Palestine Brandy Circa 1946
In this post I will discuss Mandate Palestine brandy in the immediate post-World War II period, with a prelude on Stock Spirts history. To save time I will not include hyperlinked references for the general discussion, except for three sources mentioned below, but my statements are based on wide reading.
General Stock Spirits Background
Stock Spirits has been in the news recently, as its Wikipedia profile notes:
Stock Spirits Group is a British alcoholic beverage business operating in Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and Prague Stock Exchange.
In August 2021, Stock Spirits’ board of directors accepted a £767 million takeover bid by private equity firm CVC Advisers. The deal is expected to complete by early 2022, if shareholders vote in favour.
Coverage suggests a further bid may emerge, as the stock price has traded above offer price, itself a substantial premium to the pre-bid price. Oaktree Capital had earlier purchased Stock distilleries from a German company, Ekes AG.
It also bought the Polish Stock component and merged it with the historical Western European company, as Stock Spirits, later floating the company. In the 1990s Stock had recovered its Czech branch, known for Fernet Stock (bitter liqueur), so that came with Ekes Stock.
Stock Spirits has been very successful in recent years, making a wide range of liquors, wine-based aperitifs, and liqueurs. It is beyond my scope here to limn its full history, suffice to say in 1884 Lionello Stock, born in Split, Dalmatia of a Jewish family, established a distillery in Trieste.
He had a partner, Camis, who retired from the firm, known as Camis & Stock, before World War I. For a good survey of Stock history with emphasis on different company locales in Trieste, this December 2018 article in the English-language, Italian hospitality magazine Bar Tales, is most useful.
Lionello Stock and Camis were only 18 when establishing their business in Trieste, then a multi-ethnic city with Italian, Germanic and Slavic components. Trieste served as Adriatic port for the Austro-Hungarian Empire of which it formed part before World War I.
The story is that seeing ships in Trieste bound for La Rochelle, France with wine meant for conversion to cognac, young Lionello hit on the idea to distill brandy locally.
France of course typically would not use foreign wine for this purpose, but it was combatting the phylloxera pest at the time. It apparently relied exceptionally on imported wine to continue to make cognac.
Then, as still, wines of quality were produced around Trieste, and also Dalmatia (in Croatia), where Stock was born, of an Ashkenazi-Sephardic family.
The main brand that emerged from Camis & Stock was Stock Cognac Medicinal, later to be known as Stock Medicinal Brandy and finally Stock ’84. Stock XO and a 20-year old Stock Riserva are currently also marketed.
Between the two world wars, Stock had expanded into many nations. A wide array has been reported including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Palestine (1937), Alexandria, Egypt (1928), and New York (1939).
The 2005 study Making Trieste Italian, 1918-1954, by Maura Elise Hametz, refers to the Alexandria investment.
This business evolution was initially prompted by the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The march of Fascism in the 1930s increased the momentum.
Establishing distilleries outside Italy meant post-1918 luxury taxes and other barriers on liquor imports were overcome. Second, the devastating effect on Jewish-owned Italian business of Fascist racial laws adopted by Mussolini in 1938 was palliated.
Unlike most of the Trieste Jewish population, Lionello survived World War II (see Bar Tales account). The business in Italy was reconstituted after 1945. Lionello even recovered for a time his Czech business, but finally this was nationalized along with the Polish branch.
Lionello died without issue in 1948 and the Italian business devolved to nephews and other relations until finally purchased as noted by international interests.
The “cognac medicinal” label, mainly associated with the pre-World War II era, was originally adopted during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in accordance with its rules at the time.
Only after World War II did Italy, for its part, finally recognize that the term Cognac was reserved for brandy produced in the Cognac region in France.
Palestine-Based Stock Business
We can see by a 1940 ad in the Palestine Post that Stock Medicinal Brandy, so-termed, is advertised as produced in Palestine.
W.E.S.T. was its local partner, so this is an early example of the Palestine-distilled product. It is still made in Israel today under license from Stock Spirits, by the successor to W.E.S.T., Barkan Wine Cellars.
(Barkan is now owned by Tempo Industries, a major Israeli brewer and soft drinks producer in which Heineken of Holland has a large stake).
In 1943, another ad in the Palestine Post reverted to the older usage “Stock Cognac Medicinal”. Perhaps since Germany occupied France by then, no compunction was felt to observe French legal edicts concerning use of the term cognac.
However, after the war usage reverted to, and stayed with, the brandy designation, which Carmel did as well, by my survey.
These brands became, in Palestine and later Israel, well-establised for the brandy category. Today Stock ’84 in Israel still has a good sale while Carmel’s brandy line has declined, as mentioned earlier.
Egypt-Based Stock Business
The Stock brandy advertised extensively in Egypt in the 1930s, see this 1936 example in L’Aurore in Cairo, likely therefore was produced in Alexandria. That city was a notable destination of Italian expatriates from the mid-1800s until World War II.
It makes sense therefore Lionello Stock went to Alexandria establish a manufacturing branch, familiar territory as it were.
The Palestine branch, established in 1937 (some sources state 1938), clearly distilled spirits locally. Whether this was so in Alexandria is less clear, vs. a bottling and distribution business.
I think likely brandy was distilled locally there as well, as this was the pattern for Stock Distilleries expansion between the wars.
Brandy Quality in Palestine and Egypt Post-World War II
An interesting reader’s correspondence occurred in 1946 in the columns of the Palestine Post, concerning the quality of Palestine brandy. A letter in January 1946 complained that “Jerusalem’s most elegant night-spot”, not named, did not serve Palestine brandy.
The letter-writer questioned whether this resulted from a recent boycott of Jewish-made goods. The boycott was led by some countries in the region opposed to the drive for Jewish independence in Palestine, which finally succeeded in 1948 as well-known.
A second letter, in February 1946, stated that La Regence, a high-end restaurant at King David Hotel in Jerusalem,* did not list Palestine brandy, instead offering Cyrus brandy, so likely this was the night-spot referred to in the first letter.
A note added by the editor, who had checked with the hotel, stated the hotel considered Palestine brandy of inferior quality. The hotel added Palestine brandy was rarely called for by its clientele.
It noted, further, that Palestine wines, beers, and liqueurs were carried by the hotel, with the implication there was no intent to bar Palestine brandy as such.
The King David Hotel was by then a headquarters for the British military command in Palestine, as well as the British Secretariat. It also functioned as a civilian hotel, but the British official presence dominated.
The conflict over Jewish statehood was at a high pitch of course. In this atmosphere, some readers must have felt the hotel was “taking sides”. Brandy and soda, among other brandy-based drinks, was still a standing order in the British world, so the business represented likely was not inconsiderable.
A third letter, in March 1946, came from the winery at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Yaacov, which made Carmel brandy as I discussed earlier. It stated in part:
This letter was diplomatically written and made its case well on the quality issue. Whether Palestine brandy was barred for political reasons is hard to say at this remove, I’d think probably not, since wine and beer made in Palestine were sold.
To this we can add, the hotel was built in the interwar period as a venture of well-off Jewish families based in Cairo; it seemed unlikely therefore it would boycott Jewish-made products.
The reference to Palestine brandy being sold in Cairo in the same period is interesting. The first letter-writer noted this as well, citing the “Auberge des Pyramids” in Cairo as an example. It even added King Farouk was a patron of the club.
The winery letter refers in this regard to “Palestine brandy”, not “our brandy”, a phrase used elsewhere in the letter. Perhaps this meant Stock brandy made in Palestine was being sold in Cairo, alongside presumably Carmel’s.
If so, why would Stock brandy, made in Alexandria, not have been sold?
Perhaps because it is unlikely an Italian-owned distillery was allowed to operate in wartime Alexandria, then under firm British control. Even if the distillery was able to resume business after World War II, likely it would not have insufficient aged stocks for bottling.
Brandy from Carmel or Stock in the period seems to have been aged for at least three years, from what I can tell.
Stock ’84 Brandy in Ontario
The version of Stock ’84 made in Israel is available at the LCBO in Toronto, as is a Czech-made Stock ’84.
The Israel one is kosher, likely the reason an Israel version is still made. Apart from the obvious market in Israel, clearly a certain market exists overseas that is (mainly, I’d think) Jewish.
Looking more closely today at LCBO’s Czech-made Stock ’84, it is not actually a brandy. The label calls it “spirit drink”. It is a blend of brandy, alcohol, sugar, and almonds, according to the rear label.
Stock Spirits does distill a genuine brandy, called Stock ’84 Original, plus older variants as noted. Likely “Original” is more the counterpart to the Israeli Stock ’84, which states “Brandy” on the label.
As we don’t get the Czech Stock ’84 Original, I’ll omit the spirit drink version from my tasting, and just look at the Israel one, in Part IV below.
*It still is.