On Sunday, I gave a talk at the Jewish Community of Amherst on “Jewish Beer and Brewing.” I didn’t actually write that much about this topic in my book, Brewing Battles, so this talk was a combination of material from the book and other sources. For this blog post, I will present primarily the new material.
In 1840, the Jewish population in America was about 15,000. By 1880, there were 250,000. The majority were German Jews. Their reasons for leaving were very similar to non-Jewish Germans. Many of the German Jewish immigrants were involved in business including banking and department stores. German Jews had not been prominently involved in brewing in Germany and thus did not gravitate to that industry in America. The industry that both German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants played a major role in was the garment industry as well as department stores. My father and his family all worked in the garment industry.
German Jews may have shared their fellow citizens’ fondness for beer but in general, Jewish culture leans more to wine drinking and schnapps. Distilled fermented fruit is the basis of German schnapps, which usually has an alcohol content of 40 percent. In America, beer and American whiskey were cheaper than other alcoholic beverages and the products that saloons served most often. Most immigrant groups adapted to these new drinking options.
German immigrants established the well know breweries, Pabst, Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch and others. The most prominent German Jewish brewery was Rheingold. Samuel Leibmann was a brewer in the German town of Ludwigsburg and owned Zum Stern, an inn and brewery. In 1850, Samuel and his three sons came to America, partly to escape anti-semitism. They settled in Brooklyn and opened a brewery at the corner of Forest and Bremen Streets. Brooklyn was a brewing center; in 1898 the city had 45 breweries and prior to Prohibition still had 23. In 1914, S.Leibmann’s Sons produced 700,000 barrels. The company survived Prohibition and reopened in 1933.
The family remained in contact with Germany and in 1933 helped bring Dr. Hermann Schülein, general manager of Lowenbrau Brewery to America. Schulein’s father and brother remained in Germany. His father Joseph spent most of his time at Kaltenberg Castle and provided help and assistance to the Jewish population. Joseph died in 1938. Shortly after his death, his son, Dr. Fritz Schülein, was arrested and spent a brief period in Dachu. He then fled to America and reunited with his brother, Hermann. Today Kaltenberg Castle is a brewery. 1
From the 1880s, Rheingold beer was Leibmann’s signature product. In 1885, the brewery held a dinner honoring Anton Seidel, head of the Metropolitan Opera Company. The last performance of the season was “Das Rheingold” and the company gave this name to the special beer they produced for the dinner.
In the twentieth century Schulien and Philip Leibmann, great grandson of Samuel, developed a recipe for the beer that was similar to European dry lagers. This was the Rheingold beer popular from the 1940s on. The company’s main marketing strategy was the Miss Rheingold contest that began in 1940. The brewery selected the first Miss Rheingold, Jinx Falkenburg, but the next twenty-four were chosen by popular vote. Over 35,000 taverns, delicatessens, and grocery stores had ballots for the contest. My grandfather owned one of these delicatessens, Al’s Delicatessen, in Long Beach, Long Island. I definitely remember the poster for the Miss Rheingold contest. The contest was very popular and the number of votes cast was second only to Presidential elections. The last Miss Rheingold was Sharon Vaughan in 1965.
Leibmann Brothers was the nation’s sixth largest brewery in 1950. “After Repeal the company expanded through acquisitions but Pepsi Cola United Bottlers purchased it in 1964. At that time only the Brooklyn and New Jersey plants remained in operation. Chock Full O’ Nuts, the coffee company, bought Rheingold in1974 and closed the Brooklyn brewery in 1976. In 1977 C. Schmidt and Company, tenth in 1980, bought the brand. In the 1990s and again in 2003 the owners of Rheingold Brewing Company attempted to revive both the company and its famous Miss Rheingold contest. In 2005 Drinks America bought the brand; the company also distributes Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon and Trump Super Premium Vodka.”2
To hear a 1950s Rheingold radio jingle click here
The demise of Rheingold in the 1970s was part of a larger phenomenon in the brewing industry, which saw the number of brewers decline to a low of 51 breweries in 1983. Of course the emergence of craft brewing in 1977 beginning with Albion brewing, cast a rosier hue on this dismal picture.
All different kinds of people are involved in craft brewing. Schmaltz Brewing is a self-defined “Jewish” company. The company began in 1996 in San Francisco and first produced 100 cases of He’Brew beer. The label showed a Hassidic Jew with a full beard and wearing traditional black clothing – except for the hat. It’s red. The company now contract brews its various beers including Genesis Ale, – “The Chosen Beer”, Jewbelation – a Chanukah beer, and Messiah – “The One You Have Been Waiting For” – at Mendocino Brewing in Saratoga Springs, New York. Schmaltz Brewing has sold over 3 million bottles of beer, and is available for purchase in twenty states.Jeremy Cowan founded the company because he felt that “Jews need their own beer.”3
Jeremy Cownan conceived of Schmaltz Brewing as a Jewish enterprise and the beer is Kosher. Recently the Philadelphia branch of Triumph Brewing developed a Jewish Rye Ale. The brewer, Patrick Jones, explained, “The beer is, obviously, modeled after traditional Jewish marble rye bread. Rye bread has three major flavor characteristics, the rye grain itself, a slight or intense sourness, depending on the producer, and caraway.”4
There are two major breweries in Israel, Tempo Beer Industries and Israel Beer Breweries Ltd, which is a subsidiary of the local Coca-Cola Company. Tempo brews Goldstar and Macabee, which are Israel’s most popular beers. You can buy Maccabee in the United States and Europe. Tempo also produces a non-alcoholic beer, Nesher Malt, which has been produced since 1935.There are also some craft brewers in Israel and one Palestinian brewery, Taybeh. Taybeh Brewing Company is located in Taybeh on the west bank near Ramallah. Taybeh means delicious in Arabic. Two brothers, Nadim and David Khoury, started the brewery in 1995. David is the town’s mayor. In 1997, Taybeh became the first Palestinian product to be franchised for sale in Germany; it is brewed and bottled there for sale throughout Europe
- Rolf Hoffman, ”From Ludwigsburg to Brooklyn – A Dynasty of German-Jewish Brewers” http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/hofmann-rheingold.shtml [accessed March 4 2009]
- Amy Mittelman, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer [Algora Publishing, NY, 2007]
- William Brand, “He’Brew, the chosen beer, how it all began” http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup/?s=He%27Brew [accessed March 4, 2000]
- “Brew Revue”Triumph’s Rye” http://mealticket.blogs.citypaper.net/blogs/mu/2009/01/08/brew-revue-triumphs-jewish-rye/ [accessed March 4, 2009]