Ballin’s Bitter (Part I)

Bier Ahoy!

Who brewed the “iced Munich lager” listed on the first-class lunch menu of the Titanic? Sources suggest Wrexham brewery in Wrexham, Wales, see eg. the book by Veronica Hinke, The Last Night on the Titanic (2019).

Wrexham Brewery was known as a supplier to White Line, certainly. The lager wasn’t the only beer on the ship, but maybe the only draft beer.

The website Gjenvick Archives sets out a list of provisions for Titanic including beer. One image shows cases in a warehouse awaiting transfer to the ill-fated vessel. The crates bear the names “Titanic” and “C. G. Hibbert”. Hibbert was a well-known export bottler of the time.

Various accounts attribute between 15,000 and 30,000 bottles of beer on the boat, plus 1000 of wine, about 800 of spirits. Clearly British beer was carried via Hibbert, probably pale ale and stout.

Iced Munich beer might mean brewed in Munich, or in the style of Munich. Either way, in 1912 that normally meant a dark lager. This was the typical form of Munich beer then. Blond lager became generalized in the city only after WW I.

On the other hand, an 1890 news story for Wrexham Brewery stated it brewed a Pilsener-style beer, “pale” in colour: see my remarks a few years ago, here. Of course the brewery may have brewed more than one type, including perhaps a dark lager.

No beer was actually brewed on Titanic itself. Ship-board breweries of any sophistication were still to arrive (hence I exclude on-board brewing that may have occurred hundreds of years earlier, for naval ships especially).

1923 is the earliest year I know for a proper ship brewery. It was fitted on the Albert Ballin, newly-built for the Hamburg-Amerika line. The ship was named for Albert Ballin, a German shipping executive of Jewish birth. He had Kaiser Wilhelm II’s confidence and rose to high rank in business and society.

Ballin introduced a shipping fleet to handle a large-scale emigration business. He basically invented, too, cruise ship touring, starting in the Mediterranean.

With the war lost though, he despaired of losing his fleet to Allied victors. He died by his own hand in 1918, at 61.

A.C. Hardy’s Merchant Ship Types (1924) described the Albert Ballin in good detail, see from p. 25. It was a medium-sized liner, built for the North Atlantic run.

Hardy mentions no brewery but Prohibition was in force, which probably explains the omission.

But the ship unquestionably had a brewery, as reported in a story of April, 1924 in the New York Sun. Prohibition agents in New York found bottled beer and spirits on board in excess of the medical exemption, and a fine was levied.

But the brewery itself, of course idle in port, was left alone. Once past the three-mile limit it would be put in operation. The logic to leave it alone in harbour was, being inoperative it was akin to any other shuttered brewery in America.

The story noted dryly the Albert Ballin‘s brewery had “anti-Volsteadian tendencies”, meaning the beer had alcohol, but gave few details. We know that malt extract (a concentrate) was used, per an earlier report in the New York Evening Telegram:



The claim that the beer was better than Munich lager seems hyperbole, but no doubt any beer on board was greeted with fervour. The same later applied to the HMS Menestheseus mild ale  I discussed.* Although, if anyone could make malt extract beer taste good, I suppose the Germans could.

Conventional beer sourced in Germany was used on the westerly voyage. The ship brewery remained idle until the boat departed New York harbour and reached the international limit. From that point the brewery could bubble away, and passengers savour the result.

Why was the brewery not used when outbound from Germany? Either the German pure beer law played a role, or a German-owned line viewed it as a point of pride to provide all-malt beer where it could.

The image below, from another page of the Gjenvick Archives, shows the Albert Ballin in its glory period. The ship was re-named under Nazi rule, and later used for war transport. It hit a mine in 1945, was salvaged by the Soviets and restored to function. It plied waters until 1980 when it was scrapped.



In the last link the staterooms and other facilities of the Albert Ballin may be viewed. Even clearer images may be seen in a YouTube video. A cafe-garden, bar, and dining rooms are shown, all areas where the ship’s beer might be enjoyed.

PART II discusses the ship breweries of Hamburg-America Line’s competitor, North German Lloyd.

Note re images: First image above was sourced from Fulton Historical Newspapers as identified and linked in the text. The second was sourced from the Gjenvick Archives as linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Completists should read the latest issue of Brewery History for an excellent article by Geoff Dye on the Menestheseus brewery. Much information is disclosed that was not previously available.







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