Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Pilsener and WW I

 I keep stumbling upon dead interesting stuff with my wide searches of the newspaper archive. This is all about German beer in Britain in 1914.

The war caused considerable problems in the supply of Lager. In the early years, it was because much had come from the now hostile powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany. Later it would be U-Boats making supply from neutral countries impossible.

On the outbreak of war, people felt it their patriotic duty to boycott everything German:

"All Germany commodities have been barred from the London clubs. Hot as the weather is, nobody dreams of asking for a Pilsener!"
Cheltenham Looker-On - Saturday 15 August 1914, page 8.
This is just weird:

"WAR DECLARED ON GERMAN BEERS BY CHELTENHAM ALE.
"Stoppered Press."—An ultimatum has been delivered by Cheltenham Ale to Pilsener and Lager beers : —That as they are German beers and have invaded the territory where better and more wholesome beers are brewed, and as these beers are brewed from local resources and have the recommendation of local, medical and lay opinions, that in future they are required to confine themselves to their own territory under pains and penalties being tried and found quite unsuited to the British Liberal Conservatism."Cheltenham Looker-On - Saturday 29 August 1914, page 11.
This next text is from a newspaper article which seems to be a piece of fiction. But it does contain some fascinating information.

"I happened to be in London the next few days and found my way, in spite of the prevailing gloom, some my old haunts. Curiosity led me to the "Ye Olde Gambrinus," that famous haunt of Germans, where excellent Pilsener beer and more excellent sausage is the great attraction. But when I entered what a change! "Ye Olde Gambrinus" had become a '"Cafe Brasserie," waiters Saxon and Bavarian, had given place spruce Frenchmen, and the glorious placards of the veritable Pilsen and Munchen beers had disappeared. The crowd was still cosmopolitan. Little Oddy still flitted, smiling, here and there. But it was all strange. Now, truth to tell, I love German beer, and I had come with the hope a long draught even at the expense of my patriotism. Around people were sucking syrups and dallying with liqueur. I called the waiter.

"Pilsen." I murmured. He shook his head.

"We have some excellent lager," he said, suavely. "Brewed in Holland."

"I'll try it." I said disdainfully. Try I did — and again — and once more. It was really excellent. Clever fellows those Dutchmen. Got just the right touch. It was really difficult to say which was the better. I tried recall the pleasures of past Pilsener — then called for another Dutch. Excellent. I went home that night in better frame of mind than for months past. What matter if the war did last for years. We could stick it, and we were bound to win. Then I thought of Charlie Smithson. He, too, I remembered, liked a glass or two of Pilsener. I must cheer him by sharing my knowledge.

But it was some weeks before I saw again—he was a great deal from home, and so was I. But I passed him one day in the street as I was hurrying to my train. He certainly looked more cheerful, and filled his clothes better.

"Come up and see me," he called out, as I rushed past.

"Right oh!" I replied.

So that, night I determined to do so. Rachel was still knitting.

"I'll stroll up to Smithson's," I said casually, after dinner.

"Knit 3, 1 over, pull over 1 — don't be late," murmured Rachel.

I went, and as I toiled up the hill I devoutly hoped that Smithson was not in one of his gloomv moods. If he is, I reflected, I'll (excision by Censor). I noticed a flat cart coming down the hill, and as it drew nearer I observed that it had a load of empty cases. And as I glanced again I saw. in bold letters, the words "Brewed in the Royal Brewery at Amsterdam" stamped on the cases. "Heavens!" I cried as a thought came me, and I pressed on.
Newcastle Journal - Saturday 28 November 1914, page 3.
Ye Olde Gambrinus really existed and was a German pub and restaurant. It didn't take it long to change its name after the war started.

A postcard of Ye Olde Gambrinus

It's fascinating, but not so surprising that Dutch Lager was brought in as a replacement for beers from the Central Powers. The author even handily tells us which brewery it comes from: Amstel. Though not in so many words.

Here's some more about the Gambrinus:

"By the beginning of the twentieth century the largest "beer hall" appears to have been "Ye Olde Gambrinus" with branches in both Regent Street and Glasshouse Street in Piccadilly. This fiem gave itself various plaudits including "The Home of Lager Beer in England" and "the Largest Original Beer Hall in England". Its drinks included genuine Munich Pshorrbräu and Kulmbacher "Monchshof " on tap."
"Migration and Transfer from Germany to Britain 1660 to 1914" edited by Stefan Manz, Margit Schulte Beerbühl, John R. Davis, 2007, page 154.

Now we know exactly what the some of the beers it sold were: Pshorrbräu from Munich and Monchshof from Kulmbach. I think the authors are displaying a lack of knowledge of London geography. Glasshouse Street runs behind Regent Street:

OS map of 1896
That part of London must have been popular with Germans - the London Pavillion Music Hall on the far right of the map housed a Spaten beer hall

In reality, Gambrinus was a single pub with two entrances:

"The Gambrinus has entrances in both Regent Street and Glasshouse Street."
"The Gourmet's Guide to London" by Newnham-Davis, 1914, page 378.
I'm shocked at how many German beer halls London had before WW I.

Lots more about Pilsener and WW I to come.

1 comment:

Bailey said...

That 'two branches' line, which we've seen repeated elsewhere, is quite a clanger -- only take a quick glance at a map!

What probably adds to the confusion is that there was a second Gambrinus (aka the New Gambrinus) on nearby Rupert Street.