as such.

Thomas of 1860s Brooklyn seemed quite the man, judging by his monikers “Immortal Thomas” and “presiding genius”. As ancestrally for the bar trade, a no doubt ebullient personality lent the house its character, drew in the crowds. Thomas may well have been British- or Irish-born, as were many barkeeps of the period.

Jones Brewery in New York advertised its English-style beers just below some of these HITW ads. That brewery was located on Sixth Street in Manhattan. In fact it likely supplied Thomas’ Christmas Ale.

As well, Jones probably paid for both ads to appear: a hand-in-glove arrangement. Thomas’ Christmas Ale was advertised in December and January mainly, sometimes in February, and (skipping March) even in April. Why April is hard to say, maybe Thomas held back a keg to be opened later for an unexpected treat, or made hay then of excess inventory.

Maybe he did an April release to parry the growing springtime appeal of German bock beer in New York.

As Thomas’ ads for Christmas Ale mainly appeared in December and January, this ties in further to an English inspiration for his and (likely) Jones’ beer.

In fact, December 21 was St. Thomas Day in the old Catholic calendar. How strange, yet apt in a way, that a namesake well over the sea, in Walt Whitman’s America, served a specialty of Christmas Ale.

Note re images: Images above were sourced from the links identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.



Ale, Christmas, St. Thomas, December 21

I have now reviewed dozens of 19th century references to Christmas and ale, to learn the cause of the seasonal association. There is one, or so I’ve concluded: St. Thomas’ Feast Day. St. Thomas of course was one of the 12 apostles. December 21 was originally his day, devoted to Christmas preparations.

The date was later changed in the Catholic calendar to July 3, but some Anglicans still remember the earlier date. December 21 (this Monday) is the Solstice, the shortest day of the year in our part of the hemisphere. On that day in England and many parts of northern Europe, Christmas preparations began: preserving, baking, mending garments or tools, etc.

John Harland, in a journal of archeological and religious history in 1865, explained an old practice of recording the days by pictograms on sticks or staves. In a chronology drawn from one of these, December 21 is the day “Christmas ale” was brewed. Often a barrel was engraved to convey its significance to a pre-literate society.

A modern (2017) blog account of St. Thomas’ Day references the tradition especially in a Norwegian context, but it existed in various northern places. Different names for the stick have recognizable variants in the different places.

“Messedag stick” was one term known in England, Mass Day that is. The blog account includes a detail of a stick showing a barrel and drinker for 21 December. A second stick appears to depict a tub of some kind, for mashing or fermenting on that day.

Other accounts suggest in Norway, the beer was actually tasted on December 21 and hopefully pronounced good, therefore with brewing taking place earlier. Some discussions suggest the beer was subjected to fermentation on December 21, so this comes back to brewing on the day, broadly speaking.

One way or another, the day was connected to beer to be enjoyed at Christmas and through Yule-time. Of course this beer would be “mild” at Christmastime, meaning newly brewed. This does not mean all Christmas beer was new beer.

But the fact that freshly-brewed (mild) beer was often associated with Noel, in many cases made from husbanded ingredients, shows a connection to St. Thomas Day, in my view.

According to the Harland account the Winterside of the stick reflected that for January 13, the 20th day after Christmas, “Christmas ale is then finished”. The pictogram shows an upturned horn or barrel. Points for clarity to the craftsmen of these devices.

So this gives an idea how long is the taproot of Christmas and ale. Does this form a straight line to Hallett & Abbey’s Christmas Mild Ale of 1857-1860? No, but it’s all connected.

Unlike much that concerns brewing history, beer style is not the point here. The type of beer would have varied depending where, and by whom, it was made. The keynotes here are brewing as such, the Yule period, and Christianity.


Hallett & Abbey Raise a Cheer

Arc of Hallet & Abbey

An image in the James Gray Collection of the Regency Society shows a solid maltings appurtenant to Hallett & Abbey Brewery in Brighton.

The legend to the image traces the arc of the brewery, from ca. 1850 until Charrington Brewery absorbed its successor, Kemp Town Brewery (in 1954, as we saw earlier). The brewery continued in the Charrington group until its final closure in 1963.

And so another brewery with its distinctive local range closed, further diminishing the inventory of national beer tastes.

Hallet’s had origins earlier than the time associated with Hallett & Abbey. Part of the history is referenced in Richmond’s and Turton’s The Brewing Industry: a Guide to Historical Records.

Henry Hallett was the driving force of Hallett & Abbey. He was a regional example of the “representative men”, to use a 19th century term, who gained distinction in business and civic Victorian Britain.

He was a town alderman, also Brighton’s mayor in 1884, when the Health Exhibition took place, in London. Hallett took an interest in the event, as I discuss below. He died in January 1892 and received a respectful tribute in the Brewers’ Guardian.

This biographical detail, short as it is, gives some point to an otherwise wispy name from UK’s brewing past.

Bavarian Ale Reborn

In that year, 1884, what seems their Bavarian Ale was advertised as Brighton Lager Ale in the Health Exhibition catalogue. Henry had a municipal role in town sanitation, managing its sewer works, hence the connection to the Exhibition.

Lager Ale. It’s like Linda Ronstadt sang 40 years ago, Get Closer … lager, yet it’s not. Had it been the real thing “ale” would not appear.

It seems unlikely, as I argued recently, that Hallett’s brewed real lager at any time, while the possibility cannot be ruled out. The no-lager hypothesis is strengthened in that, as we now know, Anglo-Bavarian Brewing in Shepton Mallet did not make lager in 1886, or likely at any time either.

Still, the phraseology is worth noting, one that has returned in our day as “lagered ale”.

Hallett’s Christmas Ale

Perhaps drawn to the offbeat, Hallett advertised another beer, or rather description of beer, also not usual for the time: Christmas Ale. Two ads attest to it, one in 1857, the other in 1860. The first was in Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature.

The second appeared in A Sketch of the Natural History of Brighton and its Vicinity. The ales are described as XXX in 1857, and both XX and XXX in 1860, the latter further indicated as mild ales.

It is relatively uncommon by my canvass to see a brewery bill its beers this festive way, then. While Hallett’s may not be the first, offhand I cannot think of an earlier instance.

Amorphous Beer Style: Christmas Ale

Certainly through the 19th and 20th centuries it is common to read in a general way of ale for Christmas, e.g. to supply the poorhouse, or of a special beer for the season, perhaps spiced, sweetened, extra-strong, or extra-old.

But branding beer as Christmas specifically seems to gain critical mass only from the 1930s. A good example is an interwar poster for Navy Christmas Ale, brewed by the Marine Brewery and Maltings in Brussels. (Source: Heritage Auctions at this link).



So striking is the advert I’d argue it is the apogee of the genre, viewed as graphical art. Navy Christmas Ale appears to have been, broadly, a British dark strong ale, about 9% ABV. It seems brewing continued until about 1980, see a note in Untappd. The latter-day images shown are equally evocative.

The Belgians and northern French seemed to favour branding beer for Christmas, especially after World War II. It forecast the current widespread practice by craft brewers to release a Christmas ale in different styles.

In more modern times, Anchor Brewery’s annual Christmas Ale was influential. The beer is spiced, a different formula is used each year, reflecting the general association of spices with Yule. Spiced beers are a category, not exclusive therefore, of Christmas beer.

Christmas ale was never in other words a fixed style or type. At best, it might mean something special made available at Christmas. Sussex-based Harvey’s award-winning Christmas Ale, a barley wine (old Burton type), is an outstanding current example in the UK.

But another brewery might release a Christmas strong porter, and so forth. Of course too and more often now, similar beers might be branded festive, winter, celebration, holiday (vs. Xmas as such). It all gets at the same thing, something warming, special, offpiste to raise a cheer in. late December.

Hallett & Abbey, Envoi

I’d like to have tried Hallett & Abbey’s XXX, mild or old. Whether and how these beers differed from the general sort then described as XXX and XX can only be guessed at. Perhaps they were a little stronger than normal.

Postscript. Author, journalist and blogger Eoghan Walsh, Irish-born but long-time resident of Brussels, just wrote a book on Brussels beer history, see here viz. his work. He mentioned on Twitter that with the advent of WW II the larger Wiels brewery bought out Marine. The site still stands, for warehousing use. I found this 1954 invoice form in the Delcampe auction site. Eoghan kindly provided on Twitter this informative link (in French) on history of Marineand related breweries.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the link identified and stated in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research and purposes. All feedback welcomed.






Brighton, Beer, and Bavaria. Part III.

Bavarian Ale, finis

The Bavarian Ale story has developed its own momentum, with the spotlight dimming on Hallett & Abbey as such. Later, I will do a series on Hallett’s proper, as there are many interesting points. Not least: it had yet a second beer that was hardly typical of English (or other U.K.) sales lists of the time.

I’ve collected now some two dozen further citations for Bavarian Ale in the 19th century. This Part III continues the story. I’ve made an important finding viz. the beer made by Anglo-Bavarian Brewery, with other Bavarian Ale still up in the air.

I can now state conclusively that Anglo-Bavarian ale, for its part, was not a lager. A local agent’s trade ad in the November 29, 1886 issue of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney said so. It recited that Anglo-Bavarian ale was neither a Burton pale ale nor a lager:

… this is not a Burton Pale Ale, although brewed in England, nor a Lager Beer; but … has special and distinct characteristics of its own, viz — great softness and mellowness…

It went on to mention a restrained carbonation, so in this sense hardly lager-like. Another characteristic was a light, silky quality, and good clarity – more a lager characteristic. Read on, in the source.

That clarifies matters for that brewery as of 1886. We saw in Part I that three years later, another ad in Australia for Anglo-Bavarian described the beer as lager. Well, either that was puffery, or possibly Anglo-Bavarian later introduced a true lager.

While the finding for 1886 is suggestive of the answer for the other breweries, this is not dispositive. So let’s see what else there is for the broader picture.

An 1885 American temperance tract in the Bioletti Pamphlets stated that “lager or Bavarian ale” was preferred by German-Americans, while Irish-Americans favoured whiskey and rum. Setting off lager from Bavarian ale suggests the latter was not a true lager, but it’s not really clear.

On Twitter, members of the beer historical circle, Liam from Ireland (@beerfoodtravel) and Lost Lagers from the U.S. (@lostlagers), provided useful citations.

Beamish & Crawford in Ireland as Liam showed were producing “Bavarian” brown and pale stouts in 1844. The pale sounds quite similar to Hallett’s Bavarian Ale. Pale stout meant a pale, strongish beer, close enough functionally to Hallett’s version in my view.

Lost Lagers (Mike Stein’s) reference, a 1849 news mention of an American beerhall Bavarian ale, focused on the all-malt construction. The formulation suggests a Munich lager contour, but again clarity eludes.

It turns out Bavarian Ale was a kind of world citizen, not on the scale we see today for I.P.A., but perhaps like the New England subset, the cloudy-fruity type.

Bavarian Ale turned up in Dybeck, Sweden; Dedham, Mass.; Paris, France; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Denmark. Per a World Exposition catalogue of 1873 the Swedish article was dubbed Dybeck Bavarian Ale.

The Reykjavik beer actually hailed from Denmark. In the 1861 travel memoir The Oxonian in Iceland Frederick Metcalfe described it as “Bayersk öl (Bavarian ale)”. He contrasted it favourably to beer made in Iceland itself.

In 1857 numerous American newspapers, including in Indianapolis, reported the rise of Bavarian Ale in Paris, terming it “a sort of lager“.

Bavarian ale, a sort of lager, has become the favorite Parisian tipple.

“Sort of lager” doesn’t get us too far, this can be likened to the Anglo-Bavarian non-lager mentioned above.

I’ll leave the matter with a news item from Mass., U.S.A. in 1854, viz. a court case originating in Dedham in the state. It had to do with whether Bavarian Ale was intoxicating. There is a lager beer undertone to the case, although lager is not mentioned, as in this period Americans were unsure whether the recently introduced lager had the power to inebriate.

The reporter wrote:

… Bavarian ale … what that was no one seemed to know.

An apt epitaph for the subject, seemingly.

Still, despite the implausibility of a Hallett & Abbey brewing lager in Brighton in 1864, I can’t exclude the possibility. This is especially so given the lager-like description of Bavarian Ale by two mid-century technical writers, Loftus and Francis, as mentioned in Part II.

I may revisit this whole subject for scholarly publication.

Meanwhile, I have visions of spiny squarish gurnards gently roasting on long ranks of iron trellis at the Anglo-Bavarian Beerhall, Munich, Germany. It never existed, to be sure, but is lodged immutably in my imagination. Do forgive me.