The new beers from the former colonial empires.


The accelerated industrialisation of the brewery does not only concern Europe or North America. The former colonial powers settle their brewery companies in their former colonies. These companies will have to solve two problems:

  1.   Convincing populations attached to their traditional beers to drink European-style beer
  2.   Adapting the industrial brewing processes to local resources, conditions and logistics: water, cereals, antiseptics, equipment, bottling, climate, transport, cold chain, etc.


The conversion of the traditional beer drinkers to the industrial beer did not take place everywhere in the same way. But it has always been based on the consumption habits of the local elites, either from the wars of independence (Latin America, Black Africa, India) or heirs to the British colonial power (Commonwealth countries). The social and political message revolved around the theme: "Give up your primitive indigenous beers, enter modernity and drink the beer of the white man ! (var. the beer of the national bourgeoisie)". The cultural past of each country or region of the world has favoured or, on the contrary, slowed down this conversion to new drinking manners . Let's take 4 examples:

  1.    The Aboriginal peoples of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand did not have brewing traditions. European settlers came with their lager beers and western brewing methods adapted to local resources. This ex-nihilo brewing tradition followed the technical developments of the industrial brewing industry around the world, and even innovated[1].
  2.    The colonial powers in Latin America pursued policies hostile to the Amerindians. Having become independent in the 19th century, the young states turned to Europe to attract adventurers and entrepreneurs. The question of indigenous beers does not arise for a population that is predominantly Creole or from the European cultural background. A centuries-old gulf separates the Amerindian tradition (corn/manioc/potato/carob beers) from the colonial tradition of barley lager. Germans set up the first industrial breweries in Argentina at the end of 18th century[2], in Chile around 1850[3].During the 19th and 20th centuries, all Latin American countries turned their backs on Native American beers and sought in Europe, or in the U.S. for the most recent political independences, a brewing tradition foreign to the history of the country.
  3.    4 European powers shared Black Africa in the second half of the 20th century. Portugal (Angola, Mozambique), France (West and Central Africa), the British (East Africa and South Africa), Belgium (Congo, Great Lakes). The centuries of colonisation have had little effect on drinking habits and the brewing of traditional beers for Africans. European beers, first imported and then brewed locally, were reserved for the circles of white settlers or African administrative executives. The large regions of influence in Africa remained the preserve of the brewing groups of their respective metropolises. In the second half of the 20 century, political independence redefined the economic development of these countries and pushed the young African states to find tax revenues. The centralised industrial brewery offered better financial prospects than the traditional village brewery, which was uncontrollable, dispersed and fed by locally grown cereals. The official campaigns denigrate the traditional African beers and push Africans towards the industrialised beers which have become "national beers" [4].
  4.    In South Africa, the white brewers have industrialised a traditional sorghum-based beer called "kaffir beer". This historical situation is the result of the government's policy of racial segregation. The fermented drinks of the whites could not be drunk by the blacks according to a prohibition decreed in 1928. White-owned brewing groups produced and marketed for decades a traditional beer reserved for the black township population[5]. The former Rhodesia implemented a similar policy[6].


South Africa in the 1930s and 1990s illustrates the adaptation of industrial brewing methods to the production of traditional beers. Malted sorghum substituted for barley, raw grains added, acidulous fermentation maintained, low filtration, all this to approach the traditional kaffir beer. From one continent to another, from one southern or tropical region to another, brewery laboratories have vied with each other in imagination to adapt European or American-style industrial beer to local conditions. Use of local malts or raw grains, maize or rice grits, hop substitutes, rectified waters, etc.

These patterns were repeated in Asia (China, Japan, South-East Asia), India, Indonesia, the Pacific, wherever a European colonial power imposed its economic and cultural domination.

Only one slighty different scenario was implemented by Japan in the 19th and 20th century. In its imperial conquest of the Pacific, Japan wanted to impose sake wherever it established its colonies. This aggressive colonial policy was based on the same principles: to denigrate or prohibit indigenous beers, to promote and develop the Japanese beer brewing par excellence, i.e. the brewing of sake.

The conquest of the world by industrial beers is so complete that "beer" nowadays means for a tourist a fresh lager drunk in the same way all around the world, in the center of a big city as in a remote village. Other types of beer have left only a vague memory in the collective memory of European, American and even Asian or African peoples.

With the exception of a few local situations, the predicted end of indigenous beers seemed certain in the world from the 1960s onwards. The political elites accused them of conveying cultural archaisms, keeping their countries in a bygone past. Economists blamed them for wasting grain resources in developing countries. Hygienists denounced the alleged poor quality of traditional beverages, especially beers brewed in villages. Sociologists said they were fighting against the disorders of alcoholism that these traditional beers symbolised.


Who would bet on the survival of these traditional beers in the world?



[1] In 1854-6, James Harrison developed the world's first practical refrigerator in Victoria and built an ice machine. His invention would be adopted by the Bendigo Brewers of Glasgow and Co.


[3] Joaquin Plagemann opened one of the first breweries in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1850, Carlos Anwandter another in Valdivia the following year.

[4] The striking arguments were that the village beer is a poor quality beverage. The brewing of that beer empties the village granaries. This kind of local beer costs almost nothing, it pushes peoples towards alcoholism. Every commercial argument has been disproved. Traditional unfiltered beers are nutritious, rich in vitamins and micronutrients. Village brewing consumes less grain than large industrial breweries. The village drinking manners supervise the drinker and are less harmful than the solitary drinking of beer can drinkers.

[5] Crush J. and Ambler c. (eds.) 1992, Liquor and Labor in Southern Africa (Athens and Pietermaritzburg). La Hausse P. 1988, Brewers, Beerhalls and Boycotts: A History of Liquor in South Africa.  Johannesburg. Mager Anne 1999, The First Decade of 'European Beer' in Apartheid South Africa: The State, the Brewers and the Drinking Public, 1962-72. Journal of African History, Vol. 40, No. 3, 367-388

[6] Wolcott Harry 1974, The African Beer Gardens of Bulawayo: Integrated Drinking in a Segregated Society, Center of Alcohol Studies, Monograph N° 10.

08/10/2015  Christian Berger