Ballin’s Bitter (Part II)

North German Lloyd Ahoy Hoy Hoy!

My Part I described the floating brewery of the Hamburg America Line’s Albert Ballin. Previous to that I discussed the Menestheseus, the Royal Navy amenities ship of 1945-1946 that included a brewery, and Alumna, an ex-logging vessel appurtenant to a commercial brewery in Ketchikan, Alaska, 1930s.

Below I will document additional ocean-going breweries of the 1920s and ’30s.

North German Lloyd (NGL), berthed in Bremerhaven about 40 miles from Bremen downriver on sea, was the main competitor of Hamburg America. Like Hamburg America it was impacted significantly by German’s defeat in World War I. Through various arrangements some ships were handed over the Allies, while others were retained, and yet 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 linked to this shipping text, which shows a midsection of Albert Ballin’s hulls. The brewery was probably on the foreshortened G Deck. A brewery and laundry have a mutual need for water and venting of exhausts, which likely explains their propinquity.

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

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

The Stuttgart is briefly referred to 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 of February 15, 1924, Stuttgart sailed to Plymouth on its maiden voyage and could brew “8,000 litres of beer” (no further details). One would think other NGL ship breweries were similar.

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

In this YouTube video, a series of still images portrays the lounge, dining, and other interiors of the Columbus, to period music. Look at 1:35, it’s 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 is probably there. The set-up appears similar to the Albert Ballin’s in other words, which makes sense as both ships were designed at about the same time.

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

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

More likely however Kausler meant similar small breweries were in operation illicitly in or for American homes. This story on the George Washington’s brewery, January 7, 1930 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, states similar “machines” could be bought in the U.S.

Buying and selling of brewing equipment was not, from our determinations, illegal under the Volstead law, nor was sale of malt extract and hops.

The various press accounts of 1930 viz. the George Washington’s brewery are not completely consistent. Some state the beer was made in one day, others in two, but the general tenor is standard draft beer from Germany was loaded for the departure west.

On being used up part-way through the voyage, the small brewery became operative to make the required barrels needed for the remainder of the voyage (until the U.S. international limit was reached). Five barrels is mentioned in a number of accounts for the “top-up”.

Some accounts in 1930 on the S.S. George Washington brewery 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 rumrunners within a 12-mile-limit and even beyond under a hot pursuit rule. It did not claim ownership of the additional nine miles (at the time) but rather an enforcement right under its customs laws.

The legal background to this area is understandably complex and we do not seek here to make definitive statements on it. In this series our focus is the ship brewing itself, which certainly occurred for the ships mentioned.

Finally, viz. George Washington, this account also of January 7, 1930, published in Kingston, NY, states the beer was “12 per cent”. It seems unlikely this meant 12% ABV (although possible); more likely it meant 12 U.S. proof, which is 6% ABV.



At Prohibition’s end these ocean breweries seem to terminate. With alcohol now permitted for loading at U.S. piers, the need for them disappears. Only much later do they come back, on some cruise ships as I mentioned earlier. There of course it’s a case of novelty vs. necessity.

I’ll leave you with a few words from a NGL brochure on S.S. Columbus, as quoted in a shipping historical website on Wayback, 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 the equally stylish lounge and dining areas, well-described on the site. In these surroundings of charm and serenity beer made on the self-same ship was served.

If it was brewed by an artist of the genre, as one hopes, indeed expects in the German tradition, the beer provided a neat complement to the artistry noted. That beer is impermanent by nature, not to mention sometimes inconsistent, cannot change this, because those who appreciate the liquid arts engrave the best taste in their memory.

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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