Friday, 14 May 2021

Military brewing in WW II

There was much effort made during the war to ensure those on active service had a supply of beer. It was considered essential for the morale of the troops. That’s the sort of policy you get when you have such an enthusiastic drinker as Churchill in charge.

Providing beer was relatively simple for those troops close to the UK. But how to get beer to those farther away, like in Asia, for example? Some innovative solutions were thought up

Floating brewery
In 1944 the Admiralty asked the Institute of brewing if they thought beer could be brewed on a ship. The initial answer was no. But Stephen Clarke, head brewer of a brewery in Alton thought otherwise.  

Clarke went away and designed a brewing plant which was installed in a 7,494-ton converted merchant-ship called Menestheus. It used malt extract and hop concentrate along with distilled sea water to brew. It was capable of churning out 350 barrels.

The ship must have had a pretty decent distillation plant to provide enough water to brew that quantity of beer. But they didn't brew with straight distilled water, it was treated to make it more suitable for brewing.

The Menestheus was classified as an amenity ship, which meant it hosted all sorts of leisure activities and had a theatre, a cinema and reading rooms.  I’m guessing that the troops appreciated the fresh beer most.

It’s arrival in the Far East was a little too late, occurring just after the Japanese surrender. Though I’m sure its beer was welcome despite hostilities being over.

The Menestheus served in the navy throughout the war and before its conversion to an amenities ship had been a minelayer.

There wasn’t a happy ending for the Menestheus. Back working as a merchant ship, in 1953 a boiler-room explosion ignited a catastrophic fire which led to the vessel being abandoned.

Mobile brewery
In Burma they took the concept of mobile brewing one step further than a brewing ship. They stuck breweries on the back of lorries. Quite a clever way of getting beer production as close as possible to the front line.
Given the conditions under which it was brewed, I doubt it tasted that great. The soldiers must have been glad to get any beer at all, out in the jungle.

Running Beer
The sight of mobile canteens for the Forces are not uncommon, but one learns that Lord Louis Mountbatten has gone further and has instituted mobile breweries as part of the equipment of his forward combat units on the Burma border. The apparatus is said to fit on a 15 cwt. truck - surely a feat of ingenuity when one recalls the size and complexity of even the small experimental brewing plants staged at the Brewers' Exhibition just before the war - and includes a boiler for the liquor, mash tun, copper, cooler and fermenting vessels. Three days are taken in the process, and the beer keeps for only 12 hours, but the results are said to be good notwithstanding a temperature of 95º in the shade. The only missing feature seems to be the Excise officer.
'Brewing Trade Review 1944" page 10.

I’m not surprised that the beer didn’t keep very long. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have anyway, given the thirst that troops in the steamy jungle must have had.

1 comment:

Mike in NSW said...

Sounds like Vietnamese Bia Hoi.

"Bia hơi is available primarily in northern Vietnam. It is mostly to be found in small bars and on street corners.[1] The beer is brewed daily, then matured for a short period and once ready each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in steel barrels"