Ballin’s Bitter (Part II)

North German Lloyd Ahoy Hoy Hoy!

Part I described the floating brewery of the Hamburg America Line’s Albert Ballin. Previously, I discussed the Menestheseus, the Royal Navy “amenities” ship of 1945-1946 that included a brewery, and the Alumna, an ex-logging vessel used in connection with a commercial brewery in Ketchikan, Alaska, 1930s.

Now I will document further ocean-going breweries of the 1920s-30s.

North German Lloyd (NGL) was berthed in Bremerhaven, about 40 miles from Bremen downriver on sea. It was the main competitor to Hamburg America. Like Hamburg America it was impacted significantly by the German defeat in World War I. Through various arrangements some ships were handed over the Allies, others were retained, and new ones planned.

NGL re-started transatlantic service for some ships via an agency deal with United States Lines (USL), formerly United States Mail Steamships Company. USL sailed ships under the U.S. flag that formerly belonged to NGL.

Of the two German lines, it appears Hamburg America was first out of port with a brewery, the Albert Ballin in 1923. A further account of Albert Ballin, in New York’s Evening Post of January 10, 1924, states where the brewery was located. It was below F Deck near the laundry.

In Part I, I linked to a shipping text which showed a midsection of Albert Ballin’s hulls. The brewery was probably on the foreshortened G Deck. A brewery and laundry have a shared need for water and venting of exhaust, which likely explains their arrangement.

NGL sailed at least three ships with floating breweries between 1924 and the early 1930s. They were S.S. Stuttgart, S.S. Columbus, and S.S. George Washington.

The ships plied a U.S. coast – Bremen route, via Plymouth, Southampton, or Cherbourg. Hoboken in New Jersey was a traditional destination for German ships, as seen in the atmospheric image below (1909).

The Stuttgart is briefly mentioned in the new article on the Menestheseus by Geoff Dye in Brewery History, which I referenced in Part I. Dye states that according to a brewing journal article dated February 15, 1924, the Stuttgart sailed to Plymouth on its maiden voyage and could brew “8,000 litres of beer”. One would think the other NGL brewing ships were similar.

NGL launched its 34,000 ton S.S. Columbus in 1924; a brief account in the Brooklyn Standard Union stated the ship’s “… private brewery caused a sensation in shipping circles”.

In this YouTube video, still images portray lounge, dining, and other interiors of the Columbus, to period music. Look at 1:35, it is a midsection view showing decks, rooms, supplies, equipment. If you freeze it, you see tanks in the lower left section, where F and G Decks are. The brewery was probably there.

The set-up appears similar to the Albert Ballin’s, in other words. This makes sense as both ships were designed at about the same time.

An account in 1930 tells of the S.S. George Washington brewery, see here (Buffalo Courier-Express, January 7, 1930). The brewer’s name was Hans Kausler of Hamburg. He joked that his “baby brewery” already supplied plenty of beer to “Amerikaner families”.

This perhaps meant beer was bottled in some fashion on the ship – empty wine bottles would be ideal – and smuggled in by passengers in U.S. ports. At least one press story on the London Naval Conference referred risibly to the S.S. Floating Brewery George Washington.

More  however Kausler meant similar small breweries were operating illicitly in the U.S. This story on the George Washington’s brewery on January 7, 1930, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, stated similar “machines” could be bought in the U.S.

Buying and selling brewing equipment was not, from my determination, unlawful under the Volstead law, nor was sale of malt extract and hops.

The various press accounts of 1930 viz. the George Washington are not fully consistent. Some state beer was made in a day, others in two, but the general tenor is that standard draft beer was first loaded for the departure west.

When finished part-way through the trip, the ship brewery became active to make beer for the rest of the voyage, until the U.S. international limit was reached. Five barrels is mentioned in a number of accounts for this “top-up”.

Some accounts in 1930 refer to a 12-mile-limit being observed, not a three-mile-limit. Between 1924 and 1930 the United States extended its jurisdiction to seize rum-runners within a 12-mile-limit, and even beyond under the hot pursuit rule. The U.S. did not claim ownership of the further nine miles at the time, but rather an enforcement right under customs laws.

The legal background is complex, and I do not seek here to make definitive statements. In this series, my focus is the brewing itself, which certainly took place on the ships discussed.

Also for the George Washington, another account of January 7, 1930 stated the beer was “12 per cent”. It seems unlikely it was 12% ABV, more likely 12 U.S. proof, or 6% ABV. 12 degrees Plato starting gravity, to produce about 5% ABV, was a possibility as well.



At Prohibition’s end the ocean breweries seem to disappear. With alcohol permitted for loading at U.S. piers, why brew on ship? Only later does it come back, on some cruise ships as I mentioned. There too it was a case of novelty, mainly.

Let’s finish with a few words from a NGL brochure for S.S. Columbus, as quoted in a historical shipping website, see here.

“… the architect … to whom the North German Lloyd entrusted their artistic decorations, has in every way fulfilled his task most satisfactorily. With the practical collaboration of skilled German artists and artisans, he has created rooms which may well claim to be the most beautiful on any modern ship.  Most imposing is the stately suite of social rooms, which, beginning with the Social Hall, leads through two side connecting Antechambers to the Library, Smoking Room, and on to the Great Staircase.  The Social Hall, the two side Antechambers, and the Library form in architecture, decoration, and coloring, one harmonious whole, in spite of their varied arrangement.”

Nearby were equally stylish lounge and dining areas, also well-described in the site. In surroundings of such charm and serenity, beer made on the self-same ship was served.

If it was brewed by an artist of the craft the beer was a neat complement to the artistry of decor.

See Part III of this series, here.

Note re image: Image above was sourced from the Wikipedia entry on North German Lloyd linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.











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