Beer, the British Army, the Mandate
This continues 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.
In the First World War beer is already a feature of army expeditionary life in Palestine. James E. Kitchen’s 2014 The British Imperial Army in the Middle East mentions beer a number of times, but also other drinks, as a factor to maintain morale.
He states that in addition to beer various wines were available, notably the red wine of Mulebbis, and whisky. (The Jewish settlement at Mulebbis in 1917, aka Petah Tikva, among other names, probably produced it).
The ranks also relaxed with gifts of chocolate and other special foods, and steady use of tobacco, mainly cigarettes.
Kitchen quotes a Northhamptonshire sergeant (1917) on a tendency to drink to excess. This probably was typical of the colonial troop pattern especially after battle or other times of high stress.
I’m not sure how much hard data is available on army use of beer in this period. My posts on the 1903 committee inquiry on army canteens suggested a range of outcomes, based on the testimony taken. One officer stated that for many young soldiers plentiful food was more important than beer. Older soldiers were said often to be the reverse.
Israeli journalist Rachel Neiman included photos and menus of Forces Christmas celebrations between 1917 and 1942 in her article, “Biscuits, Bully Beef and Beer – Christmas Dinner During the British Mandate”. It appeared in the December 2018 Israel 21c. Bottles of beer can be seen in some images.
Some menus state at the foot “Beer”, one, from RAF Station Abu Sueir, reads “Beer?”!
Omar D. Foda’s excellent Egypt’s Beer: Stella, Identity, and the Modern State (2019) quotes a 1934 Egyptian beer study that assigned a consumption of 17,000 hl or 220 litres per head annually, to the 7,500 British soldiers in the country.
In my view, that gives some indication of the high point army capacity could reach in contemporary Palestine if supply permitted it.
A 1937 issue of The American Jewish World stated that the British Forces in Palestine counted 25,000 in 1936 (when disturbances spread in the context of the Arab-Jewish conflict), and that brewing expanded at Palestine Brewery to address it. The story implied the complement fell in 1937, with a corresponding drop in demand.
If consumption was in line with Egypt, there would not have been enough beer for the Army. Total Palestine consumption for 1936 was 30,000 hl, as we saw earlier.
A website devoted to the British Forces in Palestine states there were 10,000 troops in 1939, which climbed significantly with the onset of World War II. Whatever the specifics of troop numbers in a given Mandate year, and local brewery capacity, we can say the British Forces’ demand was constant. Two channels addressed it: domestic and imported.
They drank British in N.A.A.F.I. clubs and in cafes and other public resorts where it was available.
Barclay, Perkins Squares the Circle
One of the British brewers in the market was Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd. of London. Of this legendary London brewery much has been written. This brief overview, from the Craft Beer & Brewing site and in turn extracted from the Oxford Companion to Beer, will fill in readers not previously au fait.
Barclay Perkins’ visibility in the Palestine market is shown from its sizeable box ad in the December 25, 1939 Palestine Post. It states that Nathan Zwy Ltd. in Haifa was Barclay, Perkins’ sole representative. The Zwy name appears in many similar ads. Into 1947 at least, he appears to have been prominent in alcohol beverage distribution.
Next to this ad is another of the same size, from McEwan-Younger Ltd. in Edinburgh. We will return to them later.
The Barclay’s ad wishes members of H.M. Forces in all branches, the Palestine Police, and all “Christian friends” a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Pictured is a cone-topped can reading “sparkling beer”.
The June 21, 1939 issue of the Palestine Post stated:
J.L. Loughnan, former military governor at Jaffa, arrived by Imperial Airways flying boat on behalf of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins and Co. Ltd.
Hence, it appears the brewery hired an ex-senior Army officer familiar with the country to help its marketing efforts. We will return to Mr. Loughnan, later.
On February 17, 1939 the same newspaper stated:
A new British ale in tins, lager style, has been put on the market by Mr. Nathan Zwy, sole representative for Palestine and Trans-Jordan of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd…”.
The phraseology sounds at sea but it’s not, as will become clear.
Barclay’s beer was also featured in a Jerusalem restaurant operated by F. Nothbaum, whom we believe was connected to the German Templars judging by his various ads in the 1930s. Here is an example, from April 1939, same newspaper, advertising an Easter Dinner. Draught beer from Barclay’s (type not stated) is touted as well as Lowenbrau, presumably from Munich, and Rhine and Mosel wines.
This seems late for German beer to be available in Palestine but it seems some was still being imported, and the war had not yet started.
Sparkling beer or ale had been coming on strong in British and international brewing since about 1900, as discussed earlier. It was particularly appealing in hot climates. In 1940 a Sunbright Sparkling Beer in cans is advertised in the Palestine Post by another agent in Haifa, J. Ezra. His source, as stated in the ad, was Machen & Hudson in Liverpool.
Machen & Hudson were well-known export beer dealers. Their labels can be seen in David Hughes’ invaluable “A Bottle of Guinness Please“. Note their Beaver Lager, which Machen & Hudson also sent to J. Ezra in Haifa.
The ultimate source was probably Hope Brewery in Sheffield, see an example of its Sunbright cone-top pale ale in this (impressive) Netherlands collection.
“Light” and “lager” were increasingly popular in the Near East, as seen in this almost wordless Palestine Brewery ad also of 1939, Palestine Post.
These and other indices show the growing interest to have lager, or ale with lager characteristics, in hot-climate markets like Palestine.
A few years ago, beer historian Ron Pattinson discussed in a blog post the 1939 Barclay’s Sparkling Beer. He showed it was, in fact, a lager, but an idiosyncratic one given the amber tint and sizeable crystal malt component. Readers’ comments emphasized the oddness of the recipe.
Given the context I have explained, the odd make-up becomes clear: Barclay’s wanted a beer for Britons in the Middle East that resembled ale to a degree – the traditional tipple Britons knew before shipping out – but that would drink cold and fizzy as a lager.
Crystal malt was known in English top-fermented beer by then, hence the “ale” part. Saaz hopping and all-malt construction bowed to Continental brewing, as of course the bottom yeast. The latter conferred the desired lager character, and would resonate as well with the permanent residents of European origin.
The “beer” on the Barclay’s can in lieu of “pilsner” or “lager”, terms unfamiliar to most Britons, or “ale”, which it wasn’t, helped square the circle.
Barclay, Perkins & Co. covered the bases, if an American baseball term isn’t inapt.
Below, from Miniature Bottle Library, is a later example of Barclay’s Sparkling Beer. Although can design today has reached a high pitch, it takes some doing to match the smart look.*
For a cone-top actually from 1939, sourced from India, see in WorthPoint here. It pictures as well every part of the label.
Note: our series continues with Part IV.
Note re image: Image above was sourced from the site identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Losing the ungainly cone-top design was one of the best things the brewing industry ever did.