Lager: Success in Metropole and 1950s Iraq (Part I)

Lager Catches a Wave

In 1960, 23-year-old British journalist Sally Vincent (1937-2013) offered a sharp portrayal of a new phenomenon in the British drinks industry: the young female drinker. A sample line: “The hand that rocks the cradle has a firm hold on the bottle”. Eye-catching.

She outlined drinks they favoured, drinks not new but garnering fresh attention due to a new audience.

First and foremost, there was lager. Women lager drinkers would henceforth supplement the “intensely masculine personification” of the beer drinker, modelled on the British workman.

Then came Champagne perry, wine, and finally vodka. Sales of each had grown considerably largely due to a rising female audience.

The “well-bred, suede-coated, county-type young lady” might favour a half-lager. But it went beyond that, with women of many backgrounds drinking lager for its “dry” character and tendency not to intoxicate.

(In truth the alcohol level was similar to – if not often stronger than – bitter and mild ale. No matter, perception was everything in branding, then and now).

All these drinks, except I think the sparkling perry,* have burgeoned since this period, not just among this social group, but all genders and classes almost everywhere. The young female drinker of ca. 1960 proved a trend-setter.

Lager’s Increasing Appeal in Expatriate Iraq

Vincent’s story, as I found it, was reprinted far from metropole, in the Iraq Times in Baghdad. This paper was read, one presumes from the content, by U.K. expatriates and other international types in the country then.

Business and diplomatic postings, plus those in education and the church, represented the bulk of it. It was a period when British influence was still notable in the country.

In terms of beers available in Iraq, as early as 1921 a mix of British-origin ales and lagers was advertised by a trading corporation.

The world-ranging Guinness was, not surprisingly, present in that period. A 1922 notice in the Baghdad Times advertised an auction for seven cases of Guinness at Ordnance Citadel, Baghdad. It appeared this was surplus military goods being liquidated.

In the same period (Australian) Foster’s Crown lager is in the country.  A “Muniche lager” in 1922 made an appearance. So did Scottish Tennent’s lager, repeatedly advertised in the Times of Mesopotamia that year along with the Tennent’s stout.

Lager is present from the early days of European presence, in other words, sharing billing with ales and stouts in the early ads we found (1920s). The pattern of press advertising in later decades suggests a decline of ale and stout in favour of lager, although hard data is elusive.

Post-World War II

Jumping to post-WW II, in 1948 when The Iraq Brewery is just finding its legs, Pilsor Lager is advertised, a Belgian label from Lamot. Branded items on eBay suggest some attention was given to widespread promotion of the brand.

The same year, Barclay Perkins of London vaunts its lager – no other type mentioned.

A series of repeating ads in 1949 touted Thompson & Son’s bottled beers including its Dover Pale Ale. This Kent, U.K. brewery was absorbed by Charrington’s two years later.

Likely this foreclosed further exports from that source, a small brewery to begin with. Image below is courtesy the Brewery Wiki.

 

 

Also 1949, a Dutch-made Antelope-brand pilsener is available.

Bernard Wicksteed wrote a chatty 1950 profile of the British brewing industry reprinted in the Iraq Times. He noted the importance to Continental breweries of their lager yeast. Lager could not be ignored even in a strictly British context, in other words, as the market reflected locally.

In 1950 we see Tennent’s lager, “Brewed and Bottled in Bonnie Scotland”. If McEwan’s Scotch or Pale Ale was still available in 1950s Iraq, I could not find a sample advert. Lagers were, it seems, of more interest to the market by then.

Launch of New Lager by The Eastern Brewery

The lager trend was exemplified by Ferida beer, released by the Eastern Brewery on opening in Baghdad in 1956. Of the many Ferida ads in the Iraq Times, some full-page in size, this one offers particular interest due to the additional context disclosed.

The Embassy Gardens was apparently a club or dinner-dance venue. Operated by “old Gregor”, it advertised “ice-cold draft” Ferida in gardens overlooking the Tigris River.

The Eastern Brewery was the second brewery established in Iraq in modern times. The first as I discussed earlier was The Iraq Brewery. Its Diana Ale and Diana Stout, pictured in this 1951 ad, were produced from the late 1940s through the 1960s. The brewery however finally released a lager in 1962.

Pattern of Imports, 1954-1959

Still, in the 1950s tenacious Guinness invested in sizeable box ads in the Iraq Times, as an advert shows in 1954. The brand was the weighty Foreign Extra Stout. The market targeted here seemed manual workers.

The advert is suggestive of a “heavy” drink, a winter drink as sometimes called then, via the image of a 1950s auto upraised by a human jack. Even in 1966 Diana Stout was still billed as a winter drink, see here.

Guinness was playing too on the idea of strength, a popular association with porter since the 1700s.

Allsopp’s lager, which found its way around a good part of the British colonial and post-colonial worlds, duly appeared in Iraq. See for 1954 this advert (“The best English lager is again on the market”).

 

 

(Image source: Kings Own Royal Regiment Museum).

In 1955 a full page of adverts touted Guinness, Worthington (pale ale), Bass (pale ale), Carlsberg, and Heineken lager. In the same year, a distributor’s supplier list included as the calling card for Barclay Perkins only lager, once again.

Bass and Worthington, in that period among the biggest names in British ale, were still hanging on in Iraq. Not many beers of that sort had, judging by our ad survey in the press noted.

A factor here, perhaps, was production of ale and stout locally, by The Iraq Brewery. At the same time, an Iraqi familiar with brewing in Iraq in that period told the Irish Times some years ago that The Iraq Brewery did not make money making “stout” and turned to lager, which I know happened in 1962. (See again my earlier post linked above, on The Iraq Brewery).

In 1955 Beck’s beer from Bremen returns, not seen in Iraq since before the war, per the advert. Also appearing in 1955, St. Pauli Girl and Holsten lager, both German.

In 1959 again St. Paul Girl appears (a Beck’s stablemate), one of many such notices in the period. 1959 seems late for such importation as a 1958 study of Iraq, The reconstruction of Iraq, 1950-1957, states beer imports were then prohibited.

We think it likely this resulted from the 1958 Revolution, an object of which was to enhance national control of the economy.

Maybe the St. Pauli Girl advertised in 1959 was imported before the prohibition took effect, or some kind of exemption was obtained.

1962, it’s Amstel of Holland, but now Eastern Brewery will brew it under license, which ties in to the idea of a bar on imports.

Some Conclusions

By the late 1980s lager would finally triumph definitively over ale in the U.K. – overtake it in sales.** It had done so in fact in most parts of the world earlier, including by our canvass Iraq from the 1960s at least, but the pattern was set long before, of which we see some markers here.

In this regard, the pattern seems similar to other places where Britain once exercised influence by virtue of colonial or other power projected. Australia, India, Sudan, and Mandate Palestine are all instances, as discussed earlier here.

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

For Part II, see here.

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*In a sense though, cider did the job, ultimately.

**See supporting data gathered by beer historian Ron Pattinson in his blog, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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