Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Phoney War

Here's a fascinating snapshot of a bizarre period in WW II. The so-called "Phoney War". That's the period between the fall of Poland in October 1939 and the German invasion of Denmark and Norway in April 1940. Not much in the way of land fighting occurred in this period of tense calm.

Happily, the fraught international situation didn't put Belgians off their beer:

(From Our Own Paris Correspondent.)


A highly interesting study of the nourishment aspects of Belgian beer consumption has been made by the food values review "Vita." It is well known that the sale of beer in Belgium is the relatively highest in the world — about 15,000,000 hectolitres a year, which corresponds to some 180 litres per head of the population. The real intake of the male adult is, of course, much higher, as this figure applies to the average, calculated by including women and children. The study considers it essential, therefore, that the nutritive value of this quantity of beer should be investigated. It would lead too far to go into all its details — eminently flattering to advocates of the Drink More Beer or Beer is Best slogan — but the fundamental conclusion concerning the materials contained in the beer consumption total, deserves quoting. The total of such materials, above all barley, comes to 200,000 tons. The nutritive value of this quantity, at 2,500 calories a kilo., equals thus 500,000 million calories, or four times as much as the nutritive value of all the eggs eaten in Belgium in the course of a year.

As far as possible, Belgian breweries are making the largest purchases of foreign maltings that they can obtain. There has been a comprehensible increase in demand since the beginning of the war, and suppliers in neighbouring countries are not in the same position as in peace time to satisfy it."
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 57. (Published January 17th 1940.)

180 litres per head is some going. A feat of which Belgians should rightly be proud. Though it should be pointed out that Belgian was, on average, pretty weak. Maybe even a little weaker than British beer of the period. (I should check that. I know exactly where I can find the information).

Hang on. I can work it out from the beer volume and quantity of malt provided. 200,000 tons is 1,333,333 quarters. And 15 million hl is about 9.375 million barrels. With a yield of, say, 80 brewers pounds per quarter, I make that an average gravity of 11.4 lbs per barrel. Or 1031.5. As opposed to an average gravity of 1041 in Britain.*

Next, it's the turn of Germany. Weird, eh? I wonder who the source was?


Only two items from the Reich came over the frontier this month. One indicates that consumption of beer continues to fall disastrously and that supplies to the armies are insufficient, in spite of a certain change in the attitude of the authorities. Until now the drinking of beer was discouraged, and all types of fizzy lemonade (made without lemons) were boosted. At present the officers have ceased to recommend Zitronade, and realising the value of real beer to the moral of the troops, are clamouring for beer. The second news is evidently designed to show that attention continues to be given to the rising generation of beer technicians, however terrible the state of the industry may be at present. It announces with applomb the second edition of a book by Gottfried Jakob, "The Brewery Apprentice," being the first volume of a comprehensive work covering instruction in all branches of the brewing and malting craft. A friend who took the trouble to obtain the work via a neutral country, states it to be a meagre booklet of about 100 pages, costing the equivalent of five shillings, although paper-bound, and representing in the main a dictionary of brewing terms."
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" page 58.

The bastards. Fancy expecting the troops to drink ersatz lemonade. That's what happens when you have a lunatic teetotaller as head man. No wonder things later went terribly wrong. You were much better off with a posh pisshead in charge, like Churchill.

"Der Brauerlehrling" is the German title of that Gottfried Jakob book. I know because I've just searched for it. There's just one copy available on Abebooks. Make that zero now. I couldn't resist ordering a copy. It's a sickness, I know. It's costing me a little more than five bob. €23.20, to be precise. That despite the less than enthusiastic review in "The Brewers' Journal".

* According to "België door het Bier" (by Anne Perrier-Robert and Charles Fontaine, 1996, page 176) in 1939, the average gravuity of Belgian beer was 3.4º Belgian degrees, or 1036º.

1 comment:

Thomas Barnes said...

Ron, I believe that the Nazis did their best to restrict or eliminate the German brewing trade. I do know that by 1943, brewing had stopped in Germany. But you'd know better than I about such things.

I'd welcome information about immediate pre-war and post-war German brewing, since the 1930s and 40s were watershed years for their breweries. Lots of breweries didn't survive the war, and I believe that some historical types of beer died out during this time.

The source for the information on German brewing might have been Holland, which was still desperately trying to be neutral, or the U.S., which still had a fair number of German sympathizers in 1940.