Introduction [added August 2, 2020].
This post serves as our introduction to a multi-part series on beer and brewing during the British Mandate of Palestine (1923-1948). For a bird’s eye view with links to the full series, see our post dated August 2, 2020.
A Wartime Palestine Brewery Tour
In the social and cultural history of beer “the tour” is of undoubted significance. Since the mid-1800s, breweries have seen it their business to welcome the open-eyed citizen, tasting not excluded. Journalists have never lacked on these treks, from (undoubted!) personal interest, or to find an offbeat assignment.
To these annals we may add a British journalist’s tour of the Palestine Brewery in Rishon LeZion, Mandate Palestine, in 1944.
“Wayfarer in Uniform”
The account appeared on March 27, 1944 in the column “Wayfarer in Uniform”, a regular feature in the Palestine Post in 1943-44. The article may be seen here.
“Wayfarer” himself is uncredited. From the various articles, it appears he was a British soldier of the enlisted ranks. He refers in one story to “my sergeant”, and in others to officers and different aspects of service life.
In civilian life he may have been a teacher, artist, or writer, and often mentions the arts and culture including literature, theatre, and painting. The Army knew that he wrote the column, as one column states his sergeant even made suggestions for future articles.
1944 was a year fraught with violence and conflict in Palestine, more than usual for that part of the world, quite aside the wider war. Yet, Wayfarer focused on human interest, on the comparatively benign. He might tour an ancient bell tower at Christmas, or discuss a crafts competition, a theatrical show, a soldier’s gardening project.
He was clearly of English background and refers frequently to London and other parts of England. A calm and equable spirit characterizes the writing, a trait of British journalism then, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
Similar “soft” columns appeared in other parts of the world, a genre that offered a balm or distraction from daily wartime life. The American entertainer Bob Hope wrote such a column in the same period, albeit less literate than Wayfarer’s. I mentioned it in this post recently, in connection with beer in Burma.
The Palestine Post
The website of the National Library of Israel summarizes the history of the Palestine Post.* Its readership comprised British Mandate officialdom, local Jews and Arabs, Christians on pilgrimage, and foreign visitors.
While not expressly stated, British Forces in Palestine, as well as the Palestine Police Force, also read the newspaper, which was published in Jerusalem.
As noted, the brewery was in Rishon LeZion. Images below show the brewery as it was in 1939. Wayfarer’s account of the tour is mainly notable for its humour, and how a workaday brewery struck someone of artistic temperament.
The large vessels appeared to him as “vases” – something that never occurred to me, I must say, but we are all different! Wayfarer was plied with samples, evidently finding them quite satisfactory: the “Bohemian” about did him in on the bus home!
Wayfarer quite liked beer, to the point that he tried an outing (in England) once without it, but it didn’t end well. Read the account to see why.
The Palestine Brewery was founded in 1935. The plan was to supply a local demand but with the British Forces in the territory kept in mind. Prior to that, all beer was imported, either from Britain, the Continent, Egypt, or Syria. The brewery was financed by French and local capital, as detailed in a January, 1937 story in the Palestine Post.
An article in 1935 in the trade journal The American Brewer noted that the manufacturer Dostal & Lowey** in Milwaukee had shipped bottle washing equipment to various customers including one in “Palestine”. It seems likely Palestine Brewing Ltd. was the purchaser.
A 2017 story in the Atlanta Jewish Times by Rich Walter conveys additional detail on the brewery. The major investor, René Gaston-Dreyfus, was a French banker-brewer – a felicitous combination from the standpoint of the brewing ledger. He had also financed breweries in Morocco, Egypt, and Indonesia.
Walter states that the Mandatory government assisted the venture by lowering the excise on beer from 20 mils/L to eight mils/L. (There were 1000 mils per Palestinian pound).
A 1934 article in the Palestine Post confirms the excise accommodation. By 1936 the rate was seven mils/L, but a story that year noted the market was still challenging. The brewery was earning only one mil/L on its beer sold. Still, given the volume that was enough to ensure a profit. Beer imports to Palestine therefore declined as a result of this local production.
The brewery initially released its Eagle lager, also called Nesher lager, and a dark, non-alcohol brew. Nesher means eagle in Hebrew. A distinctive, spread-wing logo was selected in a public competition advertised in the Palestine Post.
The eagle design still appears on the Nesher label of Tempo Industries Ltd., the successor (from 1985) to Palestine Brewery Ltd. Tempo Industries is better known today for its Gold Star and Maccabee brands.
By WW II Palestine Brewery was also brewing English-style beer. In fact by 1943 60% of its production was sold to the British Army, as reported in the Palestine Post that year.
A pilsener, i.e., the Bohemian type mentioned, Munich – a dark lager, and malt beer, probably a German malz type or Schankbier completed the range.
The brewery had studied carefully how to brew the English beer. A press report of January 15, 1939 stated that its general manager, F. (Fritz) Hirschbruch, travelled to England that year to study local methods.
Initially, the malt and certainly all hops used were imported. A story on May 25, 1936 stated the brewery intended to build a plant to malt barley. We have not been able to confirm if this occurred.
In the Comments below see our further sources linked that reference the various brands marketed in the early 40s.
Future Posts in Series
In future posts I will discuss further aspects of beer and brewing in Mandatory Palestine. Topics will include the imported beer market, and a second and third brewery that opened in the 1930s and early 40s.
An active craft brewery scene exists in Israel today. I haven’t visited to investigate the beers. As others have chronicled this area, I’ll leave that aside, the same for Taybeh in the West Bank, a pioneering craft brewery in the region.
Note re images: images above were sourced from the Library of Congress, here. All ownership therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*Per the National Library of Israel (NLI) website, the Jewish press archive is an initiative of the NLI and Tel Aviv University and the Palestine Post appears courtesy the Jerusalem Post and Professor Ronald Zweig.
**Still going strong.
Note: For the next post in our series, see here.