Lager: Success in U.K. and 1950s Iraq (Part I)

Lager Catches a Wave

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

The drinks favoured were not new but the audience spotlighted was. Vincent held that from now women will supplement the “intensely masculine personification” of the beer drinker that had been modelled on the British workman.

First on the radar for this segment of the Now Generation was lager. Next in order, champagne (sparkling) perry, wine, then vodka. Sales of each were spiking due to the rising female audience.

Vincent noted that women of different backgrounds including “well-bred, suede-coated, county-type young lad[ies]” favoured a half-lager. They liked its “dry” character and tendency not to intoxicate.

(In truth the alcohol level was similar to, if not sometimes stronger than, bitter and mild ale but perception was everything in branding, then and now).

All these drinks, except I think perry,* have burgeoned since Vincent wrote, almost everywhere too regardless of gender or walk of life. The young female drinker of ca. 1960 proved a bellwether.

Beer in “Expat” Iraq

Vincent’s article, as I found it, was reprinted in the Iraq Times in Baghdad, far from “metropole”. The paper was read, judging by its content, by British expatriates and other international types resident in Iraq then.

Business and diplomatic postings, and those in education, the church and HM Forces, represented the bulk. British influence was still notable in that period, a vestige of the colonial era.

As early as 1921 British-origin ales and lagers were advertised in The Baghdad Times by a trading corporation. A 1922 notice in The Baghdad Times advertised at auction seven cases of Guinness stout at the Ordnance Citadel. Surplus military goods being liquidated, it appeared, but clearly Guinness was “on tap” for the Forces.

In the same newspaper and period, Australia’s Foster Crown Lager was present, while a “Muniche lager” also made an appearance. Scottish Tennent’s lager was repeatedly advertised, 1920s again, in the Times of Mesopotamia along with the brewery’s stout.

In other words, lager is present from early days of the European presence, sharing billing with the ales and stouts typical of British tradition. Press advertising in later decades suggests ale and stout declined in popularity in favour of lager – certainly the pattern in most ex-and post-colonial settings – although hard data is elusive for Iraq.

Post-World War II

In 1948 when the newly established The Iraq Brewery was just finding its legs, Pilsor Lager was advertised, a Belgian label of Lamot Brewery. Branded items on eBay suggest there was widespread promotion for the brand, which by our canvass included numerous international markets.

In the same same year Barclay Perkins of London vaunted its lager in The Iraq Times. In the same newspaper, a series of repeating ads in 1949 touted Thompson & Son’s bottled beers including Dover Pale Ale. This Kent, UK brewery was absorbed by Charrington’s only two years later, which likely foreclosed this source of supply for expats in Iraq.

The image below is via the Brewery Wiki.

 

 

Also in 1949, Dutch-made Antelope-brand pilsener appeared (same newspaper). Around this time British journalist Bernard Wicksteed wrote a chatty 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, in other words, even in a British context. This point would have resonated even more in hot countries where lager’s writ was established since at least 1900.

Tennent’s lager, promised as “brewed and bottled in bonnie Scotland”, was touted in 1950 (The Iraq Times again). If McEwan’s Scotch or pale ale was still available in 1950s Iraq, I could not find the evidence. Available evidence suggests lagers were driving the market by then, for imported beer certainly.

Lager From the Eastern Brewery

This lager trend took root locally as exemplified by Ferida beer, released by the Eastern Brewery on its opening in 1956, in Baghdad. Of the many Ferida ads in the Iraq Times, some full-page in size, this one has particular interest due to the additional context disclosed.

The Embassy Gardens mentioned was a club or dinner-dance venue, operated by “old Gregor”. It would be interesting to know more of this personage, but our researches have been fallow to date. Gregor promised “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 until the 1960s (The Iraq Times).

Such classic British styles waived the flag for the older British tastes I mentioned, but the brewery did finally release a lager, in 1962.

Pattern of Imports, 1954-1959

In the 1950s tenacious Guinness of Ireland invested in sizeable box adverts in the Iraq Times, as an example in1954 shows. The type sent was the weighty Foreign Extra Stout. The market envisaged by this ad was evidently manual workers and similar-class drinkers, vs. the managerial class which seemed more the target of lager ads.

The image of a period British auto raised by a human jack conveyed the idea of a winter or fortifying drink. Even in 1966 Diana Stout is still billed as a winter drink, as seen here (Baghdad News). Guinness was playing too on the idea of strength, a popular association with porter since the 1700s.

British Allsopp’s lager had found its way around a good part of the British colonial and post-colonial worlds, and duly appeared in Iraq. A 1954 advert attests to it (“The best English lager is again on the market”, The Iraq Times). Below is a period label, the snow-capped mountain suggests both a drink to be taken iced and something also associated with distant climes, where thirsty expats range.

 

 

(Image source: Kings Own Royal Regiment Museum).

In 1955 a full page advert touted Guinness, Worthington (the pale ale), Bass (pale ale), Carlsberg, and Heineken (The Iraq Times). Bass and Worthington in that period were among the biggest names in British ale.

They were still hanging on in Iraq, but production of ale and stout locally by The Iraq Brewery had to dim their future, already enervated by lager’s appeal.

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

In 1959 again St. Paul Girl appears, a Beck’s stablemate, one of many such ads in the period (The Iraq Times). Yet, 1959 seems rather late for German, or any foreign lager, as a. 1958 studyThe reconstruction of Iraq, 1950-1957, stated beer imports by then were prohibited.

This was a spin-off of the 1958 Revolution, whose promoters had promised to secure control of the national economy. Maybe the St. Pauli Girl of 1959 came in just before the prohibition took hold, or perhaps an exemption was accorded.

In 1962, we see Dutch Amstel beer, but the Eastern Brewery is brewing it under license, which ties into the ban on imports (The Iraq Times). European breweries were content in many cases overseas to have their product made locally under license, or brands similar to their trademark lager; this was an instance.

Conclusions

Returning for a moment to Sally Vincent’s Britain, lager steadily gained converts from the 1960s, famously boosted by 1970s hot summers. By the late 1980s lager has triumphed definitively over ale in the U.K. – overtaken it in sales.** The pattern was set long before, of which we see markers above in 20th century, pre-fundamentalist Iraq.

The overall pattern is similar to other places where Britain once projected power. Australia, India, Sudan, and Mandatory Palestine were all instances, as I discussed earlier here and in journal articles.

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.

See Part II.

….

*Really cider did the job, ultimately.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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