Imported Beer in Mandate Palestine, Part I

We continue our series on beer in the British Mandate of Palestine. It began with this post, a correspondent’s tour of Palestine Brewery Ltd. in 1944.

Beers from numerous sources were imported to Mandate Palestine in the 1930s. As demographic background, see the census details for 1931 in this link. The total population of Palestine that year was 1,035,821 which included a small number of H.M. Forces.

The permanent residents comprised Muslims,* Jews, Christians, and small numbers of other denominations. It is beyond our scope to examine alcohol consumption patterns in the various groups but the British presence, which increased after 1934 due to the Arab-Jewish conflict, likely formed a disproportionate part of the market.

Below is an image of Bialik Street, Tel Aviv in the period under review, via The Library of Congress.

 

 

During the interwar period some countries exported small amounts of beer to Palestine, often too small for mention in news stories or advertisements. Italian beer is a good example, see the amounts recorded in this table, from The Dynamics of the International Brewing Industry Since 1800 (1998) by T.R. Gourvish & R.G. Wilson. There was a spike in 1933 to 1200 hl but generally the amounts imported, at least to 1936, were tiny.

The Italian diplomatic presence, and perhaps business or social groups connected to Italy, probably formed the customer base.

Small amounts of Cyprus-brewed beer came in as well, from AETOS Brewing aka Cyprus Beer Co., established by Christodoulos Platanis in Athalassa, Nicosia. An evocative period label was reproduced in an enthusiast’s outline pertaining to Cyprus brewing history. See also this 1938 account from the Palestine Post.

Interestingly, AETOS also employed a wide-winged bird logo, rather similar to the Palestine Brewery’s eagle logo. Whether it was used in Palestine, or caused any other issue between the two breweries, did not appear from our review. As far as I know there were no ownership links between the two breweries.

German beer was also imported into the late 1930s. Of course, the Jewish market for such beer in Palestine evaporated with the Nazi persecutions, but there were other beer consumers. The German Colonies in Palestine as they were called, established from the late 1800s, formed a natural market.

Their history in Haifa and other localities is connected to the German Templars of whom Christof Hoffmann, father and son, were avatars. These communities probably brewed on a small scale for local use.

Pross’s Restaurant and Beer Garden, in the German Colony, Carmel Avenue, Haifa, was well-known in Palestine until early during WW II. Joan Comay, in Introducing Israel (1962, 1969), offers useful background.

In April 1937 a Pross’ ad vaunted Munich Spaten beer. Pross advertised regularly in the Palestine Post until (at least) August 1939, except that towards the end German beer is not mentioned. Some Pross ads stated that its premises were “In-bounds to Sergeants and W.O.s in Plain Clothes”, see e.g. in 1939 here, which speaks for itself.

The famous Czech Pilsner Urquell was likely available in Palestine in the mid-30s, although we haven’t yet found an instance. It was certainly available in Cairo in 1937: a Jewish cafe sold it with pride, “very cold” alongside a kosher kitchen.

Omar Foda, a scholar of Egyptian brewing history, authored the book Egypt’s Beer: Stella, Identity, and the Modern State. At p. 58 he states that in the 1920s, Palestine was a regular export market for Crown Brewery in Cairo (est. 1899), but the market declined in the 1930s.

Finally, in 1939-1940 canned U.S. Budweiser and bottled Pabst Blue Ribbon appeared in Palestine. Pabst was advertised for example in the Palestine Post in January 1940.

Beer described in the Jewish press as from “Syria” was also imported to Palestine. This beer held a prominent share of the import market. Even after the Palestine Brewery started production, this remained the case to a point.

The Palestine Brewery was completed in late 1935. It first marketed beer on January 15, 1936 according to this report in Chicago’s The Sentinel. A January 1937 story in the Palestine Post gave a snapshot of the Palestine beer market between 1934 and 1936.

Per the account, the total annual consumption was:

  • 15,000 hl in 1934
  • 26,000 hl in 1935, of which 60% was Syrian
  • 30,000 hl in 1936, of which 22,000 from Palestine Brewery

Hence, imports dropped significantly with the onset of local brewing. Despite this, as noted, Syrian beer continued to be a major factor in the market, much of it marketed with “Hebrew labels” according to a June 1937 issue of Palestine Post. Even after duty was imposed on Syrian beer importation (1938) the beer continued to find sales in Palestine, per this 1938 news item.

The latter noted that a factor continuing to favour sales in Palestine was a lower beer excise in Syria.

Where did the Syrian beer actually come from? Despite the name, probably not from Syria proper. I cannot document commercial brewing in Syria in the 1930s, although possibly it did exist.

More likely, I think the beer came from Grande Brasserie du Levant (GBL) in Lebanon, founded in 1930 and famed for the Laziza brand, or from Brasserie Franco-Libano-Syrienne (Almaza lager), founded 1933. Each was headquartered in a different zone of Beirut. As reported by the Daily Star of Lebanon GBL’s handsome, International-style edifice was demolished some years ago to build luxury flats.**

As to why beer from Lebanon would be called Syrian, perhaps it was due to Syria being mentioned in one of the company names, or because Syria and Lebanon were administered together under the French Mandate (until 1943).

Note: this series continues with Part II.

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*A former version read “Arabs” in lieu of Muslims. I intended reference to the language of the 1931 census article, but mis-recollected Muslims as Arabs. Now corrected.

**These have their own interesting history, which I may examine later. Ditto for the Cyprus brewery mentioned.