This post will introduce a multi-part series on beer and brewing in the British Mandate of Palestine (1923-1948). For an overview of the series, see this post.
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 of course. Journalists have never lacked on these treks, from (undoubted!) personal interest, or for an offbeat assignment.
In such annals we must include 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 viewed here.
“Wayfarer” himself is uncredited. Those of his articles I was able to review suggest he was a British soldier in the enlisted ranks. He referred in one story to “my sergeant”, and in others to officers, or different aspects of service life.
In civilian life he may have been a teacher, an artist, or writer, as he often mentions arts and culture including literature, theatre, and painting. The Army knew he wrote the column, as one even even states his sergeant 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, even aside the wider war. Yet, Wayfarer focused on human interest, on the comparatively benign. He might tour an ancient bell tower at Christmas. He might review a crafts competition, theatrical show, even a soldier’s gardening project.
He was clearly of English background, as London and other parts of England are often mentioned. A calm and equable tone informs the writing, a trait of British journalism then, as I’ve discussed earlier.
Similar “soft” columns appeared in other parts of the world then, a genre that offered a balm or distraction from wartime life. The American entertainer Bob Hope wrote such a column in the same period, albeit rather less literate than Wayfarer’s. I mentioned it in this post, in connection with beer in Burma.
The Palestine Post
The history of the Palestine Post is summarized on the website of the National Library of Israel.* The newspaper, published in Jerusalem, was read by British Mandate officialdom, local Jews and Arabs, Christians on pilgrimage, and foreign visitors.
While not expressly mentioned, British Forces in Palestine, as well as the Palestine Police Force, also comprised the readership.
As noted, the brewery was in Rishon LeZion, a few miles south of Tel Aviv near the coast. The two images below show the brewery as it was in 1939. Wayfarer’s description of the tour is mainly notable for its humour, and also how a functioning 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 and evidently found them quite satisfactory; the “Bohemian” about did him in on the bus home!
Wayfarer quite liked beer, to the point, says he, that he tried a social outing in Britain once without it, but still 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 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 recorded that the Milwaukee manufacturer Dostal & Lowey** 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 also had 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 remained challenging. Indeed the brewery was earning only one mil/L on the beer sold, but based on the volumes shipped it was enough to ensure a profit. Beer imports to Palestine 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 production was sold to the British Army, as reported in the Palestine Post that year.
A pilsener, i.e., the Bohemian type mentioned, a Munich, or dark lager, and malt beer, probably the German malz type or Schankbier, completed the range.
The brewery had studied 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. I have not been able to confirm if this occurred.
In the Comments below see the further sources linked which identify the various brands marketed by Palestine Brewery in the early 1940s.
In further posts I will discuss further aspects of beer and brewing in Mandatory Palestine. Topics will cover the imported beer market and second and third breweries established in the 1930s and early ’40s.
An active craft brewery scene exists in Israel today. As I haven’t visited (as yet) to investigate the beers and others have chronicled this area, I’ll leave this aside. The same for Taybeh in the West Bank, a pioneering craft brewery in the region.
Note: Series continues, here.
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.
*The National Library of Israel (NLI) website states the Jewish press archive is an initiative of NLI and Tel Aviv University, and the Palestine Post appears courtesy the Jerusalem Post and Professor Ronald Zweig.
**Still going strong.