Nikopol Brewery*

Marzen on the Dnieper

There are absorbing stories latent in the charming beer labels of old East Europe. They tell of breweries, often distant from centres of influence, plying routes of Empire for trade, and their beers. It might be the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it might be the Russian one.

The labels might be in Roman, or graceful Cyrillic, but a story is there to tell. The brewery of Nikopol is case in point.

Nikopol? I had the same question.

The Popular Encyclopedia (1879) placed Nikopol in southern Russia, on the Dnieper River, centre of a rich agricultural area. There were 8,858 souls. Today, Nikopol is in Ukraine. The nationality of the soul changes, but it is still Slavic.

The Popular Encyclopedia mentioned transport and trade ties with Odessa, on the Black Sea. This proved important for the brewery albeit Nikopol is well-upriver, a couple of hundred miles or so. It sits on a piece of land jutting into the river. In 1888 Karl Antonovich Steckel (sometimes rendered Stekel) established a sizeable, steam-powered brewery in the city.

You may view it here ca. 1890, posted in Rupivo, a Russian breweriana site. A big hulking affair, it broods over the town, belying the joy-giving properties of its product. Below is a modern view of the Dnieper from the Nikopol shore (source: Wikipedia):



Russia and Ukraine went through a lot since the Belle Epoque: Revolution, Leninism, Stalin and the New Economic Policy, WW II and the fight to get the Germans out, etc. It seemed unlikely much could be documented for the brewery’s early years.

Not so. A journalist called Igor Antsishkin wrote an excellent account a few years ago in Nikopol Arts, which reports on culture and events. As translated by Google, the title is Enterprises That we Lost: Nikopol Brewery has Been Brewing Beer for Over a Hundred Years.

I will summarize aspects but the original should be read for the full flavour. More than the gist is rendered by the translation, and a bonus: the literal results of machine translation can render a poetic or charming effect.

This line though rings well in standard English while revealing Slavic proclivities:

Beer without vodka is throwing money into the wind.

Steckel is described as Austrian but as having been connected as well to Turnau, now Turnov in northern Czech Republic. Bavaria is mentioned too although I think Turnov was never in Bavaria. It is clear he was not from Nikopol and never resided there. He had a house he would occupy for short periods to survey his investment.

He hired a general manager, Ivan Pitro, who had graduated from a brewing academy in Turnau, and the two are remembered as operating the brewery before the Revolution.

Antsishkin describes many details. These include where the hops and barley came from (locally, with some hops imported eg. from Bohemia), staffing, production figures and values, and motive power for different functions.

The brewery took water from the Dnieper – still clean then – and malted its own grain. It used bottles of fairly recent design produced by an Empire factory, in Donetsk, exotic coloured triangular-shaped bottles. You may view them in Rupivo, for Nikopol, too.

Ahead of WW I the brewery was nearing 100,000 hL per annum, reaching first division in the brewers’ league, by the metric we saw earlier. A prohibition law, then the war, slowed its course, but the brewery carried on under Lenin and Stalin. The Germans used it to make beer for the Wehrmacht after occupying the city.

At war’s end it returns to domestic production, and is expanded for kvass and soft drinks. It ends its beer production days only in 2002 – an amazing run, taking all with all.

Antsishkin describes the beer types made in Steckel’s day, names familiar to me from writing on East European brewing. He states (Google translation):

The brewing process took an average of five days. The brewery brewed the then famous sorts of beer – “Martovskoe”, “Plzenskoe”, “Venskoe” and “Porter”.

So, March beer, pilsner, Vienna, and porter. The first and third would seem the same, but presumably there was some difference. An American Homebrewers’ Association presentation on old Russian beers has good notes for pre-Revolution styles and after. The author, Ali Kocho Williams, writes of March beer:

  • Martovskoe (synonymous with Marzen, although a darker beer) a slightly sweet flavor and strong malt aroma

Although post-1918 is referenced, I would think Steckel’s beer of this name was similar. Perhaps his Vienna was lighter and paler, or less aged. The five days is puzzling – could it be the brewery was top-fermenting? I would doubt this, but can’t be sure. “Brewing process” might mean mashing and boiling with hops, although normally that should not take five days.

Antsishkin includes a good image of the brewery in 1910. In the 22 years since construction one can see improvements, e.g. the encircling wall. A less random character is evident, in general, than in 1888 when rude footbridges still crossed the Dnieper.

So this story has all the elements of my accounts for Belarus, Galicia, and Lithuania: onset of industrial brewing, focus on lager, ever-present competition (see Antsishkin again), and the traumatic effects of war. It even has religion, not Jewish in this case: Antsishkin states Steckel was Roman Catholic and chary to entrust management to an adherent of the Orthodox Church!

This tells us something about the world of c. 1900, not entirely displaced, sadly.

Coda: Parts of the building still stand. Gorod, a publication in Dnipro further upriver, reported in 2015 that a developer agreed with Nikopol town council to preserve the historic parts to incorporate them in an urban development plan. It would be interesting to know the follow-up, six years later.


*Also or mainly called Steckel Brewery.












Tyskie Beer Gronie, 2021

Polish Options in Ontario

In Ontario currently a small group of Polish brands is available, ones you see often in international centres.

There is Zywiec, Tyskie, Lech, Żubr, Lomza, Okocim. And Lezajsk, Lomza, Tatra, and Warka. All are pale lagers in the international style, but hues and tastes can vary within. Most are around 5% abv, one or two stronger, Okocim has one.

Occasionally a porter appears, but not often enough. All these brands are products of large, so-called macro breweries although Lomza is part of the Polish-owned group Van Pur, more a strong regional, I would say.

My Pick

Looking at some labels recently I chose Tyskie, for two reasons. First, it had the most distant expiry date that day in that LCBO outlet. Second, malt, hops, hop extract, and water are the listed ingredients – no malt adjuncts such as maize, or sugar.

I hadn’t recalled Tyskie was all-malt, not the Gronie anyway which is the flagship internationally. Looking into it, the brand stopped using glucose some time ago, at least in some export markets.

The bottle I bought reads 5% abv, vs. 5.2% on the brewery website.

The taste was excellent, fresh, tangy, bitter enough, lightly malty, a touch sweeter than most in the group mentioned. Most are too dry for my palate anyway, so this is a plus.

Some Background on Tyskie

Tyskie is made in Tychy, a town in Silesia that was German for a long time. The brewery, set up by aristocrats again long ago, had a fillip in the 1860s when placed on an industrial footing to brew lager.

By 1900 it was selling over 100,000 hL per annum, in the top league of Polish breweries then. Some of the medium-size brewers hadn’t reached half that even by the 1930s, such as Pupko in Lida.

Of course, there were tumultuous changes in Poland during that 30+ years, especially the advent of WW I and the struggle to recover in the 1920s

Tyskie today is part of a three-brewery Polish group, Kompania Piwowarska which together represents about one-third of Polish beer sales. Kompania is owned by Asahi of Japan. It was owned formerly by SABMiller, before its merger with Anheuser Busch In Bev.

The Kompania site has a good timeline with informative photos.

Some Brewing Details

The website for the brewery states Tyskie Gronie has 20 IBUs, quite respectable, and 5.2% alcohol as noted above. Possibly the domestic Gronie still uses sugar, which might account for the higher abv.

The bottle states Lubelski and Marynka hops feature, both Polish varieties. The Polish Hops site has good detail on each. The first, from the classic Lublin yards, is a Noble variety connected to famed Saaz of Bohemia.

Marynka has some New World elements viz. the Brewer’s Gold in the heritage, but is not dominant in Tyskie Gronie.

Other Tyskie Beers

The brewery website showcases three other brands: a wheat malt beer, made by bottom-fermentation; a decoction pilsener following methods from the 1920s; and a darkish lager of lower alcohol, “a hit” of the 1970s, meaning I think the recipe dates from then.

There is a craft/specialty line as well under the Ksiazece banner. The porter looks first rate.


One doesn’t always want a rich malty or hoppy beer. At least I don’t, and Tyskie is a well-brewed alternative. Its move to all-malt is salutary, Heineken did the same thing about 25 years ago.

This can only improve quality provided brewers don’t push the fermentation too far. Tyskie gets it right.



Ale of Zywiec, Poland. Part 1.


I have been discussing early, pre-craft ale brands in Poland. By this I mean, not Grodziskie aka Grätzer, Kotbuss, or other ancestral top-fermentation beers, some of which used wheat malt or mixed grains, sometimes with honey or molasses.

Rather, I mean English-style, relatively strong, barley malt ale, exported to Baltic ports even before the 1800s, as of course porter whose story is better-known.

The exports stimulated local manufacture, initially to circumvent tariff barriers.

Early Polish Ales

In 1844, John Macgregor in Commercial Statistics. A Digest of the Productive Resources, etc. wrote under “Manufactures of Poland”:

Beer of all descriptions is a favourite beverage of the middle and higher classes in Poland, and a preference for English porter and ale appears to have existed for many years back.

He goes on to describe a close attempt to implant English brewing locally:



See also the chapter on porter by Martyn Cornell in The Geography of Beer: Culture and Economics, ed. Nancy Hoalst-Pullen and Mark Patterson (2020).

As is well-known, porter endured in Baltic countries and appurtenant lands (to my mind Poland is not “Baltic” as such) although bottom-fermentation became almost invariable.

But what happened to the ales? From my canvassing of historic labels and other sources, they withered. Bottom-fermentation beers took over: the clear lagers, exports, bocks, Bawarskies (dark Munich-style) and more.

Strewn through the label catalogues are wheat beers, but many fewer than lagers, and they seemed mainly Bavarian, or Berliner.

Documented Early Polish Ales

A few ales, or beers branded as ale, nonetheless persisted as shown in the historical site Polish Beer Labels, but I counted only four in ca. 1000 labels. The period is mostly interwar, but that tells a tale right there.

I discussed the 1930s era “à la English ale” of Koscierzyna Brewery in East Pomeriana, and the pale ale of similar period from Wielkopolski Brewery in Bydgoszcz. Both breweries were in the same region, broadly.

Zywiec ale

In a different region of Poland, Zywiec brewery, in a valley of that name south-west of Krakow, was established on an industrial footing by the archduke Friedrich Habsburg in 1856. Today it is part of a Polish grouping connected to Dutch-based Heineken.

Zywiec has long been known for its bottom-fermented range including the eponymous pale lager.

I have not been able to ascertain what Zywiec brewed when founded, but would think lager was made, given the scale of investment and construction. Perhaps it followed somewhat later, but anyway lager-brewing became identified with Zywiec.

Nonetheless, a beer called “ale” (the English word) was also made. On the website of Zywiec Beer Museum this label appears:



(Source: Zywiec website)

What type of beer was this, exactly? It does not state pale ale. It does state March (Marcowe). The other Polish words mean Zywiec spring, an allusion to the water source.

In its earliest period, 1820s and 30s, English-style ale in Poland predated the widespread popularity of pale ale, even in Britain. Perhaps March was an allusion to the English March brewing season. Yet March beer as such was not (or little) promoted in England in this period, vs. some trade billing still given October brewing.

Tizard’s manual of 1850 refers to March beer but the term is associated more in England with previous centuries.

Still, a time lag or mere distance can sometimes explain the survival of terms or methods in places distant from the land they originated in.

More likely, Zywiec’s March beer was Vienna lager, a style made famous by Anton Dreher from about 1840, with Bavaria’s Gabriel Sedlmayer in aid (a separate story). But why the ale, then? Perhaps the tan (Vienna) colour reminded people of English ale brewed in Poland earlier in the century.

Maybe the Zywiec ale was strong, à la Burton ale, although March probably did not mean this. March was a common term for beer in Eastern Europe well into the 1900s and usually connoted lager.

Zywiec’s label seems late-1800s vintage, but the brand was still made between the wars, 1920s-30s. In Polish Beer Labels, click on Zywiec in bottom-left, a round label appears for Zywiec ale, lower third of the collection. Two labels appear, in fact, with different bottlers or representatives named.

How this version was brewed is hard to say. The quotation marks could suggest a lager method. It seems likely though the beer tasted English, via the malts used and especially the hops.

Probably too, other Polish breweries marketed such “ales”. Given porter itself was a declining category, they had to be few and far between.

The Modern “Polish Ale”

The well-known Okocim brewery today has a “Polskie ale”, see here. The description suggests a contemporary approach, not meant to evoke the historical. Yet, the term ale used alone – Polskie just means Polish – seems to reflect older usage in the country.



(Source: company website)

Lomza, another well-known Polish brand, also has a Polskie ale, described as a red ale. Like Okocim, nothing seems meant historically except perhaps for terminology.

Some Polish craft brewers market a “piwa ale” or similar, but again not meant historically, by my reading.

There are craft IPAs, some prefixed “English”. In most cases such brewing also is not intended to recall earlier tradition.

Note re images: all intellectual property in images shown belongs to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are identified and linked to original source in the text. Used for educational and research purposes.


*Relatively uncommon in brewing today. There is the Canadian Molson Export Ale (or is “export” the modifier?), Liberty Ale in San Francisco, and a few others, but most modern ales state whether pale, India, bitter, red, etc.










New Article on Naming Origins of Porter

I’m pleased to announce that my article “A New Idea Regarding the Origin of Porter’s Name”, has just appeared in the U.K.-based food history journal Petits Propos Culinaires, in issue #119 (April 2021).

In the article, I argue for a plausible link between the names porter and three threads, and early weaving terminology, which represents a new direction in porter studies, so far as the naming aspect is concerned.

This article reiterates in a concise way, and brings to wider attention, my views as set forth in a number of posts here in 2015.

To subscribe to PPC or order a single copy, see purchasing details for issue #119 (pictured below) at Prospect Books, which publishes works on cookery and food history.



The English Ales of Pomerania


Brewing can demonstrate interesting continuities over time. Its special magic, as for winemaking and distilling, is to create an uplifting quality. Often a bond develops between producer and public, and locale of production acquires an aura.

Few things are more emotive to the beer lover than a weathered old brewery.

Some breweries still brew in the old stand, inevitably with changed ownership over time. Some American Budweiser is still brewed in a forest of buildings in downtown St. Louis, Missouri originating in the 1800s.

Molson-Coors has brewed for over 200 hundred years by the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, although soon most operations will transfer to Longueil, Quebec. (This YouTube video gives background).

As brands and breweries can long endure in the public mind, new breweries may adopt the old names, or even move into the original premises.

Brewery Revival in the “Polish Corridor”

Take Stary Browar Koscierzyna, a Polish brewery, hotel, and pub complex. It is in Koscierzyna in northern Poland, about 30 miles south-west of Gdansk.

A brewery similarly named operated in the same location until 1948.

Gdansk before 1945 was more commonly known by its German name, Danzig, while Koscierzyna was long called Berent. Both were in East Pomerania in West Prussia, from the late-1700s until the end of WW I.

In the 1920s and 30s Danzig was a Free Port, and Koscierzyna in the Polish Corridor. The Corridor was a land bridge on former German territory for Poland to access Danzig and the Baltic, including the new port of Gdynia.

To visualize the Corridor see this image at Wikipedia Commons.

East of Danzig was East Prussia. Today Danzig, East Prussia minus a Russian enclave, and much of West Prussia/Corridor are in Poland.

The ethnic mix in these areas varied. Danzig before WW II was mostly German-speaking. Koscierzyna and many other towns in the Corridor had a Polish ethnic majority, especially after WW I. Some towns counted many Kashubians, a west Slavic people closely related to the Poles.

Small percentages of Jews lived throughout until Hitler’s regime sealed their fate.

Brewery History

The hotel website has a good timeline that starts with the earlier brewery, the Berenter Brewery. It was established by Carl Teodor Hanff in 1856, although some brewing took place even earlier.

The brewery was progressively enlarged and industrialized. Abraham Berent took over in 1888, and in 1895 Wilhelm Brendel bought part of the brewery. Before WW I light and dark beers were produced, a Smietanka and Dubeltowe, probably lagers.

The timeline states Abraham Berent was the most dynamic of the early owners. Yet, the brewery had its “golden years” in the interwar period, employing not more than 15 staff but with bottling facilities spread through the region.

WW II is not mentioned but the brewery resumes after, then in 1948 is converted to mineral water production, and later to make mead. All operations ceased in 1998.

Archeology work took place in 2010. Badges of some type in white porcelain were unearthed marked Louis Cohn, seemingly pre-WW I. I am unclear what connection he had to the brewery, if any.

In 2011 investors commenced work for restoration and installation of a new brewery, hotel, pub, and pizzeria. Evidently a substantial investment was made. The results as shown in the gallery are impressive including the gleaming copper brewhouse.

The complex occupies the solid red brick structure descended from the 19th century.

(Source: hotel website).

Interwar Beer Range

A Wikipedia entry for the brewery sets out similar information to the website, adding the beers interwar were “Kozlak, Pelne Jasne, Slodowe Pasteuryzowane and Englishe Ale”. It references a 2017 publication by Isabella Byszewska on revival of the brewery.

So bock, light, malt, and English ale. In the excellent Polish Beer Labels site, original prewar labels of the brewery are reproduced, including for the English ale. It states more specifically – in English, not translated – “à la English ale”, with a Continental flourish.

The “19” is Plato starting extract. The likely result was a strong beer at least 7% abv. The brewery was hearkening back I think to English pale ale before WW I, which makes sense in this context.

Other labels in the group state 2.5% or 4.5% alcohol. The English ale does not state the alcohol content, but “dubeletowe”, or double, on the label suggests a strong beer.

A possibility is this English ale was a strong ale, vs. pale ale as such. I incline against though, given as well that another brewery in the region issued a “pale ale” with inclusion of the double term (see below).

English-style Beer in Prewar Poland 

In leafing through perhaps 1000 labels on Polish Beer Labels, I saw only a handful for ale. There is a pale ale from Wielkopolski brewery in Bydgoszcz, which is some 80 miles south of Koscierzyna.

In Poznan, yet further south but still in the Corridor, a bottler sold English Bass Pale Ale, together with Barclay Perkins Imperial Stout and Pilsner Urquell. These particular labels appear to pre-date WW I.

It seems in parts of northern Poland a slim English ale heritage was being honoured. Via the busy Danzig port British beers would have landed routinely. Porter is the best example and there are many labels for porter in Polish Beer Labels, but few for ale.

Still, a little ale was brewed locally. The “à la” meant perhaps Koscierzyna’s version was bottom-fermented. The timeline notes an ice warehouse onsite in 1872, so lagering was probably the rule at least from that time. Other images show what seems standard lagering in wood tuns.

Ales Today at Stary Browar Koscierzyna

Given the revived brewery is a craft brewery, I expected to find in its range an India Pale Ale, a leitmotif of craft brewing everywhere. And indeed, there is one in the beer list on the brewery’s dedicated website.

The taste notes suggest the fruity, tropical style popular worldwide today, and state that American hops are used.

But an English-style IPA is also listed. This is relatively rare for craft breweries. Of course some is made but the American style dominates everywhere, indeed IPA “means” the American type, full stop.

Why, then, would a revived Polish brewery in a formerly German territory feature an English pale ale?

I think I’ve given you the answer.

The English IPA suggests a classic English palate with its “ripe orange” and “bitter orange”, among other flavours that together spell British. Indeed all-English hops are used.


(Source: brewery website).

Extract per the taste notes is 16 P., producing 6.4% abv, lighter than the 1930s ale. It will do just fine.

In Conclusion

Despite a long hiatus, continuity has prevailed for a Polish brewery’s heritage. First, brewing was re-established in the original locale. Second, a minor but still notable brand in the prewar brewing line was brought back, via the English IPA. This is gratifying, showing too as it does, an appreciation for classic flavours of the past.

See in the Comments my additional remarks for the brewing today.

Note: our next post Ale of Zywiec, Poland continues this discussion.

Note re images: all intellectual property in images shown belongs to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are identified and linked to original source in the text. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*With apologies to the native speakers I have omitted Polish diacritical symbols in these notes.










Avling Øresund Porter

Porter is never far from mind, just as with India Pale Ale. And I’ve been reading or writing a lot about porter lately, Swedish ones, Belarusian, Polish, now Lithuanian.

So how about a Canadian one, especially when I encounter a fine example?

Not sure what the foreign-looking “o” means, but the taste rocks. Flavourful malt sustains the 6% ABV, ditto the assertive, English-style hopping.

It’s more a sustained, drying effect, than bitter. Sandy or mineral-like you might say, not citric or flowery.

The brewery calls it a “robust porter” which certainly applies, as many in the genre have a malty, English stamp.



It brought to mind but perhaps trumps the porter brewed before Covid-19 at Creemore Batch brewpub in downtown Toronto (currently shut under Covid).

They share an elegant, chocolatey note that denotes a traditional London or north European porter. There is, too, that slightly burnt/charcoal taste at the end, not overdone as in too much craft porter or stout.

Avling brewpub is also in Toronto but in an eastern quadrant, on Queen Street. There was a steady line-up, well-separated, on the sidewalk this morning to buy beer from their “hatch”.

The right taste, the right stuff.




“Epstein’s Brewery”, its Fate in Vilnius

Former Szopen Brewery in Vilnius

The Pale of Settlement, the part of western Russia where Jews were permitted to reside without special authorization, included Vilna, or Vilnius, and much of present Lithuania. Vilnius is the capital, a city of much historic importance including to the Jewish community.

A number of breweries in the region had Jewish founders. One continues today in the form of Lithuania’s Kalnapilio-Tauro, part of a group owned by Royal Interbrew of Denmark. All component brands are brewed now in Panevėžys, a sizeable city in Lithuania.

The Kalnapilio limb had separate origins, creation of a landed capitalist in the early 1900s, Albert Foight. Tauro, or Tauras, had 19th century origins in Vilnius in the form of the Szopen Brewery.

We saw in Part II of my series on Jewish-owned breweries in Belarus that in the 1930s “Shafen” had a branch in Lida. It was managed by a Lida resident, to compete with the two local breweries.

That “Shafen” is Szopen. Szopen was founded in Vilnius by two Jewish businessmen in 1860. They associated with Wilhelm Szopen, the brewer, whose name was used to identify the business.

Szopen later purchased the full interest although the other two continued as directors. Kurier Wileński writes on Lithuanian history and stated in a blog essay of 2013:

The first brewery was established in ‎‎Lukaszniki (Vilnius) in 1860. Two Jewish businessmen—Abel Sołowiejczyk and Iser Berg Wolf—were its founders. They fetched to Vilnius a brewer Wilhelm Szopen who soon entered into partnership with the owners and ca 1866 the brewery in ‎Lukaszniki came to be called the Szopen Brewery. In the course of time Wilhelm Szopen became the owner of the brewery, albeit its founders remained in the board of directors ….

Szopen Breweries highly expanded, since from the beginning of 1890 in the company there were employed over 50 workmen and produced up to 300 thousand buckets of beer, a bucket—as a unit of measurement in Russia—was approx. 12.3 litres. Therefore  ….

However, there was also the competition between Jewish businessmen in Vilnius and in 1897 Szopen Breweries were taken over by an affluent Jewish entrepreneur—Mordechaj Owsiej Epstein, the owner of the brewery in Popławy.

The hulking Szopen structure still stands, now converted into studio apartments. This image, titled “Epstein’s Brewery” is from 2017 when the conversion was still ongoing.

Wileński limns the future of the brewery into WW I and the 1930s, at the start of which Szopen was producing 30,000 hL per annum. He mentions the Lida agency connection.

I may add, from 1923 Vilnius (Wilno) was part of Poland. Lithuania did not recognize this and used Kaunas as de facto capital. Vilnius was comprised then of a majority of Poles and Jews.

Wileński states Szopen was nationalized in 1940 – the Soviets controlled Lithuania from June – and after Lithuania regained independence, the name was changed to Tauras.

Tauras was adopted (state a number of other sources) at the end of the war, which may be the meaning here, but in any case not in 1990, when Lithuania ceased to be a Soviet socialist republic.*

Tauras-brand beer is still marketed, as seen in its dedicated website. Bottles and cans are depicted (see Products) carrying the 1860 founding year. A sparse historical timeline is included.

Abel Sołowiejczyk and Iser Berg Wolf are not mentioned, that I could see from Google translation. Wilhelm Szopen is, and “M. Epstein” in connection with the joint stock company formation.

Wileński’s essay is helpful, and a good guide to anyone interested to delve further, particularly with benefit of the relevant languages.

Almost all Lithuanian Jews were killed by the Nazis or their auxiliaries, under the German occupation which lasted from June 1941 until January 1945.

As to whether Mordechai Epstein survived, or his heirs did, or they had connections to the brewery after the war, I don’t know, but all seems doubtful.  I have not been able to find any biographical information.


*The company timeline, referred to below, seems to suggest the Tauras name was adopted in 1950, but in any case it was before 1990.






Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part IV, the Beers of Indura

This continues from Part III, and is last in the series.

Yedidia Efron* (1878-1951) was born in Indura, also known as Amdur, Grodno District, Russian Empire. Today Indura is in Belarus.

His family emigrated to Argentina when he was 17, in 1895. He became an educator, well-known in the Jewish-Argentine community. Not long before he died he wrote a memoir, later published in Buenos Aires as Amdur, mayn geboyrn-shtetl.

It means My Home Town, Amdur. The book appeared in 1973 and has been partly translated in English, see in KehilaLinks, here.

A chapter is of some historical brewing interest, and not a little amusing to boot.

I should say that the time period precedes the Nazi extermination of Jews. A Russian pogrom did arrive, in 1905, but Efron had already departed. While Christians in town are described as a separate community, Jews and Christians lived and worked together, and generally had peaceable relations, according to Efron’s account.

The town constable was not a Jew but took pride in speaking Yiddish. Jews and gentiles of different backgrounds had lived together for hundreds of years in what is now Belarus, by then.

The book is mainly a “domestic” picture, warmly written. It describes incidents and personalities peculiar in some cases to Jewish communities at the time, but most people today can relate to it I think, especially who know the small town.

Some chapters are sentimental in nature, à la musical and film Fiddler on the Roof. Of course, as the author explained, he was writing 55 years after leaving Indura.

The town was majority Jewish in the late 1800s. It retained a substantial Jewish population into WW II, some 25,000. The Nazis killed almost every one plus many non-Jewish residents, 10,000 by one estimate.

For this and other background on Indura that describes a visit in 2000, this essay by Jim Yarin in KehilaLinks is illuminating. The image below is of the town synagogue, today abandoned (source: Wikipedia).



In this chapter, Efron mentions the town brewer, Reuven Birbrayer, whose surname seems derived from his trade. Efron states (tr. Hannah Fischthal):

He had a beer brewery, the only local industry in Amdur. Reuven’s beer was considered to be good, especially when fresh; it cost 6/bottle. There was another kind of beer that was brought from Grodno, from Kuntz’s factory, a much better one; in Amdur we called it “Barish” beer. There were drunken quarrels about the derivation of the name: some said the root is from the word “barish” [a bargain drink] because it is drunk at the conclusion of a transaction; others decided that the word was used because the beer was from Barish [Bavaria] …. This was truly a thorny topic. Yeshua-Velvel the butcher used to ask, “What’s the difference? On both you say the same “shehakol” [the benediction over liquids other than wines].”

Unpacking this statement at this remove is not easy, but I’ll try. My thinking is Reuven’s beer was top-fermented, so ale-type, not lager. Hence probably why the beer didn’t keep in bottle, surely sans pasteurization then.

As we saw earlier, the bulk of brewers in the Pale of Settlement had shifted to bottom-fermentation, or lager, by the 1880s. And many adopted pasteurization with it.

But some still held to the old ways including probably Birbrayer in his small town. Efron explains he was not well-educated, which may be neither here nor there but I mention it for what it’s worth.

The words “from Bavaria” and “brought from Grodno” might suggest the beer wasn’t made in Grodno. It may have been German beer, or Polish.

The Polish Beer Labels site records at the time a brewer called Kuntzmüller in Drezdenko (Driesen), across a broad expanse of Poland from Grodno.

The old trading town of Driesen was then in Prussia, hence a part of Germany. Maybe “Kuntz” sent lager – so Bavarian-style – to Grodno. Perhaps an actual Bavarian brewer named Kuntz did. Or there could have been a Kuntz brewing in Grodno, yes.

“Barish” in my opinion meant Bavarian. Similar words in Russian and Polish mean Bavarian. A Polish brewery in the 1890s in Grochow, near Warsaw, labeled its “Royal” brand Piwo Bawarskie – Bavarian beer, per Polish Beer Labels. Other Polish breweries did similar.

The term therefore was known in a brewery setting outside Germany, to mean Bavarian-type lager.

Then, too, Yeshua-Velvel the butcher asked “What’s the difference?”, as in Judaic tradition, both town beer and the prima import received the same blessing.

He will have the last word.

N.B. For evocative images of Indura today see in the Shtetl Routes site.


*The name is variously spelled in different accounts.





Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part III: Side Trip to Galicia

In my last two posts I considered the situation of two Jewish-owned breweries in Lida, formerly in the Russian Empire, later in Poland, and now in Republic of Belarus.

As prelude in the first piece, I cited evidence that Jews owned a fairly high percentage of Russian breweries, some 30%, in 1910. It was noted these were generally small, and declining in number.

In the late 1930s the Pupko brewery was producing 40,000 hectolitres per annum, and Papiermeister likely I’d estimate 30,000 considering the ratio of employees. Even if Papiermeister was more efficient, or its product appealed more to the market, it seems doubtful it exceeded that production.

I discussed 1936 commentary on Papiermeister stating both breweries reached efflorescence before WW I. This meant I think, not necessarily that production stagnated, but in terms of the economic cycle for that industry.

I will consider further examples of Jewish-owned breweries in Belarus, but before that want to draw attention to a paper by Greg Gembala, The Role of Jews in the Polish Beer Industry.* It appeared in KehilaLinks, a website that documents and memorializes pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Europe.

The paper considers a different but not very distant (relatively) region, Galicia in the Austrian Empire. Today, what was eastern Galicia comprises western Ukraine, while western Galicia is now in south-eastern Poland. The article is a “macro” look at the history of brewing in this region and the Jewish place in it up to WW I.

It is interesting too because one can see a similar arc elsewhere (irrespective of Jewish involvement): the transition of small-scale, “agricultural” brewing to large, efficient units, with a consequent winnowing of small actors.

Galicia is especially useful to examine this pattern. The acceleration occurred faster in the western part, with the development by Jan Goetz of a brewery in Okocim, and one by aristocrat Karl Olbracht in Żywiec. Gembala writes:

Both breweries quickly became the most powerful beer producers of Galicia. Industrial breweries utilized new methods of beer production and up-to-date cost-intensive equipment, such as steam machines used for grinding the crops, moving the pumps and mixers.

He mentions a third brewery in Lemberg (Lviv in modern Ukraine) that also reflected this new industrial scale. The brewery meant was, I believe, Lviv Brewery, created by the Prussian entrepreneur Robert Doms. Doms is not named but is clearly an analogue to the other two for Eastern Galicia.

Gembala explains that by contrast, Jewish Galician breweries were small or at best medium-size. By his metric, large meant greater than 100,000 hectolitres annually. Medium-to-large was 50,000 to 100,000. Smaller medium, between 20,000 and 50,000, and small under 20,000.

Gembala sets out crisply how Jews came to find a role in the smaller end of this business:

… the decline of medieval cities and growing anti-Semitism of the burghers, merchants, and craftsmen, who feared growing Jewish competition, resulted in increased migration of the Jewish population from cities like Kraków or Poznan to small towns and villages of Galicia and Ukraine. The noble landlords welcomed this development. On one hand, they gained experienced craftsmen and merchants who settled in their towns and estates, and on the other hand, they saw the Jews as ideal agents in dealing with the serf peasants. The system of the “arenda”, or leasing of mills, distilleries, inns, and breweries, became widespread in Poland, especially in Volhynia and Galicia ….

The typical agricultural brewery as part of the “folwark” noble estate infrastructure existed until the mid-18th century. From the second half of the 18th century, breweries were separated from the “folwark” in order to create individual business units with separate book-keeping and profits. However, they were still closely connected to the agricultural resources of their region. The typical small Galician brewery employed between four and eight people, mostly peasants. They used to carry the grains to the mill, bring the malt to the brewery, participate directly in the beer production, and transport the product to local …

Leasing may not have characterized brewing everywhere in the East; it is not clear for example whether some Jewish-operated Russian breweries in 1910 were leased vs. fully owned.

Still, the overall pattern is clear – unceasing industrialization of brewing. The process generally occurred faster in Western Europe than the East. Gembala identified the markers of such change: adoption of pasteurization, a high degree of mechanization, and a shift from top-fermentation to lager production, which he quantifies for the latter 1800s.

The new firms likely benefitted as well from more sophisticated sales and marketing capability.

The investment for this transition, and specialized business skills needed to manage it, were not within the range of most small players. This pattern has played out again and again in many parts of the world.

Gembala joins micro to macro by including a list of Jewish brewery owners and lessees in pre-WW I Galicia – a valuable historical compendium.

Another factor may have contributed to diminish Jewish involvement in brewing: a long history of legislation, in Galicia, Poland, Prussia, and Tsarist Russia to restrict Jews from leasing breweries and keeping taverns. The ostensible reason was to prevent abuse of alcohol among the peasantry. For background on this aspect, see “Tavernkeeping” by Jacob Goldberg, in YIVO, the Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. 

Jewish involvement therefore declined in this sector. As noted earlier Gembala makes a key observation, that industrialized brewing took longer to actualize in eastern Galicia. Consequently, agricultural breweries retained importance, there, longer than in west Galicia.

This explains I think, or in part, the survival of Pupko and Papiermeister in Polish Belarus into the 1930s. While a different topic, it is fair to say that Russia industrialized brewing later than Central Europe and the West. Leninist Communism further delayed the process.

The first industrial brewery in Russia emerged in Samara in 1881, making German and Czech lager styles. It was the vision of an Austrian, Alfred von Vacaro. The signature brew, branded as a Vienna type, was later known as Zhigulevskoye.

An image in Wikipedia Commons still suggests something of the industrial power that structure must have projected in 1880s Russia.

I would argue the Eastern predilection for spirits, wines, and malt drinks of low alcohol, notably kvass and table or other weak beers, further retarded development of modern breweries.

It is interesting that breweries in the region today often produce these drinks in addition to beer. Lidscoe Brewery, discussed in my Part I, is an example.

Perhaps, too, general economic conditions in Russia in the late 19th century discouraged creation of more breweries of industrial scale.

The Whitbreads of London, the Drehers of Vienna, Heinekens of Holland took much longer to implant in the East. And, after Communism, Western brewers often took the reins, who after all had a good head start. Numerous foreign brewers own today breweries in Belarus and other parts of Eastern Europe.

Returning though to Papiermeister and Pupko of Lida, it is clear their businesses, still productive in the late 1930s, were destroyed by ruthless totalitarian ideology, connected to their Jewish ownership.

Part IV follows, last in this series.


*Checking further, I believe the full name is Grzegorz Gembala, who writes on Polish history. It appears he wrote a longer article, extracted in KehilaLinks.





Jewish Breweries in old Belarus, Part II: Papiermeister Brewery

Most sources I reference in Part I for Pupko Brewery also mention Papiermeister Brewery, as both were in Lida before WW II. They were the town breweries, and both Jewish-owned.

At that time Western Belarus including Lida was part of Poland. Before WW I, the Russian Empire governed these areas.

Less information is available about Papiermeister than Pupko, at least in English. One reason is Papiermeister ceased brewing with the advent of WW II, while the other continued and today is Lidscoe Brewery.

A further reason: sadly, it seems the last Papiermeisters in the brewery did not survive the Holocaust. At least, I can find no evidence they did.

However, a certain amount can be pieced together. The Kehila genealogical site mentioned in Part I links to a 1936 account of Papiermeister. It was provided by Leon Lauresh, a historian and engineer in Lida today I understand.

The label that follows is from that account. One can see Papiermeister elected a bear symbol, while Pupko used a deer. Many Polish breweries used animals as graphic enhancement for their labels – elephant, stag, boar, etc.



The account is in Polish but Google translation provides a good rendering in English. Salient points:

– founded 1871 by Jakub Papiermeister (sometimes spelled Papirmeister and Papiermejstra, depending on source and language)

– owned (1936) by heirs of the founder

– 25 staff including office force, hence somewhat smaller than Pupko, which had about 40 employees in this period

– owned a sawmill, like Pupko

– barley sourced from Kujawy (central-north Poland), not locally although moves were being made in that direction

– hops from Lublin, a famous hop centre as beer people know

The brewery disappeared with war, how exactly I am not sure, but clearly it had ceased operating when Pupko was commandeered for the German Army. One source, which unfortunately I did not retain, states a drunken soldier burned it down.

Papiermeister on July 1, 1930 placed a box ad in Tribuna Akademicka, the Warsaw journal I mentioned earlier for a similar ad by Pupko. It states a telegraph address and phone number, but no street address (via National Library of Israel).



Tartak Spadk refers to the sawmill business.

The brewery by other accounts was founded in 1874, two years before Pupko started, as the label above suggests. Another label for Papiermeister, in the Polish site Polish Beer Labels, also states 1874 as founding year.*

(Click on “Lida” in the left margin, and the labels appear in excellent resolution, some in Cyrillic from before WW I).

The Papiermeister beer types ahead of WW II, as shown on labels in Polish Beer Labels, are Jasne (literally clear, presumably pale or light lager), Dubeltowe, and Ciemne, meaning dark, probably a Munich Dunkel-type.

While Dubeltowe might in some cases be stronger than the others, this was not invariable. Some labels exhibited in Polish Beer Labels state the same, often low alcohol for export and double beer, for example.

The Lidscoe historical timeline discussed in Part I states Pupko double beer used extra malt, and half as much hops again as the basic beer. It does not state this double was stronger, though.

Aharon Papiermeister was a brewer with Lida connections in the late 1800s. He later migrated to Palestine (1892) and with his brother Baruch bought land at Rishon le Zion. They sought cultivate grapes, to sell to the winery later known as Carmel, associated with Baron de Rothschild.

This Geni entry for Aharon, in the Complete Profile provides further details of his career.

I suspect that Jakub, founder of Papiermeister Brewery, was another brother or relation of Ahron even though Geni does not mention a Jakub Papiermeister.

No son of Aharon in the Geni site is named Jakub. Still, there had to be a connection to Jakub and the Lida brewery, in my view, particularly as Geni states Aharon conducted early experiments to brew beer at Rishon le Zion.

Sefer Lida, a book published in Israel in 1962, memorializes prewar Jewish life in Lida. A chapter by Abraham Gelman (tr. by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg) gives a flavour of the town breweries:

There were two beer breweries that were famous in all Poland. One was owned by ELIMELECH PUPKO, and the second was owned by PAPIERMEISTER. They transported beer in kegs and in bottles throughout Poland. There was also a division of the Vilna beer brewery “Shafen” under the management of TAUB. There was also a division of a Warsaw beer brewery “Haverbush and Shileh”, under the management of WALLMAN and ROSENSTEIN.

The “divisions” probably were bottling plants, or depots. This shows that even in small Lida, the two local breweries had to meet outside competition, something ensured by a liberal economic order. In turn, they “exported” to remain competitive, an activity that seemed regional in scope (Poland) by the 1930s.

The 1936 account states both breweries had reached ascendancy before WW I. Indeed Pupko, for its part, entered its beer in European expositions and won medals. This type of elan is gone by the “low, dishonest decade” that was the 1930s, in W.H. Auden’s famous phrase.

Capitalism did not characterize postwar, Soviet-dominated Belarus, but it does today, at least to the extent that Pupko’s successor, Lidscoe Brewery, is owned by a Finnish group, Olvi PLC. At least two other foreign brewers have interests in the country, Carlsberg and Heineken.

For a fuller understanding of Lida history, an essay in the Sztetl site is illuminating. Aspects of its economy did enjoy growth in the late 30s, not invariable pattern in Poland at the time. Jewish business could be adversely affected as well by anti-Semitic agitation that built from 1935, for example campaigns to encourage Poles to boycott Jewish business.

More information on Papiermeister in Lida may reside at the Alivaria Beer Museum in Minsk. I hope to visit one day.

See our Part III, which draws parallels between brewing in Galicia and Western Belarus.


*This site is a superb resource that needs to be better known by beer historians. It contains labels from breweries in almost 200 localities in Poland or former Poland, most prewar. Papiermeister and Pupko made styles also made by many of these breweries. Many interesting features appear, certainly many porters, even two English-style ales. Many Gratzer labels, too. A few labels are in English, for export bottlings (1930s).