Kloster Bier of Neustadt

The (1930s) Penang Girl’s Beer

Not the least of the European beers that sought an early market in the former British Malaya was Kloster Bier, originally from Neustadt, Germany, today a suburb of Bremen.

The label was, from the 1930s until the brand’s apparent demise in Thailand some years ago, a characteristic white as shown below (source: the Can Museum):

 

 

Labels, bottles, and other paraphernalia regularly appear for the beer on auction sites, e.g. this atmospheric bottle, also connected to the early Thai market, when the beer was still imported.

While originally German, as explained below it was later produced in Thailand under license. It seems it was sold in Germany as well into the 1960s, but with a different label. See e.g. here, also at Can Museum.

Neustadt Kloster Bier must be distinguished from Weltenburger Kloster and other Kloster brands in Germany, as kloster simply means cloister, the enclosed part of a monastery.

The term evokes in other words a monastic brewing tradition, generally of the past, associated with the brewery or the area, common enough in Central Europe.

I discuss Neustadt Kloster Bier in my recent paper “An Outline on Beers and Brewing in British Malaya: 1827-1957. Part I”, available for purchase from the Brewery History Society, see details here. 

As I set out there, by 1933 the brand was owned by Beck’s of Bremen, so may be viewed somewhat like St. Pauli Girl (formerly Girl Brand), one of the stable of brands selected by Beck’s for specific markets.*

I first learned of the brand in the journal article “Cosmopolitanism and the Modern Girl: A Cross-Cultural Discourse in 1930s Penang” by Su Lin Lewis, a British academic. It was published in Modern Asian Studies in 2009 by Cambridge University Press.

Per the article abstract:

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Modern Girl emerged in advertisements, cinema and public discourse all over the globe … Lively debates about the Modern Girl in Penang’s English press wrestled with the tensions between cultural authenticity, diversity and modernity … The Modern Girl thus represents a new way of looking at the history of colonial Malaysia in the interwar period: one not focused on ethnic nationalism and communalism, but on a shared, multi-ethnic mode of belonging rooted in the globalist environment of the late colonial port-city.

The article is most insightful, and mentions Kloster Bier among other international products promoted with verve in that period to a certain demographic of a multi-ethnic population.

Malaya, as today for its successor Malaysia, was a multi-racial society comprised mainly of Malay, Chinese, and Indian groupings. This tripartite classification can be simplistic given the many sub-divisions among these groups, including as to language, but is commonly still used to describe with economy the ethnic diversity.

Malaya counted yet further ethnicities including the Japanese, a small European and Eurasian population, and persons of Middle East origin.

I explain in my study how Kloster Bier vied with other brands, both local and imported, for a market that in part comprised the one limned by Lewis in her article.

Much like Beck’s itself, which I discussed earlier, Kloster Bier seems to have had mainly an international career, with East Asia demarcated in particular for this purpose.

The brand appeared in the region in the former Java (now Indonesia), Japan, Thailand, and probably elsewhere.

It became a major seller in the postwar Thai market, produced finally under license from Interbrew, forerunner to Anheuser Busch InBev, due to its stake in Beck’s Brewery. The license was granted to family-owned Boon Rawd, producer of the well-known Singha brand.

By 2016, it appears Kloster Bier is no longer produced in Thailand. In that year, a marketing report was written envisaging a re-launch of the beer, although this has not occurred to date, to my knowledge.

The report is set out in Slideshare, a site devoted to marketing and advertising studies. It is an excellent capsule of how the brand was positioned, its strengths and weaknesses, and how the writers envisaged a relaunch.

The report states that Boon Rawd started producing the beer in 2003, replacing Thai Amarit (subsidiary of San Miguel of Phillipines) which brewed it from 1975 until 2002. Before that, other evidence suggests it was imported and distributed under agency.

The study explains the market was “upper target level”, competing with brands such as Carlsberg, Heineken, and Asahi. The authors consider the beer lost its position due finally to being viewed as “Thai or fake European”.

They proposed numerous interesting ways to restore its position, including by highlighting the German heritage.

What struck me reading the study was consistency with the 1930s advertising environment described in Lewis’s article. The 2016 report uses terms like “young adult”, “next generation”, “sophisticated “, “educated” to explain the brand’s “identity prism”.

Many patrons of Raffles Hotel in prewar Singapore encapsulated this demographic. In 1938, on the eve of a cataclysmic war, Raffles’ bar menu listed Kloster, among other international and local brands, as my article showed. Extract from menu (via nypl.org menu collection):

 

 

The 2016 report explains, by the same token, the two sides to the licensing coin. One side emphasizes the origins of the brand, in this case European, which implies premium quality and justifies higher price.

It does seem Kloster fetched a higher price in the Thai market than some Thai-origin brands.

The other side is, after a period when a brand is produced locally, the market may perceive it as local or a faux-import. Other brands, genuine imports or perhaps more recently licensed, may erode the former’s market share.

It appears something like this happened to Kloster in Thailand, which at one time was a top brand there. A c. 2010 YouTube commercial gives an idea of its heyday and profiled market. The sophisticated young adult theme is prominent.

It does not take long for this process to unfold. It sounds counter-intuitive, as it is easier than ever – a few keystrokes – to discover the origins of, say, Stella Artois, which in Canada is brewed locally.

Yet, Stella by my perception is becoming a local brand. I’d wager few of its younger consumers have any specific knowledge of its Belgian origins. The labelling to a degree reinforces that heritage, but I doubt the young purchaser has any real ken.

Pricing of course is a factor in this calculus. Where the faux-import is popular-priced or near enough, the adverse reaction noted in the 2016 report may not occur, or be delayed.

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

*I did not pursue the earlier history of Kloster Bier, whether it was independent at one time and acquired by Beck’s, or always a Beck’s property. This would be an interesting inquiry.

 

 

 

Craft and Brewing English

In my last post, dealing with a particularly good Canadian example of Czech pilsner beer, I mentioned en passant that craft brewing might pay closer attention to mastering the palate of English ale.

By this I meant mainly bitter or pale ale, but mild ale included, and strong ale. I’m talking about fidelity to style, not technical brewing results, as for the most part the craft examples are good, even excellent beers.

Craft porter and stout, which are not ale but share its top-fermentation quality, have done better here. I would argue for a time they trumped beers of that name in the UK and Ireland, but that is another subject.

Recently on Twitter Jeff Alworth made the point that English ales often seem outside the comfort zone of craft brewers. Many chimed in with their view, largely in agreement from my survey, but offering different takes.

First, I should state the obvious, of course sometimes you will run into an excellent example of North American, English-style beer. I recall an exemplary pint at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California, another in San Francisco at Magnolia Brewing.

A few craft brewers specialize in producing English-style beers, and their beers can be expected to shine. I recall one such example in Quebec province, outside Montreal a few years ago.

 

(Pictured is Beers of Britain (1975) by Warren Knock and Conal Gregory).

But setting these cases apart, as well as historical recreations with their studied approach, craft brewing seems to prefer (American) India Pale Ales, Helles and pilsner, saisons and wheat styles, sours and wild beers, etc., all to a high degree of authenticity – not invariably of course, but frequently.

Lisa Grimm noted how British ales were popular at an early stage of craft brewing development. I’d agree with that, often these were called amber, a term that has returned to the UK to designate traditional bitter ales.

These for the most part, in my view, did not taste really English, but were “craft” in nature, at best sometimes with a “trans-Atlantic” note.

In one sense, the best accolade craft beer ever accorded to English brewing was India Pale Ale, and pale ale before. The nomenclature derives from English brewing, and of course top-fermentation is used.

But from the get-go, exemplars like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor’s Liberty Ale, and Stone India Pale Ale charted their own path, indeed have been influential in the UK and around the world. This resulted mainly from the unique taste of American hop types released since the early 1970s, Cascade was the first with its grapefruit signature.

What are the reasons the English taste is relatively rare on the ground? I would list these factors:

  1. English ales shine best when cask-conditioned. That way of dispensing beer has never greatly appealed to North American drinkers. It has its devotees, but it is hardly typical of beer dispense here.
  2. English hop culture has declined in recent decades, so the famous local varieties, especially Kent Goldings and Fuggles, while still available, aren’t as widespread in use as the fashionable American citric or tropical-tasting hops, Germany’s famous productions, or fine Czech hops.
  3. English ales became to a degree an amorphous category when fizzy, chilled, restrained-in-taste keg beer emerged in the UK. This muddied the category, which increased when distinctive North American hop flavours started to appear in English beers.
  4. Whether bottled, cask, or keg, hop rates in Britain in the last generation, speaking generally, are relatively modest. Even in the 1970s craft pioneer Fritz Maytag was struck for example by the modest quantities used for dry-hopping bitter ale.
  5. Such beers, when emulated in craft conditions and served cold and fizzy, do not show to best advantage. In contrast, Helles and pilsener retained a unity of style, so the path of emulation was clearer.
  6. Traditional English ale may be harder to brew than first seems the case. In the Twitter chat Hugh Huish made that point, and retired Fuller brewer John Keeling emphasized the importance of yeast and fermentation.

I think it’s a case of “all the above” but this very discussion is useful to point up what many feel is a lacuna in craft brewing today.

Craft brewing is ever nimble. The time is nigh to brew a wave of high-quality, traditional English-tasting brews, and extend where possible the cask-conditioning tradition. On pure palate grounds, the development is justified.

There is no taste in the world like the yeasty-mineral or flowery swoosh of a good English ale, with all its various sub-divisions of Burton and so forth. On gastronomic grounds alone their widespread availability here is well-justified.

 

 

 

 

Indie Ale House Forestis Pilsner

Toronto’s Indie Ale House, an innovative brewpub that debuted in 2012, did very well in the recent UK-based World Beer Awards. I’ve been a Canadian judge for some years now.

The Canadian winners are listed in this CBN news summary. Clearly, Canada as a whole did extremely well. While of course not all brewers enter the competition, those that do can be viewed as representative of brewing in general here – artisan brewing, to be sure.

The overall standard, putting it a different way, is just getting higher, which is confirmed by my regular tastings over time.

We have, today, examples of brewing that are miles ahead of anything available 15 and 30 years ago. A lot of indifferent beer is still around, but the best speaks volumes, compared to an earlier stage of evolution.

It has been the same in the U.S. – it just took time for craft brewers to learn how to brew traditional styles well. In the rush to create new tastes, many neglected to master the fundamentals well, in style terms I mean.

There is still some room to grow, especially for British styles. The widespread understanding that English ale or its hops have a “mild” taste needs to be modified, in particular.

As the CBN story notes, Ontario’s Thornbury Pickup No. 26 Pilsner carried the palm for Czech-style pale lager. I will revisit this one before long, but for now will discuss Forestis from Indie Ale House, a foeder Czech pils style.

 

 

A foeder is just a wood vat, usually of oak. The different species can affect flavour where the foeder is not coated inside, as typically for brewhouse use. In French it is foudre, and in brewing the Belgians have used them to store tart red ale, lambic, and other top-fermented styles.

A similar vessel was widely used in the past in the Anglosphere to store porter and ale, so there is nothing specifically Belgian about it, other than its notable survival there.

Brewers like Rodenbach, famed for its red ale, might source its foeders from winemakers, since this branch of the fermentation industries, unlike brewing, continued comparatively a wide use of the vessel.

The usage sprang finally to craft circles, in part I think due to the exotic sound of the term foeder.

Perhaps in some cases the residual flavours, from to store Bordeaux wine or other particular types, were liked in the beer. With repeated use, the earlier effect will dissipate to vanishing, though.

I don’t know how large are (is) Indie Ale House’s foeders, I’ll have to ask owner Jason Fisher the next time I’m over there. In winemaking they might range from 10,000-65,000 L.

In craft brewing, the ones I’ve seen stand 8-10 feet high and can hold upwards of 200 gal. The website of U.S.-based Foeder Crafters explains well the foeder sizes and configurations used in the craft world.

Amor Artis Brewing in South Carolina has good notes on the foeder. Included is a time-lapse video documenting how its example was built.

The last ones I recall examining on site were in London, at BrewDog’s impressive Outpost Tower Hill facility. The brewer told me Italian oak was used to fashion those. You can see the black-hooped beauties in this virtual tour on the website.

These notes on French wine barrel measures, from the French Duck site, are useful to understand, not just foeders as part of the vintner’s traditional range of vessels, but the effects of size on flavour.

There is an inverse relationship to flavour from the wood, in that the larger the vessel, the less the wood affects the taste. For brewing pilsener, traditionally the large barrels used to store beer were coated with pitch.

At least one reason was to preclude a raw oak flavor in the wood. I’ve discussed this earlier, and certainly Czech Pilsner Urquell used pitched casks as I discussed in this post. See especially the 1986 New Scientist story I linked.

So in Pilsen at Urquell, the storage vats likely conveyed a subtle but different flavour from raw oak. In contrast, when Urquell used oak vats for fermentation, these were unlined.

The Indie Ale House foeder can’t be very large, but whether from the species of oak used or some other reason, the effect of the wood on the beer is minimal, and this is a good thing.

I assume the foeder is not coated, as these rarely are in craft usage, but the oak taste again is not obtrusive.

The rich notes of pilsener malt, married to fine Saaz hops, is mainly evident. The finishing gravity is high which adds significantly to the quality. (Why use the best malts, mashed in the ideal way for the style, if fermented to near-tasteless dryness?).

There is a subtle puff of oak taste in the finish. In this case it blends well with the malt-hop flavour, does not clash with it.

I don’t get an American vanillin tang, so possibly American oak was not used in this case. I will confirm for a subsequent post.

Forestis stands on a quality level with the best local examples I’ve tasted such as Godspeed Brewpub’s Svetly Lezak and Amsterdam Brewery’s Pure Pilsener. Forestis is comparable in quality with Pilsner Urquell or the Slovakian Golden Pheasant, which I’ve mentioned in notes recently.

Still, rating these is a limited exercise. Each has its own validation, and can be in its way quite different from the others.

 

 

 

 

Creemore Kolsch Style Ale. Part II.

The city and beer style of inspiration to Ontario’s Creemore Kolsch Style Ale are, of course, Cologne, on the Rhine in Germany, and its Kolsch Bier.

Cologne is not so distant from Dusseldorf on the river, another stronghold of top-fermentation brewing in the country.

YouTube has a number of videos on beer culture in Cologne, each informative in its way. The British TV presenter and “Beer Pilgrim” Tim Charody leads the way in this example, and a good tour it is.

Drinking Creemore’s emulation while watching the video, or any other worthy Kolsch, is, in the time-tested phrase, almost as good as being there.

We learn much from the videos as a whole. The brewery of Sünner is shown, a pioneer of the style in the city. One gets a real sense of the cultural background to the tradition.

Owen Ogletree in The Beer Connoisseur site gives a good overview of the Sünner palate, as the bottled version is exported.

Another video recommends in particular Mühlen Kolsch. Its website is excellent, with a profile of its brewer, Cologne native Andree Vrana, and a schematic of its brewing process.

Other interesting information is included – is that ex-Prez Bill Clinton in one photo? The site mentions some of the culinary highlights in the city as well.

Michael Jackson, in the 1977 The World Guide to Beer, encoded “half a hen” (Halve Hahn) in the mind of every beer devotee since. An impressively historical discussion of the whimsical name – poultry it is not – appears in a page of Lindner Hotels’ site.

The dish appears up and down the Rhine actually. To my best recollection, a version was served in a Baltimore brewpub years ago when a wood keg of sticke Altbier was flown in from Dusseldorf.

That beer does still rank in my Top 5 best ever.

Gastronomy in Cologne, but of a very different kind, was paired with the city’s famous beer in 1981 when a brigade of Chinese chefs alighted in the city from Peking. The idea was to showcase cuisines of China, as described in an American news report.

The word paired must be understood in a specific sense here, as the chefs brought plenty of Tsingtao, the worthy pilsener of China, with them. No doubt the Germans who enjoyed the Chinese spread drank Tsingtao with it, if only for something different.

But for their own meals, the chefs stuck to the Kolsch Bier, leaving their national production aside. In the words of the story:

Don’t let word get back to Peking, but the Tsingtao beer flown in from China stayed untouched in a corner while the chefs quaffed Cologne beer with every meal.

The journalist made a point of noting this, as generally the chefs did not find much to appreciate in Cologne’s own food. Beer was one exception and there was a second – Black Forest Cake.

I suppose, once work was done, some got stuck in both, in the currently fashionable phrase, Brit-speak originally I think.

Epicure Chinese food and Kolsch Bier do sound a … brilliant combination. Early fusion thinking, we can say.

I may try this soon, using Creemore Kolsch with good Chinese take-out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creemore Kolsch Style Ale. Part I.

The Kolsch beer style, which originated in Cologne, Germany and is a EU-protected “geographical indication”, is brewed by about a dozen breweries and brew taverns in Cologne.

It is the one well-known German beer style I probably have least familiarity with. To my best knowledge, I have only drunk two German Kolsch beers: Gaffel’s and Kuppers. Maybe Reissdorf’s too, long ago.

While good, these never stood out in the German, or other beer pantheon, in my opinion.

Draft Kolsch consumed in situ is said to be best, so I must await that experience. Meanwhile, I try craft versions when I see them, and decided to buy Creemore’s version again.

By again, I mean, when it first came out in 2016, I thought it bland, almost tasteless. I had, um, high hopes since it was the first non-bottom-fermented beer to be brewed by Creemore. (There is Boundless IPA as well now).

 

 

I didn’t try it again for a few years, but on a whim bought a can the other day. Today, it seems much better with a good malty-hoppy taste. It is German in character certainly, yet different subtly from the typical Helles or pilsener palate.

Hence it departs from the Creemore house style, exemplified by Creemore Lager, a pioneering craft beer in Ontario first released in 1987.

To me the lager always had a sulphur note, as similarly for Creemore Lot 9 Pilsner and other extensions, the Urbock too when available. An alternate Creemore label, Mad & Noisy (named after local rivers in fact), has issued a India Pale Lager (2012) and lagered ale (2017) over the years, and subsequently an Orange Pale Ale and Coconut Porter.

The India Pale Lager had the Creemore yeast stamp, hence the house flavour, even though hopped like a UK ale.

That house taste seems more pronounced at some times than others, but I never really cottoned to it. For this reason the Kolsch, which uses a different yeast, appeals more, especially the current brewing.

Much has been written on Kolsch history. For a recent survey, I like Jack Horzempa’s piece in July 2021 in BrewBuilt. It covers useful points on history and palate description, but is enhanced by the home-brew discussion, e.g. on yeast types.

Clearly, Michael Jackson’s Kolsch chapter in the landmark The World Guide to Beer (1977) launched international interest in the beer.

Here is the first line in that discussion, which shows you at a stroke why Michael Jackson became and remains a superstar of beer writing:

The drunken god Dionysos probably feels quite happy embedded in the mosaic floor of Cologne’s Roman museum.

Jackson’s consecration of Kolsch as a style probably encouraged brewers in Cologne to protect and nurture it, resulting in the 1980s accord that tightened control on the appellation and make-up of Kolsch.

From much reading over the years, my conclusions are, Kolsch emerged at the end of the 19th century as a top-fermented version of lager, partly to rival lager’s growth, partly to increase its keeping quality (which may be saying the same thing, however).

 

 

As a number of people have written, the term Kolsch apparently is first used to describe the municipal beer in 1918. But clearly something similar was brewed earlier.

In 1899, published minutes of governmental hearings in Britain on brewing materials included reference to a letter from the “High Fermentation Lager Beer Brewery at Cologne”.

The brewery was Apostelnbrau, established in 1895 by the founder (1904) of better-known P.J. Fruh Brewery in the city, which continues to this day.

Apostelnbrau argued that its top-fermentation lager improved storage time, and further that no substitutes were needed to brew the beer: it was all-malt, a hallmark of course of Bavarian lager.

The Kolner-Brauerie Verband E.V. site shows atmospheric images of these breweries in early days. The scale and design show, if nothing else will, how strong are the craft roots of institutions such as Kolsch Bier.

Jackson, both in the The World Guide to Beer and his 1982 The Pocket Beer Guide, insisted on a slightly lactic character in Kolsch, including in the nose. I must say I never get this, whether in Creemore’s version or the others I’ve tried.

I wonder if it is being rubbed out in the modern brewing. I do not get, either, much of the fruity character said to characterize the style. Some people say it is a “white wine” taste, and other metaphors are used.

Of course the producers’ beers in Cologne do vary, hence in this aspect as well, presumably. And again, only a comprehensive tasting on site can likely really tell. The draft beers are said to have a low carbonation, which would assist to reveal subtleties in palate.

In an odd way, Creemore Kolsch really brings us back to an earlier day of Canadian beer, when all-malt ales were made yet cold-aged, or lagered, as Kolsch is.

Both these styles start to appear around 1900, and certainly after World War I the Canadian “sparkling” or “export” style – filtered, light-coloured, aged cold, yet an ale – grows in appeal.**

Creemore Kolsch, sub-titled “ale style”, actually reminded me of some North American ales of 40 years ago: Labatt India Pale Ale, Lord Chesterfield Ale (Yuengling), Black Horse Ale (Trenton, NJ), and that style of beer.

Molson Stock Ale, brewed in Ontario into the 2000s but no longer at this time, shared the character. Its dryish, lemony note was kind of lactic as well, come to think of it.

So Creemore, quite unintentionally I’m sure, has created a link to this past.

Part II follows.

*As many have observed, this can be a characteristic of lager beers internationally, especially blonde ones, and of course is liked by large numbers.

**Open-fermented, too, in wood, in that period, as presumably early Kolsch was.

 

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part IV.

Stock ’84 Brandy Made in Israel

Some notes now on Stock ’84 VSOP, the Israel-made version as purchased in Toronto. This is brandy, not the brandy-based version of Stock ’84, made in Czech Republic, also sold in Ontario.

 

 

I thought the VSOP very good, with a signature quality brandy taste. It has notes of ripe fruit, is not woody, and does not tend to neutrality in character. It reminded me of good quality non-Cognac brandies from southern Europe.

The fruit notes are not citrus or tropical-type, which I mention since many India Pale Ales today feature these tastes, and we have many beer readers here. More like apricot or peach perhaps, but it is hard to convey in words the actual flavour.

The finish is somewhat spiky, and while it can be drunk neat, I doubt it is taken very often that way by its fans. More usually it would be mixed with sparkling water –  the traditional brandy-and-soda – or a soft drink, with coffee, in cocktails, and so forth.

To the extent it is consumed straight, probably almost always ice is added. I liked it this way and thought the dilution assisted the drink, brought it into its own.

In a hot country it makes sense usually it would be served cold or iced.

I’d like to try a premium version issued by Stock Spirits, the XO say, but this is not currently available here.

All in all, one can see the long tradition behind the brand; the heritage shows. I should add, I have nothing against the brandy-based version, in fact I regularly make an Old Fashioned at home (whiskey cocktail), Manhattan, and similar.

But for the purpose of scoping the brandy palate of the house so to speak, it seemed best to stick with the all-brandy version.

Brandy is a drink I encounter off and on over the years. When it comes to spirits, whiskey, in one of the international styles, usually has my attention. In latter years it tends to be Canadian or American whiskey.

But brandy, and Cognac when I can try it, are always interesting to sample, a kind of “parent” drink viewed in historical terms.

For example, in the Anglosphere but beyond as well due to its influence, I think it is fair to say the whisky and soda and its variants (with ice, etc.) largely replaced the original brandy versions.

But the brandy and soda has much to recommend itself, still, as I found out recently with Stock ’84.

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part III

Palestine Brandy Circa 1946

In this post I will discuss Mandate Palestine brandy in the immediate post-World War II period, with a prelude on Stock Spirts history. To save time I will not include hyperlinked references for the general discussion, except for three sources mentioned below, but my statements are based on wide reading.

General Stock Spirits Background

Stock Spirits has been in the news recently, as its Wikipedia profile notes:

Stock Spirits Group is a British alcoholic beverage business operating in Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and Prague Stock Exchange.

In August 2021, Stock Spirits’ board of directors accepted a £767 million takeover bid by private equity firm CVC Advisers. The deal is expected to complete by early 2022, if shareholders vote in favour.

Coverage suggests a further bid may emerge, as the stock price has traded above offer price, itself a substantial premium to the pre-bid price. Oaktree Capital had earlier purchased Stock distilleries from a German company, Ekes AG.

It also bought the Polish Stock component and merged it with the historical Western European company, as Stock Spirits, later floating the company. In the 1990s Stock had recovered its Czech branch, known for Fernet Stock (bitter liqueur), so that came with Ekes Stock.

Stock Spirits has been very successful in recent years, making a wide range of liquors, wine-based aperitifs, and liqueurs. It is beyond my scope here to limn its full history, suffice to say in 1884 Lionello Stock, born in Split, Dalmatia of a Jewish family, established a distillery in Trieste.

He had a partner, Camis, who retired from the firm, known as Camis & Stock, before World War I. For a good survey of Stock history with emphasis on different company locales in Trieste, this December 2018 article in the English-language, Italian hospitality magazine Bar Tales, is most useful.

Lionello Stock and Camis were only 18 when establishing their business in Trieste, then a multi-ethnic city with Italian, Germanic and Slavic components. Trieste served as Adriatic port for the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which it formed part before World War I.

The story is that seeing ships in Trieste bound for La Rochelle, France with wine meant for conversion to cognac, young Lionello hit on the idea to distill brandy locally.

France of course typically would not use foreign wine for this purpose, but it was combatting the phylloxera pest at the time. It apparently relied exceptionally on imported wine to continue to make cognac.

Then, as still, wines of quality were produced around Trieste, and also Dalmatia (in Croatia), where Stock was born, of an Ashkenazi-Sephardic family.

The main brand that emerged from Camis & Stock was Stock Cognac Medicinal, later to be known as Stock Medicinal Brandy and finally Stock ’84. Stock XO and a 20-year old Stock Riserva are currently also marketed.

Interwar Expansion

Between the two world wars, Stock had expanded into many nations. A wide array has been reported including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Palestine (1937), Alexandria, Egypt (1928), and New York (1939).

The 2005 study Making Trieste Italian, 1918-1954, by Maura Elise Hametz, refers to the Alexandria investment.

This business evolution was initially prompted by the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The march of Fascism in the 1930s increased the momentum.

Establishing distilleries outside Italy meant post-1918 luxury taxes and other barriers on liquor imports were overcome. Second, the devastating effect on Jewish-owned Italian business of Fascist racial laws adopted by Mussolini in 1938 was palliated.

Unlike most of the Trieste Jewish population, Lionello survived World War II (see Bar Tales account). The business in Italy was reconstituted after 1945. Lionello even recovered for a time his Czech business, but finally this was nationalized along with the Polish branch.

Lionello died without issue in 1948 and the Italian business devolved to nephews and other relations until finally purchased as noted by international interests.

The “cognac medicinal” label, mainly associated with the pre-World War II era, was originally adopted during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in accordance with its rules at the time.

Only after World War II did Italy, for its part, finally recognize that the term Cognac was reserved for brandy produced in the Cognac region in France.

Palestine-Based Stock Business

We can see by a 1940 ad in the Palestine Post that Stock Medicinal Brandy, so-termed, is advertised as produced in Palestine.

W.E.S.T. was its local partner, so this is an early example of the Palestine-distilled product. It is still made in Israel today under license from Stock Spirits, by the successor to W.E.S.T., Barkan Wine Cellars.

(Barkan is now owned by Tempo Industries, a major Israeli brewer and soft drinks producer in which Heineken of Holland has a large stake).

In 1943, another ad in the Palestine Post reverted to the older usage “Stock Cognac Medicinal”. Perhaps since Germany occupied France by then, no compunction was felt to observe French legal edicts concerning use of the term cognac.

However, after the war usage reverted to, and stayed with, the brandy designation, which Carmel did as well, by my survey.

These brands became, in Palestine and later Israel, well-establised for the brandy category. Today Stock ’84 in Israel still has a good sale while Carmel’s brandy line has declined, as mentioned earlier.

Egypt-Based Stock Business

The Stock brandy advertised extensively in Egypt in the 1930s, see this 1936 example in L’Aurore in Cairo, likely therefore was produced in Alexandria. That city was a notable destination of Italian expatriates from the mid-1800s until World War II.

It makes sense therefore Lionello Stock went to Alexandria establish a manufacturing branch, familiar territory as it were.

The Palestine branch, established in 1937 (some sources state 1938), clearly distilled spirits locally. Whether this was so in Alexandria is less clear, vs. a bottling and distribution business.

I think likely brandy was distilled locally there as well, as this was the pattern for Stock Distilleries expansion between the wars.

Brandy Quality in Palestine and Egypt Post-World War II

An interesting reader’s correspondence occurred in 1946 in the columns of the Palestine Post, concerning the quality of Palestine brandy. A letter in January 1946 complained that “Jerusalem’s most elegant night-spot”, not named, did not serve Palestine brandy.

The letter-writer questioned whether this resulted from a recent boycott of Jewish-made goods. The boycott was led by some countries in the region opposed to the drive for Jewish independence in Palestine, which finally succeeded in 1948 as well-known.

A second letter, in February 1946, stated that La Regence, a high-end restaurant at King David Hotel in Jerusalem,* did not list Palestine brandy, instead offering Cyrus brandy, so likely this was the night-spot referred to in the first letter.

A note added by the editor, who had checked with the hotel, stated the hotel considered Palestine brandy of inferior quality. The hotel added Palestine brandy was rarely called for by its clientele.

It noted, further, that Palestine wines, beers, and liqueurs were carried by the hotel, with the implication there was no intent to bar Palestine brandy as such.

The King David Hotel was by then a headquarters for the British military command in Palestine, as well as the British Secretariat. It also functioned as a civilian hotel, but the British official presence dominated.

The conflict over Jewish statehood was at a high pitch of course. In this atmosphere, some readers must have felt the hotel was “taking sides”. Brandy and soda, among other brandy-based drinks, was still a standing order in the British world, so the business represented likely was not inconsiderable.

Distinguished Palates

A third letter, in March 1946, came from the winery at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Yaacov, which made Carmel brandy as I discussed earlier. It stated in part:

 

 

This letter was diplomatically written and made its case well on the quality issue. Whether Palestine brandy was barred for political reasons is hard to say at this remove, I’d think probably not, since wine and beer made in Palestine were sold.

To this we can add, the hotel was built in the interwar period as a venture of well-off Jewish families based in Cairo; it seemed unlikely therefore it would boycott Jewish-made products.

The reference to Palestine brandy being sold in Cairo in the same period is interesting. The first letter-writer noted this as well, citing the “Auberge des Pyramids” in Cairo as an example. It even added King Farouk was a patron of the club.

The winery letter refers in this regard to “Palestine brandy”, not “our brandy”, a phrase used elsewhere in the letter. Perhaps this meant Stock brandy made in Palestine was being sold in Cairo, alongside presumably Carmel’s.

If so, why would Stock brandy, made in Alexandria, not have been sold?

Perhaps because it is unlikely an Italian-owned distillery was allowed to operate in wartime Alexandria, then under firm British control. Even if the distillery was able to resume business after World War II, likely it would not have insufficient aged stocks for bottling.

Brandy from Carmel or Stock in the period seems to have been aged for at least three years, from what I can tell.

Stock ’84 Brandy in Ontario

The version of Stock ’84 made in Israel is available at the LCBO in Toronto, as is a Czech-made Stock ’84.

The Israel one is kosher, likely the reason an Israel version is still made. Apart from the obvious market in Israel, clearly a certain market exists overseas that is (mainly, I’d think) Jewish.

Looking more closely today at LCBO’s Czech-made Stock ’84, it is not actually a brandy. The label calls it “spirit drink”. It is a blend of brandy, alcohol, sugar, and almonds, according to the rear label.

Stock Spirits does distill a genuine brandy, called Stock ’84 Original, plus older variants as noted. Likely “Original” is more the counterpart to the Israeli Stock ’84, which states “Brandy” on the label.

As we don’t get the Czech Stock ’84 Original, I’ll omit the spirit drink version from my tasting, and just look at the Israel one, in Part IV below.

*It still is.

 

Crew Premium Lager

A Beer That Earns the Description “Premium”

I’ve run through a spate of craft lagers recently, approaching a dozen. I mean here the standard craft lager of the house, not aspiring to pilsner-style rigour of the type discussed in this post.

Some identify as Helles, the Bavarian style of blonde lager that is nominally maltier and less hopped than pilsener, but again end as craft lager staples.

Craft lager is a mainstay of the craft brewing business, but increasingly in recent years has resembled mass market lager. The earliest craft lagers such as Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Brooklyn Lager, are almost a different animal compared to these.*

In a blind tasting, it would be hard to differentiate many from Molson Canadian Lager, say, or Stella Artois.

No doubt that is the intention of the brewers, who would argue they are responding to market demand. The fact that these beers are made in most cases of all-barley malt, save an addition sometimes of wheat to assist head formation, doesn’t affect the basic profile.

The reason is the thorough fermentation, bringing the typical example I’d think to circa 1008 final gravity. It results typically in a thin, dry palate.

These are not the beers for me, but I found one recently that gets the balance just right between craft flavour and general market appeal:

 

 

Crew Premium Lager is made by Railway City Brewing in St. Thomas, Ontario. The beer has good residual malt sweetness, “bready” in the words of the website –  nothing approaching, say Pilsner Urquell, but detectably malty nonetheless.

A flowery hop note informs the taste, possibly French Strisselspalt, with German-type bittering underneath. Not “in your face” as the most assertive craft examples of pilsner beer, but pleasingly tasty.

One glass invites another, whereas for the rest of the group mentioned, it was hard to finish the glass.

There is an analogy here to established European brewing in that many names, reputed as they may be, are today rather light on the palate. German and Austrian beers generally fare better but even there, seem to get lighter with every generation.**

One I liked a lot recently is Konig Pilsener, brewed in Duisburg in western Germany, part of the family-owned Bitburger Group. Like the Crew Premium Lager it has a good malty quality; the Crew is its craft counterpart, imo.

There is no point mentioning the craft lagers I didn’t favour: as I’ve said before, they please their market, which is validation enough.

I’d rather speak up for what I do like. And Crew makes the grade, in a metaphor apt for the circumstance, I’d say.

*This is not entirely so, as some early craft lagers were mass market-styled. But most in Ontario, say, had assertive taste such as Upper Canada Lager, Brick Lager, Steam Whistle, and Creemore Lager. Today the craft norm is rather lighter, imo.

** Dr. Al Haunold, the famous American hop scientist, observed some years ago that on a visit to Austria, his birth-land, the beers seemed similar to the American norm of 30 years ago. See my discussion in 2018.

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part II.

Cognac to Brandy in Mandatory Palestine, and Egypt

As mentioned in my Part I,Carmel Vintage Brandy”, an authority on Israel wines and brandies, Adam Montefiore, noted that the term “cognac” was used informally in the past in Israel to describe brandy of local manufacture.

This habit derived from pre-Independence days when despite early French attempts to maintain “Cognac” as a protected appellation, frequently foreign countries did not enforce such rules.

The issue is similar to how the term Champagne was once widely used far from the province of its origin. Indeed the same applied to “pilsner”, denoting a beer in the golden style famously inaugurated in Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic.

For various reasons pilsner never became a protected designation and today is a generic term. The French were more astute, or perhaps more lucky given the twists and strokes of fate of history, to restrict “Champagne” and “Cognac” to products made in the legally defined area, and meeting defined standards of production.

The effect of European Union and other international trade and political arrangements has been to enhance such protection.

For a history of French legislation to protect the term Cognac, see the impressive essay, “History of Legislation on Cognac” in the Dutch-based website, Cognac-ton. One can see that by the 1930s French laws were fairly comprehensive on the topic, but foreign protection much less so than today.

Before World War II, Carmel in Mandate Palestine referred in some advertising to its brandy as cognac. An example is shown by this advertisement in a 1932 issue of the Palestine Bulletin:

 

 

The usage was not invariable, as some Carmel ads in the same newspaper, late 1920s-early 1930s, called the product brandy. Carmel ads I have seen in overseas journals, e.g. in United States (1935, “imported Palestine Carmel Brandy“) and Australia, called the product brandy.

In December 1937, an ad in the Palestine Post, even using the Frenchified spelling Richon for Rishon, called the product brandy. One can see vodka was produced as well, from grape distillate as occurs today again:

 

 

10 years later in Palestine, the term brandy is generalized in Carmel ads, e.g., in this case, with the suggestion to boot it warded off cholera:

 

 

Despite the evident change at producer level, clearly in vernacular or informal usage the term cognac for a long time meant any brandy. This is changed in Israel today (see again articles cited in Part I) as, for one thing, whisky has become the chic spirit.

Brandy, and specifically French Cognac, still have a place but reputed French marques claim the space for genuine cognac. It seems a safe bet no one today is misled as to the origin of any product.

This in fact probably was so even in the 1930s, at least for retail purchasers buying off the shelf, vs. perhaps some bar or restaurant occasions. I doubt many consumers taking home a bottle of Rishon brandy thought it was French-made, however labeled including as to language.

That said, producers are solicitous to protect their designations, and a higher level of protection exists internationally today than before World War II. This did not come without a fight in some places, especially for Champagne in the U.S., and Canada by the way, but that is a topic for another day.

Looking to another country in the region, Egypt, in about the same time we can see a similar linguistic evolution. Egypt then was more or less a British protectorate, under the terms of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

So, the situation was somewhat parallel to Mandate Palestine, where British administrative, military, and business expatriates formed a natural market for brandy, in addition to French and other international cadres with similar tastes.

One can presume the market extended to a Europeanized local class. In Palestine, Jews of European origin formed an adjunct market, given the long tradition of distilling brandy in Europe, whether from grapes or other fruit.

The change from cognac to brandy in Egypt can be charted specifically for another producer, Stock of Trieste, today Stock Spirits. A 1940 ad placed in L’ Aurore, a French-language newspaper in Cairo associated with the former Jewish community of Egypt, makes this clear:

 

 

The ad appeared on April 5 that year – just over a month before Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. French commerce was still enforcing evidently at least some prerrogatives, despite war having commenced in September 1939.

Business and diplomatic pressures had to be behind the change, as the direction to Stock came from the Egyptian trade ministry.

The ad further states Stock is from Trieste, where indeed it originated in the late-19th century. It was founded by Jewish-born Lionello Stock, whose name today adorns internationally-known products such as Stock Vermouth and Stock ’84 brandy.

Perhaps the Stock brandy sold in Egypt in that period was made in Palestine, as by the eve of World War II Lionello Stock, still living, had established branches in numerous locations outside outside Trieste. These included Czechoslovakia – Pilsen, as it happens – and Mandate Palestine.

This expansion resulted from the tumult of World War I, with its break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and onset of fascism in the 1930s.

I revert to this aspect in Part III, which also reviews a public tiff over the quality of Palestine brandy.

Note re images: The source of each image above is linked in the text, all from the Historical Jewish Press of the National Library of Israel. All intellectual property in the source belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Israel Brandy. Part I.

 

 

The bottle shown was kindly given me by a relation who found it in the bar of his late father. A barely readable blue stamp states “LCB ONT”, so bought at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

Our best guess is late-1960s vintage.

Carmel of course is the famous wine estate in Israel at Rishon Le Zion, south of Tel Aviv. Its roots go back to plantings in 1882, but the 1890s chart the true origins of the business. For a good historical sketch of the wine properties of Carmel, see this page at the company website.

English-born Adam Montefiore, of the distinguished family connected to the Baronet Moses Montefiore, is today Israel’s leading international spokesman for its wines. He has authored numerous books on the subject and also contributed to wine books by the authorities Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.

Montefiore outlined the history of Israel brandy production in a 2015 article in the Jerusalem Post. While production is much reduced today, at one time it was robust, with the best grades winning awards.

Distilling began in 1898, but Rishon Le Zion finally closed in 2015 – the winery was relocated to a more modern industrial park.

In 2013 Montefiore gave a tour of historic Rishon Le Zion in this YouTube video. At the time winemaking had ceased but bottling and blending continued. He mentions the adjoining Nesher (Eagle) Brewery a number of times, which I discussed in this post last year.

The brewery eagle with foaming mug is shown engraved in tiling facing the former brewery office, one of the few signs a brewery once existed.

The brandy cellar with slatted wood roof is still intact. As discussed by Montefiore in an article reproduced at Wines of Israel, Rishon Le Zion issued its last brandy in 2015, a commemorative item, the well-aged Rishon Brandy XO.

I’d think the brandies in Extra Fine No. 1 were between 3 and 9 years old, the age range in the heyday of the domestic industry.

The label seems different from well-known domestic brands of yore such as Carmel 100 and Carmel 777, but was likely a variant for the export market.* The old British proof system was still employed, 30 U.P. meaning 40% abv.

There was some evaporation but the brown liquor is clear. It has notes of caramel, dried fruit, earth and something a touch burnt. While possibly a little weathered by its long sojourn in a Canadian home bar, the flavours of “Raisin de Chanaan“are very much present.

The image below shows visitors to the other major wine estate of Carmel, Zichron Yaacov, in 1945 (source: “Israeli Wine”).

 

 

Part II continues this series.

*At the end of last year Carmel re-introduced a limited run of 777, as well as a brand named after Zichron Yaacov winery.