Mild ale on the Main. Part II, or The Iraq Brewery

From Britain to Baghdad

In Part I, I discussed the brewery on HMS Menestheus, a Blue Funnel cargo-passenger liner that was converted to minelaying use during WW II. In 1944-45 the ship was refitted by the Admiralty as an “amenities” ship in Vancouver, Canada. The brewery was installed as part of the re-fit.

Below, I discuss the ultimate destination of the brewery, which at first blush seems unlikely – Iraq.

Two Ships and Their Breweries

The HMS Agamemnon, also from the Blue Funnel Line and used for minesweeping earlier in the war, was refitted to similar purpose at about the same time, in Victoria across Vancouver Bay.

Each ship was to carry brewing capacity and various rest and recreation facilities for HM Forces. There was a cinema, shops, a stage for shows, and more. The intended theatre of operations was the Pacific, as the war with Japan was still ongoing.

Brewery fabrication was by a firm of brewery engineers in Bristol, U.K., George Adlam & Sons. Each brewery was meant to operate with malt extract and hop concentrate, vs. a full grain mash and leaf hops. This plan was adopted for practical and cost reasons. As I have discussed in other posts, interwar breweries on German passenger liners did something similar.

George Adlam’s design featured a closed fermentation system. It was originally developed by an English brewer, Stephen Clarke, in the early 1940s. Clarke developed the idea as a stop gap in Coopers, his bomb-damaged brewery in Southampton.

The war with Japan ended in September 1945 with work mostly completed on the Menestheus. The conversion of Agamemnon was still incomplete. Admiralty made the decision to return Agamemnon to Britain, but the re-fitted Menestheus entered amenities service according to the original plan.

It embarked on a postwar tour through the Pacific and returned home finally in July 1946. During the tour a low gravity mild ale was brewed on ship, a success by all accounts.

Some details above are drawn from Geoff Dye’s informative “The Menestheus ‘floating brewery’: a history of the ship and brewery”, in the journal Brewery History (Winter, 2019, Number 181).

Dye explained that on its return to the U.K. the Menestheus was restored to pre-war condition and returned to the Blue Funnel line. The brewing equipment, after passing through a couple of intermediaries in London, was sold on to John J. Calder Brewery in (Alloa) Scotland.

Specifically, “a lot” was sold to Calder’s meaning perhaps some but not all of the equipment.

Of the brewery intended for the Agamemnon neither Dye nor any other source to my knowledge has addressed this aspect. Maybe one was never fabricated, as Agamemnon’s refit was partial only and abandoned. But a brewery might have been readied for installation, and sold off with Menestheus’ plant as “surplus”.

John J. Calder

Beer historian Ron Pattinson wrote a sketch of Calder’s in a blogpost on October 27, 2011. He pointed out that Calder’s was absorbed by a larger firm in 1960 but for 40 years previously, had no brewery of its own: it outsourced its needs to other breweries.

It therefore makes sense Calder’s wanted to buy a recently tested, relatively compact plant to make some beer itself. Nonetheless, no account I know of mentions Calder having done so.

I then considered what happened to that plant, and concluded it probably ended at The Iraq Brewery Co., founded in 1945-46 in Baghdad.

The Iraq Brewery Co.

In 1945 Iraq was a Regency, with King Faisal II taking full power on reaching his majority in 1953. Brewing was in that period considered an acceptable activity in the country.

The British were still influential in Iraq, indeed had re-occupied it during the war to keep supply lines open to India and foreclose an Axis invasion.

The Iraq Brewery Co. supplied a local demand that included a small group of Britons, Europeans and Americans. They were business people, diplomats, and other expatriates. It was located on Rashid Street in Baghdad.

In 1956 a second brewery was established in Baghdad, The Eastern Brewery.

In 2006 an article by Michael Jansen in the Irish Times reported on the declining alcohol market in Iraq. This resulted from sectarianism in the wake of the American-led invasion of 2003. He interviewed Yaqthan Chadirji, who had brewed for decades at The Eastern Brewery.

Janssen wrote the following viz. the origins of modern brewing in Iraq:

The first Western-style beer was produced during the British-backed monarchy by a wealthy Shia businessman named Madhaf Khedairi, who bought a small brewery from a British naval vessel shortly after the second World War.

Khedairi’s brewery was, it seems clear, The Iraq Brewery Co.

In 1951 the U.K.-based Journal of the Institute of Brewing recorded the election of “Al-Khedairi, Madhat” as a student member of the Institute of Brewing.

Al-Khedairi was described as a pupil (trainee) at Harman’s Uxbridge Brewery Ltd. He remained a member of the Institute of Brewing for almost 30 years. He resigned in 1980 according to this notation in the journal.

There seems no doubt that Al-Khedairi was the person named in the Irish Times as a pioneer of European brewing in Iraq, or perhaps his son.

Plant and Operations

In 1950, a description of the brewery by James Kennedy (see p. 386) appeared in Nos. 13-14 of Wallerstein Laboratories Communications. Wallerstein were well-known brewery consultants based in New York.

Kennedy wrote that construction of the brewery began in 1946 and was completed in 1948.*

He described a number of challenges that occurred when designing the brewery. One was, strong temperature variations in the country. It was addressed by having the “fermentation conducted under pressure according to a patented pressure fermentation system”.

While Kennedy doesn’t mention the source of the equipment, his account strongly suggests a link to Menestheus. Its brewery used a pressure fermentation system, the one devised by Stephen Clarke earlier in the war. Geoff Dye called it an all-enclosed fermentation system, a method half-way between a Burton Unions and modern continuous fermentation (a 20th century innovation pioneered notably in New Zealand).

Dye states that pressure fermentation was used by a number of breweries in Britain after the war, presumably under the patent mentioned by Kennedy. One brewery was the Crowley Brewery in Alton where Clarke later worked, then owned by the London giant, Watney. Clearly, this was newly fabricated equipment that followed the Clarke-George Adlam design.

Dye states this system was also used “in some other breweries abroad”, but does not state where. Iraq must have been one.

Perhaps new equipment was made for The Iraq Brewery Co. using the Clarke/George Adlam design, in the fashion of Crowley. But everything points I think to actual purchase of ex-shipboard plant, either Menestheus‘, or Agamemnon‘s, or parts of both.

The Beers

In the 1950s-60s an English language newspaper, The Iraq Times, served the English-speaking community of Iraq. It carried adverts for beers of both The Iraq Brewery Co. and The Eastern Brewery Co., later known as Eastern Beer Company. Other English-language papers in the Mid-East also carried some advertising.

Historical issues of The Iraq Times and other newspapers are archived in full at the East View Global Press Archive.

See e.g. this ad in 1950 for Diana Beer and Diana Stout from The Iraq Brewery Co. A 1954 ad shows a filled glass of black stout – a subliminal appeal to oil executives? It mentions the port city of Basra as a distribution point for the beers.

These beers were not lagers, but The Iraq Brewery Co. did finally introduce lager, as the Irish Times reported. The launch was circa 1962, as this advert suggests.

In 1966 The Iraq Brewery advertised in the Baghdad News its Golden Lager, a second lager, Diana Ale, and Diana Stout. The last two had been introduced in 1948 and 1950 and were brewed into the 1960s.** They demonstrate an unusual instance of British-style (top-fermented) brewing outside the U.K., as by the mid-1900s lager was generalized almost everywhere except Britain.

Therefore, international lager was shadowing the surviving, old school ale and porter brewers, of which savvy Heineken (of The Netherlands) was avatar. Is it any surprise that Heineken was advertising prominently in the Iraq Times in 1955?

For its part, The Eastern Brewery brewed lager from the beginning in Iraq, its well-known Ferida brand.

For a high quality image of a Diana Stout label, see this image at Worthpoint. The goddess of mythology is depicted with fawn. Perhaps an association was intended with country life and hunting, to help market English styles of beer, but this is speculation.

This image at Worthpoint shows the label for Golden Lager c. 1975, after nationalization of the brewery.

Early Personnel

My research disclosed the names of some brewers at The Iraq Brewery Co. between 1946 and 1955. Three that I found in order of service were J.N.E. Whitton, Dick” Kennedy, and Gustave Michiels.

A 1956 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Brewing stated that Madhat Al-Khedairi was then Assistant Brewer of The Iraq Brewery Co. Presumably he became head brewer in time.

James Kennedy writing in the Wallerstein publication may have been – likely was I think – the “Dick” Kennedy mentioned. Geoff Dye in his article does not mention Whitton, Kennedy, or Michiels in connection with Menestheus or Agamemnon, but there may have been an indirect connection.

The Iraq Brewery Co. was nationalised in 1973-74 according to the Irish Times account. Production continued for a time but I am unclear when brewing ceased. The Eastern Beer Company continues to brew in the country at the present time according to its website.


*A pen and ink drawing of the brewery is linked in the Comments below.

**Diana Beer and Diana Ale were almost certainly the same recipe. They were mashed and hopped in standard brewing fashion, as the article by James Kennedy makes clear. The malt extract and hop concentrate parts of the Clarke/George Adlam process were not continued, in other words. The water distillation mentioned by Dye may have been, though, due to problems experienced with water drawn from the Tigris river.




1 thought on “Mild ale on the Main. Part II, or The Iraq Brewery”

  1. The brewery is pictured in black and white illustration in an early ad (1948) in the Iraq Times. A substantial structure is shown, with the Tigris alongside. The Rashid Street address (see text), mentioned in some advertising or related material, was likely the head office. This is the only image I found of the brewery. The building to the right is likely the maltings.


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