Miss Rheingold

Jews and Brewing History

There is currently a special exhibit, “Beer is the Wine of this Land: Jewish Brewery Tales” at the Jewish Museum in Munich. The story of Jewish beer culture begins in Egypt, where the enslaved Israelites discovered the beverage and later brewed it when they returned to Israel. For a time, beer was considered a universal remedy that could treat everything from snake bites to leprosy.

The Jews’ connection to Germany dates back to the Middle Ages, when they were expelled from most of Europe’s cities. Some German Jews cultivated hops, and most of the hop farms near Nuremburg were owned by Jews. During the Third Reich, the farms were acquired by German owners in what the museum’s director called a “friendly Aryanization”; they were given back to their owners after the war.

Other Jews in the industry weren’t as lucky as the hop growers. One notable exile was Hermann Schülein, who fled to the United States and became the manager of the Liebman Brewery. Its flagship product was a New York icon: Rheingold lager, which was famous for using celebrity endorsers and staging the annual Miss Rheingold beauty competition.

Rheingold production ended in 1976, but the tradition of Jewish brewing in New York is being carried on by the Shmaltz Brewing Company, whose products include eight beers brewed for Hanukkah.

Miss Rheingold Strolls Down Memory Lane

If you’re a person of a certain age and grew up in the New York area, you probably remember Miss Rheingold. From 1939 until 1964, the Rheingold Brewing Company sponsored an annual competition in which customers chose one of a group of attractive young women to represent the beer. Five finalists, four of whom were winners, recently got together at the New York Historical Society, which is sponsoring an exhibition titled “Beer Here–Brewing New York’s History.”

The Miss Rheingold competition was an eagerly-anticipated event. Millions of votes were cast–this in a pre-Internet era when it was much harder to stuff ballot boxes–and the contestants included future stars. How high was the quality of these women? The list of non-winners includes Grace Kelly, Tippi Hendren, and Hope Lange.

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