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Archive for January, 2009

Cold War – Cold Beer, Message in a Bottle

January 27th, 2009 by Lev D. Beerstein | No Comments | Filed in Essentials of Beertheostory, Post World War II

by Lev Davidovich Beerstein1

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I say unto you: One must still have Chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star…
Alas, the time of the most despicable of men is coming – he that is no longer capable of despising himself. Behold I show you the Last Man.
“What is Love? What is Creation? What is Longing? What is a Star?” Thus asketh the Last Man, and he blinks…
Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: Whoever feels differently goes voluntarily into a madhouse…
“We have invented Happiness,” say the Last Men, and they blink…2

I begin with Nietzsche not because I agree with him, but because he addresses the problem of 20th Century beer production so precisely and so revealingly. By defining and then sanctifying cultural norms as their Great Achievements, the great empires of our age rose with the promise of good ale wort and then fell flat, poisoned by the industrially bred yeasts of mankind’s urge to control and conform all that which is under its control.3

From 1946 to 1990, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a slow death grip, the  “Cold War”, so-called, a deadly dance to determine which nation and which economic system would establish global imbeerialist hegemony. Many historians have tried to claim hegemony can only be established by military might and improving quality of life of the citizenry, but as regular readers of this blog know, all real power flows from beer production. Nixon’s and Krushchev’s debates and tours of their counterparts’ nations in the 1950’s were full of displays of production statistics, model homes, consumer products and so on to demonstrate the relative might of their respective nations, not just on the military front, but on a standard of living level as well.4 By ignorance or design, they concealed  the true driving forces behind all historical development.


At the end of World War II, anticipating their need to gain the upper hand in imbeerialist hegemony, both nations “overlooked” the war crimes of many very talented “reformed” Nazi’s; through cajolery or coercion the emergent Great Powers obtained their services to help build the respective post-war imbeerialist empires.5 Discussions of the influence of this German fifth column within the respective Powers have been brushed under the carpet or simply replaced by a new picture absent the offending party’s visage.6

In the US, the German ex-patriots were able to assimilate into the population with the aid of prior generations of German emigres and J. Edgar Hoover conveniently losing their incriminating dossiers. In the USSR, by contrast the German populations both those newly acquired through the Yalta agreements, and those well established, were treated as second class citizens, still under suspicion as Petit Bourgeoisie provocateurs.7

The lines of demarcation were thus clearly drawn in the political sands. The Soviet Communist party in the eastern block, with its central control of all social processes and removal of capitalistic thievery from the supply chain believed itself to be the highest form of economic life: its rational directives perfectly able to provide the citizen with the best results.

The American Capitalist model in the West, by contrast, allowed entrepreneurs to utilize privately accumulated capital to design and distribute products in the “free” market place. They risked financial failure in exchange for a chance at large profit taking, depending on the success of the marketed product.

In the center of Europe lay the iron curtain dividing Germany from itself and Bohemia, the original home of Pilsener Beer, from Bavaria. The Soviet Union believed as Bismarck8 famously proclaimed ‘Whoever holds Bohemia, holds the key to Europe’9: Both were not wrong.10 In The Arms Race that ensued,  Bohemian style Pilsners11 were  the chief arm raisers during the  decades of cold draft and sabre rattling. In short, they dominated the thoughts of beer drinkers and brewers the world over.

In the depths of the cold war, cold beer was an important bolster for the beleaguered citizen in both worlds, and the beer available to him reflected the conditions of his surroundings. Print media of the time offers interesting artifacts with which to better analyze how and why the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in this competition.

In the USA, competing nationwide networks of breweries vied to create products that would reach the largest audience and be palatable to the largest number of people.

The image of the successful beer brewing capitalist in his ostentatious office is a fitting symbol of the system that produced him. His little Hampden Brewery was in fact one unit of a regional brewery corporation owned by even wealthier capitalists. His clean desk may be an indication of his German practicality, or the impending end of his “brand” and his job, since all of his accouterments have been repossessed to keep the brewery open, as the larger company made tactical decisions to brew their more popular brands in more locations.12

The row of glasses containing identical yellow pilsner beer, are indicative of the final case: Despite their extravagant full page claims to the contrary, the most successful beers during the majority of the cold war era were practically all barely distinguishable yellow pilsners. The need to grab the largest share at the lowest risk drove this inevitable outcome. By the end of the 1950s, nationally recognized pilsner brands dominated the “free” market in even the most remote and sparsely populated states.

In the soviet world, advertisement was unnecessary, and profit theoretically of no concern. The beer available was that produced to achieve the state’s goals most conveniently, based largely on the decisions of the local central planning committees. The committee enforced policies of uniformity, expropriating and nationalizing beer recipes and distributing raw materials according to implacable timetables. Polina Yashmova of the All-Russia Institute of Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Beverages describes the situation: “Our institute worked out documentation on the [Zhigulevskoe] brand in 1936,” Yashmova said. “Two years later, it was introduced into mass production across the entire country. You had to produce it whether you wanted to or not.” With few brands to choose from over the ensuing 50-odd years, the beer soon became popular among the general public, and production volumes rose to nearly 3 billion liters a year.
The result, even while the breweries attempted to distinguish them selves with their various colored labels, by far the majority of available beers during the period were indistinguishable yellow pilsner.

Variety or deviations from the vast monolithic center were in both cases, rare, and furthermore, subversive! What then broke the stalemate? Ultimately after decades of the accumulated errors of Soviet repression of its German populations and over reliance on Bohemian pilsner finally brought about the collapse of the Soviet empire and the preeminence of the United States as The Only Global Superpower.14 More on this in a future article.

1Mr. Beerstein grew up on a farm, and learned to tend the intricate wood burning malt roasting ovens of a nearby Monastic Brewery.
He read a lot of science and philosophy while tending the ovens. This is where he developed his understanding and appreciation the subtle beauties of brewing, beer, and their impact on the wider world.

2Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Walter Kaufman trans.

3(The Editors) We can not figure out which is more confusing, the Nietzsche quote or this statement. It may sound like sacrilege, but right about now we are ready for the simple pleasure of a Budweiser or a PBR(Pabst Blue Ribbon a.k.a. PuBeRs).
(Beertheostorian A) To paraphrase the immortal words of Monty Python: Their brains hurt.

4(The Editors) Blah, blah, blah, blah ,blah!!
(Beertheostorian A) Their depth of analysis is absolutely stunning.

6(The Editors) Our acquaintances formerly with CP USA assure us nothing like that ever occurred in the Soviet Union and that accusations that Stalin or other Soviet leaders had prominent leaders executed and then airbrushed their faces from photographs in which they might have appeared is all capitalist propaganda by its running dog press.

8(The Editors) Didn’t the Bismarck catch fire over Lyndhusrt, New Jersey or was it that big battleship sunk by the British in the Falklands War?
(Beertheostorian A), It was the Hindenburg over Lakehurst New Jersey, and World War II against Nazi Germany, not the Falklands War against the military junta of Argentina.

10(The Editors) This Bismarck fellow seems a quite intelligent after all. Even if he could not build a seaworthy zeppelin or an airworthy battleship, he recognized a most important fact, that Pilsener’s are the key to Europe. That fact that Bohemia was the home to some of the world’s most advanced arms manufacturing plants and contains The Bohemian Gate an easily defended Water Gap on the Elbe River, the highly defendable Eisentein Pass as well as other heavily fortified hills and mountains dividing the northern plains of Western Europe from the southern plains of Eastern Europe probably did not factor into his calculus in light of this most relevant fact, Pilsener beer.

11 as well as thermo-nuclear devices.

12 for a history of the Dolger breweries including Hampden see http://www.rustycans.com/COM/month1003.html#top

14(The Editors) Finally something we can understand and he is going to leave us hanging?