“Gone Abroad” by Charles Graves (1932)

I can’t improve on Wikipedia’s biographic sketch of Charles Patrick Ranke Graves (December 1, 1899-February 20, 1971), so to follow me effectively, read it first. Graves was an English author and journalist, part of the distinguished Graves writing clan that included his siblings Robert and Philip.

Charles’ mother, Graves Sr.’s second wife, was of German descent. This probably explains the in-depth coverage of Germany in Charles’ 1932 travel book, Gone Abroad.

The book is excellent travelogue, with museums, bars, restaurants, hotels, transport, zoos, war memorials, seasides, and landscapes a plenty. The quality of the writing sets it apart from the usual run, especially his dry sense of humour.

The book deals with Germany for the first two-thirds, and the remainder on Belgium. The German part mentions beer numerous times, which I will return to. The introduction makes a number of social and cultural observations on Germany, one claiming it lacked “national resentment”.

I am not sure that was quite correct, at the time, but most of the statements ring true enough, e.g. the liking for the English. He relates a story that an English visitor wandered into Hofbrauhaus in Munich one evening when it was reserved for a soldiers’ association. The chap was welcomed with bonhomie and good humour. Graves said in the reverse case, that wouldn’t be so in England!

The interesting statement is made that Britain was becoming tired of war while Germany, being “young and resilient” (less conflicts in its past to that point, he says), was losing the memory of the Great War, despite the millions lost. This was prescient, I think.

There is no reference to the Nazi Party (that I found), and only a couple (anodyne) to Communists. The book is apolitical, essentially, at a time when it was still just about possible to do that.

The Belgian part is equally interesting, including the beer observations. There are no screeds against sour beer although many visitors in the 19th century couldn’t restrain themselves. There is one passage where via his driver Alphonse (mentioned below) dismissed a beer for being “washy”. Graves calls much Belgian beer “watery”, in another passage.

In fact though, Graves barely notices Belgian beer at all. By this I mean, he states that in the cities, beer had a foreign cast. The beer was made in Belgium, but every effort was made to present it as German- or (inferentially) U.K.-type.

This shows the great prestige German lager had by the first third of the 20th century, and British ale at least in Belgium. Of course, some bars actually carried German or British beer, which he often mentions.

In his words:

It may be said here that the Belgians are rather English in the way they admire anything foreign, and most of the Belgian brewers give fancy German names to their purely Belgian beers. All kinds of variations on the words Spatenbrau, Pilsen, and so on, are coined, in order to encourage the public to buy them. At the Ancienne Belgique [!] though, one is really able to get Munich beer.

Given that modern craft brewing sprang in some part from an admiration of Belgium’s idiosyncratic, age-old brewing tradition, this reads oddly indeed. But a truism is revealed.

The truths of one age can mean nothing in the one before, or after. A variety of reasons explains this that may or may not be connected to inherent quality (always hard to define anyway). Fashion and peer pressure can demolish traditions, for example, which then need to be rebuilt.

The success in the U.K. of thin, gassy “keg” ale in the 1970s and oft’ Teutonic-named lagers did serious damage to a distinguished tradition of naturally-conditioned beers. Yes, it survived, but just.

North America earlier lost its original ale and porter tradition to a wave of German-American brewing. The new beer type soon adopted corn or other adjuncts in the mash, a lightening that got ever more pronounced through the 20th century. Craft brewing had to recreate what was lost, and inevitably, the new school differed in many ways from the old.

In Brussels, Graves does not mention its ancestral lambic, faro, Mars, or gueuze. He does state:

The inhabitants of Brussels … like … music, light colours, hard work, pale ale, and trams…

Further: “Belgians are very fond of English stout and ‘pale-ale’ as they call it”. Graves mentions as well a Whitbread Tavern in the Boul. Adolphe Max in Brussels, which is long before Whitbread brewery built the Britannia Tavern for the 1958 World’s Fair in the city.

Belgium abandoned a good part of its venerable top-fermentation tradition in favour of U.K. pale ale, imported or locally brewed, or fizzy, stable, German-style lagers. Only when a Briton called Michael Jackson (1942-2007) wrote lyrically of its hitherto unsuspected beer riches did a sea change occur, certainly in export markets and to a degree in Belgium itself.

Suddenly, we needed to know about Trappist beer, saison beer, cherry beer, beers so tart they scrunched up your face, and lots more. None of that is in Gone Abroad. A revolution was caused by one man, or pretty much. If you need proof of the “great person” theory of history, there it is.

Now, there is a hint in Graves’ book that he found some “real” Belgian beer. He had hired a “large fast American car” with driver to take him through the hinterlands. They ended covering most of the country. The driver and guide, Alphonse:

… was a very conscientious chap.  Day after day he showed me cathedrals, statues, war memorials, and so on until I nearly dropped. In return, I took him to estaminets, tavernes, cafés, and restaurants, where we drank innumerable kinds of Belgian beer…

More than that he doesn’t say, but I’d wager Alphonse gave him pointers on lambic, say, or, the brown beer of Malines. Although, of all the beers he and Alphone got down, the only one identified by type is a Dortmunder.

Graves must have liked it as he mentions Dortmunder in another part of the essay, seeming to apologize it was a “lager”, not “beer”.  This was likely the Belgian “Dort”, an imitation of the Dortmunder style.

Still, there is a hint true Belgian beer was uncovered in the backroads, and appreciated, something that wasn’t a take on Germany’s or the U.K.’s best. If so, maybe the names are in his working papers for the book but didn’t make the final cut.

Here is a picture from the National Portrait Gallery of the dashing young Graves in ’32, the year the book appeared.



The Three Angels

A Beer for the Gods

Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel Newnham-Davis (1854-1917) was a food phenomenon of his time: restaurant reviewer, cookery teacher, travel writer. I discussed him earlier, but mention him again for his vibrant account in 1914 of Romano’s, in the Strand, London. ‘The Roman’ was a favoured restaurant of the great and the good, the bon ton, the stars of the stage.

It was founded in 1874 by an Italian immigrant, Alfonso Romano. The emporium lasted all the way to 1941, until bomb damage and the privations of war proved a challenge too far.

A 1951 story in the Australian press by Lachlan Beaton memorialized the place, its many charms and quirks. He tells of the “cream of the chorus and the gilded young escorts”, “Moorish pillars”, “discrete private rooms” and more. It’s a good counterpart to Newnham-Davis’ more extended piece.

While not a temple of the beery arts, Romano’s should be remembered for The Three Angels, an all-beer cocktail so to speak. I infer the name was a double pun, as Giulio Romano the Late Renaissance painter depicted Mary of Magdalene borne aloft by angels. See here, in the National Gallery.

According to Beaton, the drink was equal parts “Bass”, “bottled beer”, and “Russian stout”. The Bass according to other accounts was Bass barley wine, the dark, extra-strong Bass beer of historical fame. The Russian stout was likely, or often, Barclay’s Russian Imperial stout: a strong, velvety London brew. Bottled beer meant an everyday light or pale ale.

The Three Angels was favoured by actors of the Gaiety next door, probably for its restorative qualities. No less than Edward VII when Prince of Wales liked a round with his friends. Romano’s long-time cellarman, Bendi, favoured the drink as well.

Despite the Bacchic riches in the cellar, some patrons wanted a beer – and Romano’s stretched to make that special, too. The Three Angels seems a riff on an older mixture of bitter and old ale (‘old and bitter’, you know).



(Source of image: the online forum WW I Military Motors)*

Old and bitter was the house cocktail of the upper echelon pub, the Cheshire Cheese, on Fleet Street. But a temple of gastronomy has to outdo even a venerable public house. The Three Angels was Romano’s answer.

And now, acrid dust has replaced the fragrance of cigars, scent, and good cooking and soon nobody will remember Romano’s at all. Even its spiritual annexe, the nearby Gaiety Theatre, is a gutted shell— another legacy of war.

So wrote Beaton to end his piece. War, disease, and other distress, including now our current pandemic, work irreversible changes in fashions and the times. So it was with Romano’s, so it will be with some institutions of our day, culinary and other.

Even when Newnham-Davis lauded The Roman trouble loomed. He noted Champagne sales had provided much of the restaurant’s profit, but with war afoot in Europe the supply might dry up.

Did it? Another subject for historical inquiry. One way or another, Romano’s survived for another day, but the next war proved too great a foe.

Tonight make yourself a Three Angels to ponder the riddles of time and tide. There are strong ales, Imperial stouts, and bitter beers a plenty today to choose from. Let me know how you make out (see comments below).


*The image above is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


Creemore Urbock 2020

I wrote about Creemore Urbock a few years ago, here. (I have a good half-dozen other posts on bock beer, if anyone wants to see them let me know).

Although I recall it being available on draft last year at the Creemore Batch brewpub in Toronto, the canned version had departed the market a few years ago; now it’s back.

And glad of it we should be, as it’s never been better. The taste is full, rich, yeasty, with dark caramel notes. You don’t, thanks be, have to “fight for the flavour”, it offers itself generously. Good hopping of the mineral sort underpins the malt but lets it have its say.

It’s a crafted product in every (meaningful) way, and a taste of history in the bargain, Canadian craft beer history.

Good work Molson Coors Beverage Co., which bought small Creemore Brewery about 15 years ago.




Pining for an Old-time Brew

Franz Schwackhofer was a Vienna-born professor of chemical technology. He specialized in the subjects of malting and brewing and was active in the later 19th century. The LinkFang site offers a biographical sketch, in German, see here.

In 1894 Schwackhofer wrote an extensive study of the American brewing industry, Amerikanische Brau-Industrie auf der Weltaussellung in Chicago. It is catalogued in HathiTrust but not available in full view. In effect, it is a full-length book, with 60 folded-in plates that surely would be most interesting to view. Some chapters were co-authored with another writer.

A good summary of this work is contained in a book review that appeared in 1896 in vol. 62 of the British journal Engineering. It is a careful, detailed account of the book that relates Schwackhofer’s views on the progress of American brewing, with which he was generally impressed. Malting, grain and corn types, filtration, bottling, and much more are covered.

So widespread was the use of corn in American brewing by the 1890s that Schwackhofer states other beer was now the specialty, meaning the all-barley malt beer that still had writ in Continental Europe.

The review recounts that American wood kegs were usually lined with pitch but sometimes with lacquer. Pitch was prepared from the sap of coniferous trees. A brief description from an American brewing chemist’s paper in 1942 explains the properties of good pitch, one of which is that it impart no odour to beer.

Beer casks were lined to keep out a woody taste in the beer and prevent microorganisms in the wood frame from souring the beer. Wood vessels were widely treated with pitch in Continental Europe as well, for this reason. The taste of pitch nonetheless by some accounts circa 1900 entered the beer, and was considered part of its “profile”, we would say today.

Brewers from Central Europe brought the cask-pitching tradition here. There is the odd remark in brewing literature in America as well of a taste in the beer from pitch. An 1899 Budweiser ad I mentioned earlier vaunted, in fact, its “pitchy” taste. See my discussion, here.

The review in Engineering, summarizing Schwackhofer, wrote that where American brewers used lacquer in lieu of pitch:

… a little spruce pitch is dropped into the wort for the benefit of customers who are unhappy without that by-product.

This almost incidental remark reveals to us that American beer had, or very frequently had given the scope of Schwakhofer’s brewery tour (see review), a piney tang.

A pine taste has sometimes been assumed by those projecting how American beer might have tasted then, but no one is really sure because later, as we see from the 1942 commentary, it was thought the pitch should be neutral on the beer. Evidently technology caught up by the mid-century to the properties of lacquer, an inert finish made from shellac dissolved in alcohol.

For guidance on lacquer practice in the 1890s, this 1898 article in American Brewers’ Review is helpful. It is called varnish here but the same thing is meant.

Off-piste additions to a food product like beer – outside that is malt, hops, corn, rice, sugar – were not trumpeted at the time. Yet through a side-wind we gain an insight on a key attribute of the beer palate in the Gibson Girl era.

Today, an endless variety of ingredients is added to beer. I’m sure pine or spruce is, of occasion, but I can’t recall the last ones I had. Brewers hark.

N.B. I wrote up Quebec spruce beer in this early post – a true survival of nineteenth century Canadian tastes. It is still made, I must look for it when in Montreal soon. If I get a bottle and pour a dash in a good craft lager, ergo I’ve made an 1890s American lager – maybe. The specialty kind Dr. Schwackhofer wrote of. 🙂


A Pioneer of the Modern Food Scene

A key figure in the revival and promotion of American food culture after National Prohibition was Jeanne Owen.

She was a longtime senior officer of the Wine and Food Society of New York, from 1934 until 1965. In that period she was the motivating force for its taste events and dinners. Her great knowledge of cookery, wine, and the New York hotel and restaurant scene proved invaluable for the job.

She knew James Beard well, among many other New York food luminaries, and helped promote his career. She also published on cookery, including A Wine Lover’s Cook Book (1940), and wrote for food and wine magazines around the country.

A detailed profile of Owen by journalist Naomi Jolles appeared in the New York Post in August 1945. It started this way:

Some seven times a year a group of approximately 500 New Yorkers gather at one or another of the city’s swankier hotels to give their taste buds a workout. In an atmosphere of esoteric gourmandizing, they sip at Madeiras, stouts, champagnes, rums and brandies (depending on the occasion) and nibble away at smoked fish and exotic cocktail biscuits.

Lady Make-It-All-Possible of these affairs is Jeanne Owen, a fluffy white-haired woman with a face that really expresses what she tastes. As secretary of the Wine and Food Society, Inc., Mrs. Owen serves as a liaison between the wine, liquor and food companies and that portion of the public that really cares about food and drink.

The numbers attending these events speak for themselves, bearing in mind too the war in Europe had just ended and the Pacific War was still ongoing. Despite the travails and sacrifices of the war consumer America was reviving, and looking to the future.

The story described some of the high and occasional low points of the Society’s work. A high point was its Long Island oyster-tastings, which I’ve described earlier.

Owen was French-born, which clearly assisted working with the International Wine and Food Society in London. Its founder André Simon was a Frenchman who had transplanted to Britain after World War I.

Before moving to New York Owen had lived in northern California, a centre of food innovation through the 20th century into our own. In the late 20s and early 30s she worked in New York theatre and on radio, and became an accomplished amateur chef. This diverse background made her perfect for the Wine and Food Society job.

She quickly became its driving force and wrote its monthly newsletter as well.

Jolles wrote:

The bill is $10 a year [to join the Society], $15 for a couple, and is an excellent investment for those who are not so well off, according to Mrs. Owen. “When you are not too rich, but still want a bottle of good wine, you can’t afford to make a mistake,” she says. “You can’t sample brands and stocks in a shop, but through the tastings, you always know what pleases you the most.”

Social media today operates in much the same fashion …

In 1958 the New York press again profiled Ms. Owen, see herein the New York Times. The second treatment is more sophisticated, but what comes through in both is the intention to popularize what had been an elite activity: food and wine for their inherent enjoyment, vs. mere sustenance or as received tradition.

This implies as well a learning opportunity, viz. cultures and experiences different from one’s own.

In 1958 Owen noted that young people were the most enthusiastic members of the Society. In the early days (1930s-40s) event programmes were cast on the floor when people left. By the 50s, people took them home: they wanted to learn.

1945, 1958. Food and wine in New York. What looks like distant times, distant preoccupations, is very much a piece of where we are today.





The Seventh Committee (Part II)

In Part I, I discussed the Delegates Lounge at the New York headquarters of the United Nations, reaching back to 1958 for a comparison.

Today I’ll go back even further, to December 1952, an article in the New York Times by A.M. Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an award-winning, long-time journalist and senior editor at the NYT.

The Times had a number of articles on the Lounge in the 1950s and 60s. All are good but Rosenthal’s perhaps is best, given too the early year of appearance.

His sharp depiction of scene and personalities is as good as being there, almost – maybe better because a top journalist sees things many will not.

He notes that while open barely three months, life at the Lounge developed into a reliable pattern. Some nations hung out in specific areas, e.g. the Americans had “squatters’ rights” on two tan couches.

Some delegates would cluster near the entrance, so anyone else wishing to talk to them had to “help them cluster”.

Some had a “broken-field” style, striding across the near-60-yard length of the lounge to chat with different parties. We call that working the room today.

Its nickname then was “chicken-yard”, where “kernels of diplomatic information are strewn and picked up”.

He pegged the nature of the place in a few words:

When the General Assembly is in session as it is now, that is where the delegates, main and otherwise, confer, read, write, drink, telephone, do some stage setting for diplomatic bargaining, trade shop news, and sometimes even lounge.

Surely that applies today no less, making allowance for the cell phone.

For drinks, he noted the popularity of Scotch and soda, also cited in the 1958 account. Dutch gin, Danish beer (likely Carlsberg or Tuborg), French and Greek brandy, and orange juice are also checked.

From then until now, OJ has been a staple UN refreshment – the sugar and vitamins must work a special energy in the systems of envoys and retinues.

One difference from today is, in those years the Lounge had a martini trade before lunch. Its liveliest time, per Rosenthal again, was an hour after lunch, after which delegates left for meeting rooms and sessions.

Today, the Lounge features a nightly scene, with Friday the busiest night.

Few design details are conveyed, due perhaps to the plush but minimalist decor. He did note “fan-backed Danish chairs”, “facing a sea of mud”. The UN Complex was not quite complete in late 1952.

But the main workings of the bar seem to apply in pretty much the same way today.

I think this is true with any bar anywhere. Habits form early from the clientele and management, and endure for decades. The people change over time but they follow the template of early days.






The Seventh Committee (Part I)

The North Lounge, NYC

I didn’t think I’ve ever mentioned the United Nations here, or if so only in the most indirect way.

These contes deal with beer, food, and spirits in the sense of their characteristics in time and space. Hence, their confection, taste, price, markets, and similar.

This seems at arm’s length from an organization of world states, now almost 200 members. Its goals essentially are to prevent conflict among states and foster goodwill or at least co-existence; probably cultural exchanges as well. All to the good, but not directly connected to the gastronomic or epicurean, or anything that seems proximate such as trade, investment, manufacturing.*

Nonetheless this post deals with the U.N. because I’ve learned that it has a bar, called the North Delegates’ Lounge. It’s the bar and social centre of the U.N., reserved to delegates and staff, Secretariat staff, U.N.-accredited media, and their guests.

I’ve passed by the U.N. in New York many times. I’ve never been inside, and tended to focus on the striking tall tower, completed in 1952, the Secretariat. There is also the low, pavilion-like structure next to it, the General Assembly.

But between them further back, facing the East River, is the Social and Economic Conference Centre.

On its second story on the north side is the Lounge. The Delegates Dining Hall, partly open to the public (in usual times), is on the fourth floor.**

A few years ago, the North Lounge underwent a significant remodelling and partial restoration. This article explains the background, by Jordan Kushins at Gizmodo in 2013. A Dutch “dream team”, as dubbed at the time, did the design and renovation work.

I thought they did a nice job. The use of pastel is effective; it reminds me of conference rooms at university in the early 1970s, updated of course with all mod cons for information technology.

This work was undertaken by the Netherlands at its expense, and presented to the U.N. as a gift of the Dutch people. This was part of a larger revamp of U.N. facilities, with different countries assuming responsibility for a building or portion.

Below is how the North Lounge looked in 1952 (UN Photo, Walter Ethelbach).



Winston Aldworth, a New Zealand journalist, profiled the renovated bar and “scene” a few years ago. Another profile appeared in a 2016 article by A.M. Brune at Atlas Obscura.

Aldworth mentioned a few craft beers, and Brune mentioned an ESB (extra-special bitter) from Rockaway. Evidently a large list of beer, wines, and other offerings is available, although I haven’t succeeded as yet in finding the bar list.

A “Beer of the Month” program has been publicized, which is salutary. The Lounge picked Bira91 IPA from India a couple of years ago, see a report at the NDTV site.

The North Lounge in 1958

We can gain some historical perspective in that a detailed news story covered the bar in 1958. It appeared in the Iraq Times, but clearly originated elsewhere, probably Britain.

The hook: “the world’s only unlicensed bar”. It makes very interesting reading.

Lots has changed since then, and some things haven’t. Gin was big among the delegates then, not so much martinis (too strong) but G&T and other mixes. And gin is popular everywhere today, presumably including the North Lounge in 2020.

Beer was, and evidently still is, a stand-by. Note how Britain had no beer represented at the U.N. bar, 10 years after the U.N. opened in New York. Evidently its delegation was satisfied with gin, whisky and soda (a classic mid-20th century drink in the British world), and other nations’ beers.

The American diplomat Henry Cabot Lodge liked sherry. I don’t think it has the popularity outside Spain it once had, though.

Russian diplomats at the time weren’t able to secure Russian vodka in New York. There was American-made vodka, which they disdained as “Connecticut gin”.

Now that one, I can’t figure out. Maybe it was grain neutral spirits distilled in Connecticut for gin with the leftover sold as vodka?

The main tipple was orange juice, i.e., sans booze. OJ still has a big sale at the UN, from my recent reading.

N.B. The United Nations has six working committees at its New York headquarters. The seventh committee is staff vernacular for the Lounge.

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the United Nations website identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Our study continues, in Part II.


*In contrast, an organization such as the European Union can influence many aspects of food and drink policy, which can impact their taste, consumption patterns, or social status. Legislation enacting appellations of origin is an example. The best example in brewing is probably the articles of the European Treaties that were held to prevent Germany from banning as “beer” beer imports from other member states that did not comply with its Pure Beer Law (Reinheitsgebot).

**Just as for the Lounge, a restaurant can provide interesting grist for the historical food mill. I’ll bear this in mind for the future. But information is not easy to come by, e.g., the menu of the Dining Hall seems not to be available online. When I can next get to NYC, I’ll try to have lunch there.










Anne Edwards Dishes on Steak and Kidney

Anne Edwards was a supremely successful columnist and author in the mid-20th century. She wrote mainly for Beaverbrook’s Daily Express but also other media.

The long-lived writer (1909-2005) had the magic touch for her chosen subjects: fashion, food, etiquette, celebrities, and youth advice, in the main.

Her Monday morning column was widely read by the nation. Some columns were reprinted far afield, including this 1956 example in the Iraq Times.

The article showcased a typical British dish, steak and kidney pie. In trademark crisp fashion she solicited the views of three chefs. She challenged them to cook their version for a compare and contrast.

She even included the recipes.

The modern-sounding piece, with its democratic spirit, presaged the cooking competitions and other food shows of today.

Good old steak and kidney pie. And the lesser-known pudding version. Most, surely, would rank them among the trad dishes of the British kitchen. Beth Watson of British Study Centre put steak and kidney in her top 10 listing a few years ago.

I like her other choices too, e.g. roast dinner, fish and chips, chicken tikka masala, and full English breakfast.

I confess I’d never heard of Eton Mess, but it looks worthy.

Mr. Allouis, of a “theatrical restaurant” known for its steak and kidney pie, told Edwards beer was optional at best for the dish. I was pleased to read that, as it’s my own conclusion from years of experimentation and reading.

(Beer is great in many dishes, but different ones).

Anne Edwards diplomatically gave the palm to each version, and marvelled how different opinions and methods can all produce a fine dishe. True then as now.

The inclusion of steak and kidney pie in the British pantheon belies an interesting fact. The dish cannot be traced before the mid-19th century. Presumably it did exist in oral tradition, or in manuscripts for home use, but not published cookery works, to my awareness.

But that’s a different matter – of food history. Anne Edwards was writing for the here and now, to inform and entertain. The typical reader might ride the morning bus to Piccadilly, or take the tube.

Through the simple passage of time, her article is today very much a part of food history. One of those interesting inversions.





A Stout Supply of Beer

RAF Margil, 1948

In February 1948, a notice appeared in the Iraq Times announcing an auction at RAF Station Margil of “surplus NAAFI stores”. Next to it a notice advertised an auction at another base in the country, RAF Habbaniya.

Offerings included tens of thousands of empty beer bottles as well as office equipment and beds and other furnishings. The empties at Habbaniya amounted to some 200,000 bottles, at Margil, about 60,000.

RAF Margil, aka RAF Basra, in August 1948 advertised for auction beer itself, a seemingly large quantity. Once again large amounts of empty bottles were being sold, and other supplies.

A further auction at Margil the next year advertised a large amount of kitchen equipment, furnishings, and other items associated with canteen and base operations.

RAF Margil was just outside Basra, the port city in Iraq. It was not the main RAF base in Iraq. That was RAF Habbaniya, west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. RAF Shaibasome 12 miles from Basra, was next in size.

RAF Basra had a small airstrip and, from our study, operated as a maintenance and aircraft assembly unit during the Second World War. According to a listing of RAF stations, it ended operation in 1946.

It seems, though, some presence did continue after, see e.g. this news report, 1956.

In this period Iraq was a monarchy ruled by a Regent, as Faisal II had yet to attain majority.

On January 15, 1948 Britain and Iraq signed a new treaty that would transfer the existing air bases to Iraq. The treaty permitted Britain to re-assert defence rights including control of aerodromes, in certain instances. Due to popular protests, by the end of January the treaty was a dead letter.

(This Britannica discussion offers good background including how the air bases came to be, the monarchy, etc.).

It appears by 1948 Britain was downsizing its military presence regardless whether air bases would be immediately transferred.

They were finally turned over in the mid-Fifties when the 25-year term of an earlier, 1930 treaty expired. Despite this, British commercial presence continued in Baghdad and Basra into the 1960s and 1970s including an expatriate community.

The Beer, the NAAFIs

The August 1948 notice stated 2000 cartons (cases) of “Guinness stout” would be sold, each containing 24 pint bottles.

This seems rather high for a relatively small facility. Maybe some of the beer was originally meant, given the nearby Basra port, for transhipment elsewhere. Maybe too inventory built up by the end of WW II was now surplus.

The Guinness was almost certainly the strong Foreign Extra Stout, about 7.5% abv. See this 1954 ad in the Iraq Times picturing a bottle of “FES”. Continuity would suggest the NAAFI sold the same brand earlier.

48,000 pint bottles at that strength represented almost 100,000 standard units of drink. That’s about 300 drinks per day annualized if all had been intended originally for RAF Margil.

I don’t know how many personnel were stationed there, at what periods. Other drinks would have been available as well. It’s hard therefore to say what 2000 cases meant for supply management. Still, taking all with all, it seems a lot of beer!

It is probable The Iraq Brewery Co., newly established in the late 1940s as I discussed recently, bought the empties or some of them.  As to the full ones, I’d think liquor merchants, hotels, and clubs bought them, but details are elusive.

In a recent documentary on the air bases produced in part by a RAF Habbaniya veterans group, the three stations are shown on a map. Life is discussed in particular at Habbaniya. A recurring feature of the interviews is the extreme heat unaccustomed Britons were met with in those pre-air conditioning days.

I think that explains in part what what seems like a high beer consumption. The other part is the traditional beer-drinking culture of HM Forces, which I discussed earlier.

At 1:28 a plan of Habbaniya is shown that depicts a substantial facility. One can see the NAAFI canteen in the lower part of the plan. Margil was much smaller but evidently had a NAAFI canteen as well.

Stout in Early Modern Iraq

Guinness was certainly available in Iraq before WW II. Numerous ads can be found for it in the 1920s Baghdad English press. One example from 1922, in the Baghdad Times, lists Guinness with six or seven other beers. The others are all lagers and mostly or all German, but Asahi from Japan is also represented.

Asahi is today a potent force in the international beer business, and we see here an early example of its prowess.

(And these were by no means the only imported beers in Iraq at that time. There were at least a dozen others. I may return to this later).

Finally, as we saw above, Guinness was promoted in Iraq in the 1950s, quite outside a British Forces context that is.

While I’ve stressed how lager became the default international style well before World War II, Guinness is an outstanding example of success in the top-fermented category. I think being a very dark drink of unique palate helped it on that path.

Just as Heineken became pre-eminent internationally in lager (IMO), so did Guinness, for stout.

Of course it had competitors – even in Iraq in 1948. This ad in Baghdad that year touted stout from Holland and Belgium, a Two Lions brand is mentioned. I am not sure who made that, maybe one of our learned readers can tell us.

And, as I showed in recent posts, The Iraq Brewery Co. introduced its Diana Stout in about 1950. That would have taken part of the market from Guinness, but not all clearly, as the 1954 ad picturing Guinness “FES” shows.

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout Today

For a depiction of the current label and a bit of history (there is a lot more), see this page of Guinness’ website.














Windy City, non-Windy Beer (Part II)

I know some people read missives such as my Part I with a sigh, “yes Gary thank you, nicely done, but I want to see the place, almost stroll in”.

Your wish is my command.

Courtesy British Movietone, and YouTube, here is the Nag’s Head in Chicago, in 1956.

It’s under a minute in length, with no sound, but still offers good detail for brewing and social historians.

Those china hand pulls do look kind of decorative, vs. working. (If so, they probably were in Britain, too).

But see the barrel with a tap driven in the head, on a metal frame, with a cooling jacket? Certainly looks like draught beer.

Was it real ale though, unfiltered, unpasteurized British beer? Maybe they flew it over. Whitbread had the brass to do it. Non-windy beer there may have been.

Lots of dark-suited men holding half-pints, probably both British and Americans. The Britons would haverepresented Whitbread Brewery and the British travel association that organized the promotion. Consular staff would be present, too.

Probably the executive of the American travel agents association was there as well.

In fact, the dope sheet states the names of some persons present, clearly from these categories.

It looks like the inaugural party, to open the pub. The venue was Palmer House in Chicago.

We can see English publican Frederick Esgen, also in suit and tie, supervising behind the bar.

The women are formally dressed too. A few are having a beer, one in a fur stole accepts her beer with a flourish.

Bottled beer is poured, with some impressive-looking cheeses on offer. One is just readable, Cheshire. Cheddar would have been another. One would expect Stilton, too. No cheese seems to resemble it though, but it can be hard to tell with a newsreel like this.

(And maybe it was white Stilton, the type without the blue veining. This was quite popular at the time).

Looks like they had fun.

It reminds me of the first English pubs in Toronto I patronized in the business district circa 1980. And they were fun.