U.S. Army Beer 1943-1946 (Part II)

American Army Brewing in Benelux, France, and Germany

In Part I I discussed an article in a 1946 issue of Wallerstein Laboratories Communications that explained U.S. Army brewing for soldiers in North Africa and Italy. The period was the latter years of World War II, in some cases continuing into 1946.

The article was written by Allan J. Barney, a U.S. Army officer in that period. Before the war he was employed as a chemist for the famed Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis. Barney directed the army brewing program and worked with local brewers to make a beer, he wrote, with a starting gravity 10.3 Balling, ending at 3.3 B (1013 FG), or 3.7% abv – somewhat under the alcohol of today’s light beer.

This beer was all barley malt except that contrary to the Army’s specifications, once landed from the U.S. oats or other unmalted grains were mixed in some lots. This mixed malt was “distributed”, he wrote, for some brewing runs. Except for some beer in Italy that used European malt and hops, since some still remained in the brewery stores, all malt and hops used were shipped over from the U.S.

As I noted earlier, this was probably six-row malt, then a workhouse of American lager brewing, vs. that is the two-row standard used in Europe. Barney did not explain how Army beer was brewed in France and Germany, but focused on North Africa and multiple plants of Peroni Brewery in Italy.

I have since uncovered a second article that substantially adds to the picture of U.S. Army brewing in wartime Europe. To my knowledge, neither article has previously been studied by brewing historians.

The second article is “Brewing Beer for Soldiers in the European Theatre” by Leonard T. Saletan. He is described as a chemist for Tivoli Brewing Co. in Detroit. Tivoli’s history is outlined well in Stephen Johnson’s (2016) Detroit Beer: a History of Brewing in the Motor City.

Saletan’s article appeared in a 1946 issue of American Brewer, a trade journal of the U.S. brewing industry (not online). In five closely written pages he explained how brewing was organized for U.S. troops in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Germany. His article is a good counterpart to Barney’s, as it covers many points Barney did not, and vice versa.

Together they offer a good picture of how the Army approached a supply and logistical issue that, as each wrote in his article, had its origins in a morale factor. In other words a regular supply of beer was deemed necessary to maintain morale. Of course, beer was shipped to the Forces from America, but evidently it was felt this needed to be supplemented, presumably to save costs and reduce the shipping space consigned to non-essential war purposes.

Broadly, as described by each writer, Army brewing was arranged and supervised in a way similar in both cases. American brewing experts worked with local brewers to make beer to American specifications. In both cases, as noted, American materials were imported but with some use in Italy, and 100% use in Germany, of local malt and hops. It is clear from Saletan’s account at least that where he used American malt, it was product of six-row barley.*

Saletan explains that J.G. Shakman of Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, reporting to the Army Exchange Service, engaged six staff. Saletan was one, and each supervised brewing in a different geographic area. These staff were brewers or chemists in various American breweries including Schlitz, Pabst, and Pfeiffer.

The project Saletan describes was of considerably larger scope than Barney’s. During 1945 and 1946 some 30 breweries, each listed by Saletan, made beer for the U.S. Army in western Europe. Not all operated concurrently since beer needs depended on troop strength.

Only when a stable occupation force existed in postwar Germany was a fixed number of breweries settled on. The Army also worked with five malt houses in Germany, each also listed.

By way of illustration, the breweries in France included well-known plants such La Meuse in Paris, Champigneulles in the city of that name, Graff in Rennes, and Hornung in Chartres. In Belgium breweries included Piedboeuf in Liège, Lamot in Malines, and Léopold in Brussels.

For Holland, there was Brand in Wylre, for Luxembourg, Mousel, and in Austria, Stiegel in Salzburg. For Germany there were Schultheiss in Berlin, Hasen in Augsburg, Hofbrau in Bamberg, and Sandler in Kulmbach.

Only lager is mentioned or at least implied, the same for Barney’s account. There is no suggestion that top-fermented beer – e.g. ale, porter, or European varieties of top-fermented beer, were made. I would assume top-fermented wheat beer was “out” due to the pressing food supply problem in the immediate postwar years.

Of the considerable detail Saletan conveys I focus below on brewing specifications, versus that is production figures, pricing, packaging, distribution, German practices foreign to Saletan such as “bunging” (i.e., spunding, to carbonate from the fermentation stage), and quality control.

The brewing followed two main forms. Outside Germany, barley malt and grits, a form of unmalted corn adjunct, were used for mashing. The grits formed 25% of the mash in dry weight. Saletan wrote:

The beer produced was to have an O. G. of 11.3° B … The beer produced was to have 3.2% alcohol by weight, and 13.5 kg. of malt, 4.5 kg. of grits, and 200 g. of hops per hl. were to be used in producing the specified beer.

But in Germany, only local malt and hops were used. Of German hops there was enough supply, but malt was harder to get. Special permission was needed to obtain barley for malting given postwar shortages. Nonetheless, considerable beer was brewed.

This all-malt German beer was set at starting 10.6° B, to produce a 3.2% abw beer (4% abv); hence, this malt beer was drier than the adjunct beer made. I calculate an impressive 1015 finishing gravity for the adjunct one (so, rich-bodied), and 1012 for the all-malt, less rich, but still respectable by modern standards.

Whether the differences were due to the different mash bill or some other reason – penury of materials in Germany, possibly – is interesting to ponder. Ditto for the beer Barney was tasked to brew.

The adjunct beer was hopped at what works out to approximately .5 lb. hops/bbl (U.S.). This was about typical for the time but would exceed, probably, the modern mass-market norm (since much depends on alpha acid content, which is higher today for many varieties, in Galena say).

We can compare a 1960s recipe for Schlitz, from the Brew Your Own site. Saletan wrote that most production had “an excellent taste” and was comparable to “a good glass of American beer”. None of it was pasteurized, the same for Barney’s beer.

American draft beer in that period was unpasteurized, so the analogy held in that sense, but domestic American bottled and canned beer was mostly pasteurized, so there was that difference (as pasteurization can blunt flavour to a degree).

Regarding the all-malt German beer, Saletan wrote that as it was 100% malt, it differed in character but was “very good in taste” and “greatly appreciated”. I don’t doubt it – Saletan here likely was being diplomatic, not wanting to say the different character was superior to the American adjunct norm.

At a generous finishing gravity of 1015, the adjunct Army beer likely was pretty good anyway, as some craft beer brewed in a similar fashion has shown. Still, all-malt beer tends to have a unique signature compared to the other form.

The hops in the Army adjunct brewing likely was Cluster, or a form of it, a workhorse again of the American brewing scene at the time, most of it grown in the Pacific Northwest, still a major hop region today.

Of the breweries Saletan worked with, Piedboeuf in Liège impressed him the most due to its modernity of design and size of the building. It was constructed in the late 1930s following Art Deco industrial design and used reinforced concrete. Its clocks and roof-top flood lamps were storied in Liège for decades.

Closed in 1992, the Piedboeuf building, known locally as the Jupiler Tower, endures in degraded form. If I have it right from online checks, a developer bought the site from Anheuser-Busch InBev, and it will be, perhaps already has been, demolished due to its asbestos content. An urban re-development scheme will arise on the ashes.

On this Facebook site you may view the building as Saletan knew it glistening in black and white Art Deco splendor. Saletan wrote that German V-2s hit the city hard but “despite its great height” and apart from blown-out windows, the structure escaped harm. Indeed it brewed for another day – and another nation.

Part III follows.

…..

*Saletan describes how using American six-row barley caused consternation among the European brewers due to differing husk size and lower yield than for two-row malt.