Sunday 10 October 2021

Beer in Belgium in WW II

The minutes of the CBK (Dutch brewers' organisation) aren't just packed with useful stuff aboput Holland. There's plenty about their southern neighbour, Belgium.

It's fascinating to see how different the situation was in the two countries. Unlike Holland, Belgium didn't seem to grow much malting barley. Even in early 1940, before Belgium was officially participating in the war, the country's brewers were trying to import barley. Itt looks like their supplies were drying up. Where had they imported their barley from previously? It it was anything like the UK, the USA, Chile and the Middle East would have been the biggest suppliers.

Mr Stikker announces that at the N.A.C. has been urged to have any malting barley to be exported be malted in the Netherlands.

De Heer Swinkels believes that the N.A.C. has already exported 6,000 tons of malting barley to Belgium.Minutes of the management of the CBK on 16th January 1940, held at the Amsterdam City Archives, document number 31121-1, page 379.

Rather than just buy it outright, the Belgians were offering to exchange feed barley for malting barley:

"The N.A.C. announced that it has to export 7,000 tons of Zeeland malting barley to Belgium in exchange for feed barley in the ratio of 100 : 155. In Belgium, the Assbra (Association of large Belgian breweries) offers this barley at frs.185- (± f.11 .50) to breweries or malthouses. In addition, Belgium is also considering importing Moroccan barley at frs. 150.- "
Minutes of the management of the CBK on 13th February 1940, held at the Amsterdamse Stadsarchief, document number 31121-1, page 367.

We're now into the summer of 1940, after the Germans had occupied both Belgium and Holland.

Mr Stikker announces that the beer gravity in Belgium since 20th July may not exceed 10%; the use of rice is prohibited, only malt and sugar are allowed; Furthermore, it is forbidden to malt barley. Belgian breweries would receive 55,000 tons of barley for the next season, which is very little in relation to their needs.

The two brewery associations existing in Belgium, namely the Assbra and the Federation, have united to form an association which has regulatory authority for the brewing company.
Minutes of the management of the CBK on 30th July 1940, held at the Amsterdam City Archives, document number 31121-1, pages 339 - 340.

Immediately beer gravity was cut and restrictions imposed on the use of certain materials. Unlike in Holland, there was immediately a shortfall in barley supplies. In Holland not much changed in the first six months of the occupation as malt and barley stocks were sufficient.

Things only got worse.

Mr Stikker says that it has recently been forbidden in Belgium to give a Belgian beer names that indicate a foreign origin, such as "Pilsen", "Baviere", "Munich", "Dortmund".

Regulations have also been given with regard to gravities. Three qualities of beer are allowed with a gravity of +- 10%, +- 6.25% and +- 5.75%.

The recently issued ban on processing the raw material stocks of the breweries has now been lifted again.

Beer consumption has recently fallen by about 30 to 40%."
Minutes of the management of the CBK on 14th November 1940, held at the Amsterdam City Archives, document number 31121-1, page 297. 

The Belgians weren't even allowed to keep their beer names. And the strengths of some types of beer were already getting frighteningly weak. Those gravities equate to about 4%, 2.5% and 2.3% ABV. What a contrast to Holland, where beer production increased in the first couple of years of the war.

All this was just a taste of the bad times to come.

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