Thursday, 19 August 2021

Barley, hops and foreign investments

 We're still in Holland, I'm afraid. Just like me.

A few snippits from Heineken's first public annual report, in 1939. Nothing so boring as the numbers. Pretty boring to most, but still not as boring as numbers. (Which happens to the title of my worst-selling book.)

Starting with some luke-warm optimism:

"If we had to state in our previous report that although the downward trend in beer sales had come to an end, it was impossible to speak of a significant increase, this year too there has been no improvement.

Due to the warm weather during August and during the festivities on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of HM the Queen, both last months of our financial year are a favorable exception and we were able to finish the year with a small increase in turnover."
Algemeen Handelsblad 11-01-1939, page 13.

If only they'd known what lat just around the corner. Starting with a couple of really good years when sales increased considerably. Followed by some really shit ones. I'm guessing these are the words of the chairman. Though the newspaper doesn't mention either that or that person's name.

The next bit was the most useful for me.

"The prices of malting barley and malt were noticeably higher this year than in the previous year, even if they were still at a low level. Owing to the favorable weather prevailing in various barley-producing regions of our country during the harvest season, the quality of the 1938 Dutch malting barley harvest is satisfactory and a quantity of the national crop will be used to brew by us in the coming year, greater than in any preceding year.

There was little change in the prices of hops. It remains to be seen to what extent the annexation of a large part of the hop-producing regions of Czechoslovakia by Germany will lead to an increase in hop prices."
Algemeen Handelsblad 11-01-1939, page 13.

It seems as if Holland only got its act together just in time for WW II. They'd have been well and truly buggered if they hadn't. Importing barley wasn't a possibility once Holland was occupied.

Before the war they did appear to be using Czech hops. At least if Peter Symons interpretation of Heineken's records is correct. (It's great that anyone can take a look at them.) And from an area in the Sudetenland.

Not sure why I've included the last one. Except that it's an intersection I know well.

"The renovation of our office building in Amsterdam will probably be completed in the first half of 1939. Apart from the alteration which will have to be made within a few years in the old buildings at Ferdinand Bolstraat and Stadhouderskade in Amsterdam, no major rebuilding or renovations are to be expected in the foreseeable future."

I bet that second set of renovations never happened. At least were delayed many years.

Quite surprising was the number of pies Heineken had their fingers in.

"Foreign interests.
Our interests in breweries abroad currently concern:

Brasserie Leopold S.A. in Brussels;
Colonial Breweries "Cobra" in Amsterdam;
Malayan Breweries Ltd. in Singapore;
Heineken's Dutch East Indies Brewery Mij. in Surabaya.

The colonial brewery "Cobra" itself again owns important participations in the SA dea Bières Bomonti & Pyramides in Cairo; Crown Brewery in Alexandria; Malayan Breweries Ltd. in Singapore; Heineken's Ned.-Indische Bierbrouwerij Mij. in Soerabaja; Société Internationale de Brasserie "Interbra" in Brussels, the latter having major interests in the Brasserie Union Messine in Metz and Brasserie de Léopoldville in Léopoldville (Congo).

Apart from the participation in these breweries, where we are directly involved in the management—albeit not everywhere to the same degree—we have less significant interests in a few other breweries abroad. The development of all these companies is satisfactory."
Algemeen Handelsblad 11-01-1939, page 13.

 Looking at these interests, all the entries in Heineken's Gravity Book for Far Eastern beers make a lot more sense. Especially the analyses of beers from Malaya and Singapore. Maybe one day I'll be arsed enough to suck the data into a spreadsheet and share it with you. There are loads for beer brewed in Surabaya, where Heineken's own brewery in what is now Indonesia was located.


Michael Foster said...

The Singapore company popped out to me, as I've been in Southeast Asia for a few years now. Looks like the precursor to Heineken Asia Pacific, and was set up to produce Tiger Beer.

Of the SEA beers available, Tiger is perhaps the least memorable, not being as bad as Chang or Singha, not as good as Leo, and nowhere near as good as BeerLao, the crown jewel brewery of this otherwise alcohol-cursed part of the world.

I'd be curious if there are any early records of Tiger beer--would they have closely followed Heineken recipes? Would they have made changes for the different climate and locale?

Anonymous said...

Michael, I address some of your questions in my article published recently on early Malayan beer history, see here:

It's not online but if you contact the journal Brewery History, see details in website, you can obtain a copy.

It was interesting for me to see Ron's data (see his subsequent posts) especially for Tiger Stout and Archipelago Stout. Heineken would have known everything there was to know about the first, certainly, as it was in joint venture with Fraser & Neave in that period.

Gary Gillman