Ballin’s Bitter (Part III)

Beer on the S.S. George Washington

In this series I’ve linked to resources that show interiors of the ships that carried mini-breweries in the 1920s and early 30s. Not just where (general location) they were housed but the elegant lounges, cafes, smoking rooms, and restaurants where tippling occurred.

So, short of seeing an actual image of brewery or beer, this conjures the atmosphere where seidels were lifted.

These breweries didn’t quite “brew in a teapot”. We have seen a report that 1000-1500 (U.S.) quarts could be produced in a day. That is about eight U.S. barrels per day at the low end. Annualized, about 3000 bbl per year. Most brewpubs and craft breweries in the U.S. produce under 1000 bbl. Of course, the ship’s brewery likely was working much less in a year than a modern craft brewery, but still we can see it was not your home kit in the garage.

How was beer made in a day or two? Almost certainly liquid malt extract was used, perhaps even a hopped extract. Boiling, if done, would not require more than an hour, with just fermentation, filtering, and carbonation remaining. Generally brewing at home takes at least a month, more usually two months or more.

If you make ale vs. lager, it is faster, the fermentation takes just a few days. In fact, beer as such can be made in one hour – see a discussion in the forum Home Brew Talk. And carbonation could be quick, via a tank of compressed gas. Speedbrewing, it’s called.

More typically such fast brewing takes two or three days, which accords with some press reports on the ships’ breweries. Their plants probably varied with year of installation and the passenger complement, as well.

The breweries were designed and built in Germany, and clearly the makers knew how to achieve a decent short-cut beer. Hans Kausler, brewer on one of the ships, implied in a story we saw that his expertise influenced the finished result. I don’t doubt it. Brewing is a skilled endeavour that benefits from long experience and good training.

I searched for an image of either brewery or beer, but could not find one with the possible exception noted below.

I examined many dinner and lunch menus in different classes of accommodation for the ships – S.S. Stuttgart, S.S. Columbus, S.S Albert Ballin, S.S George Washington – as well as cruise brochures from Hamburg-America and North German Lloyd (NGL). I could not find mention of beer or any alcohol.*

I think the shipping lines were reticent to mention it for an American audience. The flavour of the press stories I’ve discussed suggests this. Alcohol was a sensitive subject in America, and I think breweries were felt not suit the gauzy brochures.

Press archives in Hamburg, Bremen, or elsewhere in Germany may offer more information, or technical journals, to be sure.

A January 27, 1930 press story in Long Island, New York did state the George Washington brewery was filmed. An image of the brewery was included in a film, probably a newsreel, shown in American theatres on the 1930 London Naval Conference.

Five U.S. delegates sailed on the ship, headed by Henry Stimson. The story stated movie-goers were not much interested in the Conference issues, but cheered when the brewery suddenly appeared.

YouTube and Fox Movietones have numerous newsreels on the Conference, but not this one it seems.

Hamburg-America Line and NGL merged in 1970 to form HAPAG-Lloyd. If the prewar archives still exist, no doubt they can fill in many details.

Below is a dining party in 1931 on the George Washington. Is there possibly on the left a pilsner-type glass filled with a pale liquid…?

On the page image is sourced (see Note below) numerous menus from the ship are reproduced from this period. These are of good interest just for their culinary content. It may be noted they, and menus of other German ships plying similar routes (see elsewhere in the site), defined the term “Continental” before the term existed for a genre of cuisine.



Note re image: image above was sourced from the GG (Gjenvick Archives) historical website, see here. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcome. 


*See note added in Comments. I did locate finally an Albert Ballin cocktails and spirits list, but it is not conclusive.






1 thought on “Ballin’s Bitter (Part III)”

  1. After preparing the above I did locate, on Worthpoint, a collection of Albert Ballin ephemera that includes a cocktails and liquors list from the Albert Ballin, see here.

    The upload mostly cannot be read but you make out some of the whiskies, e.g., Mount Vernon, Old Taylor, Canadian Club, also Underberg. It appears to be from 1932 or earlier. We can’t tell if wines and beers were listed as part of this item, perhaps on the reverse or following pages.


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