Cognac to Brandy in Mandatory Palestine, and Egypt
As mentioned in my Part I, “Carmel Vintage Brandy”, an authority on Israel wines and brandies, Adam Montefiore, noted that the term “cognac” was used informally in the past in Israel to describe brandy of local manufacture.
This habit derived from pre-Independence days when despite early French attempts to maintain “Cognac” as a protected appellation, frequently foreign countries did not enforce such rules.
The issue is similar to how the term Champagne was once widely used far from the province of its origin. Indeed the same applied to “pilsner”, denoting a beer in the golden style famously inaugurated in Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic.
For various reasons pilsner never became a protected designation and today is a generic term. The French were more astute, or perhaps more lucky given the twists and strokes of fate of history, to restrict “Champagne” and “Cognac” to products made in the legally defined area, and meeting defined standards of production.
The effect of European Union and other international trade and political arrangements has been to enhance such protection.
For a history of French legislation to protect the term Cognac, see the impressive essay, “History of Legislation on Cognac” in the Dutch-based website, Cognac-ton. One can see that by the 1930s French laws were fairly comprehensive on the topic, but foreign protection much less so than today.
Before World War II, Carmel in Mandate Palestine referred in some advertising to its brandy as cognac. An example is shown by this advertisement in a 1932 issue of the Palestine Bulletin:
The usage was not invariable, as some Carmel ads in the same newspaper, late 1920s-early 1930s, called the product brandy. Carmel ads I have seen in overseas journals, e.g. in United States (1935, “imported Palestine Carmel Brandy“) and Australia, called the product brandy.
In December 1937, an ad in the Palestine Post, even using the Frenchified spelling Richon for Rishon, called the product brandy. One can see vodka was produced as well, from grape distillate as occurs today again:
10 years later in Palestine, the term brandy is generalized in Carmel ads, e.g., in this case, with the suggestion to boot it warded off cholera:
Despite the evident change at producer level, clearly in vernacular or informal usage the term cognac for a long time meant any brandy. This is changed in Israel today (see again articles cited in Part I) as, for one thing, whisky has become the chic spirit.
Brandy, and specifically French Cognac, still have a place but reputed French marques claim the space for genuine cognac. It seems a safe bet no one today is misled as to the origin of any product.
This in fact probably was so even in the 1930s, at least for retail purchasers buying off the shelf, vs. perhaps some bar or restaurant occasions. I doubt many consumers taking home a bottle of Rishon brandy thought it was French-made, however labeled including as to language.
That said, producers are solicitous to protect their designations, and a higher level of protection exists internationally today than before World War II. This did not come without a fight in some places, especially for Champagne in the U.S., and Canada by the way, but that is a topic for another day.
Looking to another country in the region, Egypt, in about the same time we can see a similar linguistic evolution. Egypt then was more or less a British protectorate, under the terms of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.
So, the situation was somewhat parallel to Mandate Palestine, where British administrative, military, and business expatriates formed a natural market for brandy, in addition to French and other international cadres with similar tastes.
One can presume the market extended to a Europeanized local class. In Palestine, Jews of European origin formed an adjunct market, given the long tradition of distilling brandy in Europe, whether from grapes or other fruit.
The change from cognac to brandy in Egypt can be charted specifically for another producer, Stock of Trieste, today Stock Spirits. A 1940 ad placed in L’ Aurore, a French-language newspaper in Cairo associated with the former Jewish community of Egypt, makes this clear:
The ad appeared on April 5 that year – just over a month before Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. French commerce was still enforcing evidently at least some prerrogatives, despite war having commenced in September 1939.
Business and diplomatic pressures had to be behind the change, as the direction to Stock came from the Egyptian trade ministry.
The ad further states Stock is from Trieste, where indeed it originated in the late-19th century. It was founded by Jewish-born Lionello Stock, whose name today adorns internationally-known products such as Stock Vermouth and Stock ’84 brandy.
Perhaps the Stock brandy sold in Egypt in that period was made in Palestine, as by the eve of World War II Lionello Stock, still living, had established branches in numerous locations outside outside Trieste. These included Czechoslovakia – Pilsen, as it happens – and Mandate Palestine.
This expansion resulted from the tumult of World War I, with its break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and onset of fascism in the 1930s.
I revert to this aspect in Part III, which also reviews a public tiff over the quality of Palestine brandy.
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