Jewish Breweries of old Kolomyja, Galicia. Part III, Stefan Weiss Brewery.

In The Memorial Book of Kolomea (1957), a supplement (p. 91) lists businesses engaged in by Jewish residents of Kolomyja. For brewing it states:

Beer breweries – Stefan Weiss, Jakov [Jakub] Brettler and sons.

Weiss duly appears as a brewer in the Kolomyja section of the 1913 Galicia and Bukovina Business Directory:

 

 

The prefix to Weiss’s name, Karolówker Dampbierbrauerei, shows he was in Korolowka. This is a hamlet two or three kilometres east of Kolomyja, just north of which today lies an airport.

There were and remain numerous localities named Korolowka in Ukraine and Poland. Weiss’ as noted was just outside Kolomyja, see its position in this Mapcarta link.

It is rare to find images online of old Galician breweries like Weiss’. This is due to their relatively small size, the continual wars and changes of regime, and genocide of the European Jews. Nonetheless, in April 2020 a good image of the brewery was posted to a Facebook entry.

A short profile of the brewery accompanies the image. The following is an extract (Google translation):

… On an old postcard from the period between 1900-1905, a view of the Stefan Weiss brewery and one of his advertisements from a distance. The brewery was founded in 1890, the original owner was Leokadia Sejk, and two years later the plant was managed by Wenzel (Wacław) Sejk. Weiss handed over the brewery in 1894.

The first beer brewed in Korolówka was “Piwo Kołomyjskie” – a deckchair, “ham beer”. Its delicious taste and health were praised.

The translation is somewhat awkward but the overall meaning is clear, even as Weiss acquired (not sold) the brewery in 1894. “Ham beer” is a translation of the Polish piwo szynkowe.

The entry appears to have been posted by the author of, or another person connected to, a book on the history of pastry-making in Lviv, but images from other parts of former Polish lands are sometimes included. The brewery image is stamped “lvivcenter.org”, a local historical and research institute. Presumably it supplied the image and historical note.

Ham here could mean smoked, although smoked Polish ale is more associated to Grodziskie aka Grätzer in western Poland. “Zynkowe” is occasionally used today to describe beer in some East European countries. See for example this listing of Moravian beers.

The term is not standard Czech, to my knowledge, but Google translation renders it in this case parenthetically as “inn” or “hut”. This makes sense to me, a light, tavern beer, minimally processed and meant for local sale.

Perhaps szynkowe is a dialectical term in some East European tongues for inn.

For what it’s worth the names of the first and second owners of Stefan Weiss brewery have a Bohemian ring.*

And they, and from 1894 Stefan Weiss, operated an inn. In the above business listing, below the entry for Bierbr.[auerei] appears “Bierpropinationspächter“. Weiss and another firm are listed as conducting this type of business.

This meant that in 1913 Weiss was a holder of propination rights, historic rights conferred on land-owning nobility to brew or distill and sell the product on a monopoly basis locally.

Indeed it appears peasants could be compelled (or originally) to purchase the output. This is said to have contributed to rural alcoholism, although this is not clear, imo.

Jews often leased the rights, which provided an income to the lords without the need to manage production, and retail the product, day-to-day.

For good background on propination (aka propinacja) see from Yivo Encyclopedia Judith Kalik’s learned essay.** By the period in question propination had been formally abolished in Galicia but traces remained as the prohibition preserved existing rights for a certain period.

In the Facebook image the substantial two-story building on the right was likely the inn, with Weiss or his manager living on the second floor. Note the placard at the left of the building. It seems to state “B&B”.

This was actually a logo, the intertwined B’s, used on Brettler beer labels in the interwar period.

Since the Facebook entry dates the image to 1900-1905 and Polish Beer Labels has Weiss owning the brewery to 1925, the B&B – if it does state that – is puzzling. Maybe Brettlers (father and son?) bought the brewery from Weiss even before World War I, and his name was retained, or he kept only the inn-keeping part.

Possibly the sign does not refer to the Brettlers at all.

Weiss’ brewery was not an insignificant agricultural brewery. A well-written historical sketch (in English) on Kolomyja, in the tourist site Danelis, states Weiss sold 30,000 hL of beer in 1913. This was the size range of Brettler, a medium-sized brewery for Galicia.

A pre-WW I bottle from Stefan Weiss, listed on a Russian auction site, has a few lines on the brewery. It states that the period of greatest growth occurred under Stefan Weiss, who was a member of the Lviv Chamber of Commerce and Galician Brewers’ Association.

Period ads (pre-1914) suggest, as for contemporary Brettler ads, a brewery in full flush, ambitious, looking to grow.

A 1912 ad, archived at National Archives of Krakow, is illustrative:

 

 

We see the basic lager, March beer, Export, and Porter offered. An advertisement of the same period at Archiwum Allegro (auction site) states military music was performed at the brewery, near the train station.

There was likely a beer garden there.

As we saw, Polish Beer Labels states Stefan Weiss’ role ended in 1925, whence the I. Brettler name appears together with S. Bleiberg. They could be B&B too, although the time period seems wrong for the inn’s signboard, unless the postcard actually dates to post-1925.

This timeline terminates with a question mark, as often the case for Jewish-owned, East European breweries. While it seems, as I discussed in my Brettler posts, that Brettlers stopped brewing in Kolomyja/Diatcowse before 1939, perhaps I. Brettler and S. Bleiberg continued to operate the brewery in Korolowka until war intervened.

I could not trace what happened, in any case. Maybe the brewery was seized by the Russians and then the Nazis. Maybe – likely I think – the last Brettlers to brew and S. Bleiberg disappeared in the Nazi maelstrom, I don’t know.

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

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*[Added May 17, 2021]. See in Comments remarks by reader Yann, and my reply. I think the mystery is solved now.

**See my Comment which links to a fascinating video on Jews, vodka, and propination by (Professor) Judith Kalik, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. There seems no reason to think the logic does not apply to beer, and the term Bierpropinationspächter would seem to underscore this.

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish Breweries of old Kolomyja, Galicia. Part II, Brettler Brewery.

Serendipitously, I have been sent a postcard with an actual image of Brettler brewery by Ms. Isabella Seitz, who resides in Germany. She kindly consented to its reproduction here to shed further light on the history of this brewery.

Ms. Seitz was researching a postcard that had been owned by her great-grandfather, a German soldier in Galicia during WW I, and saw my Part I. The postcard carries the notation “ehemalige Brauerei Colomea“, which she informed me means, “former brewery Colomea”.

She added the postcard is most likely from 1916 as her great-grandfather was in Galicia then.

While the name of the brewery does not appear on the card, it is clearly the Brettler brewery. All one need do is compare the structure, layout, and paint scheme of the buildings to the artist’s rendering in Brettler labels between the two world wars.

The labels may be viewed on this page of the website Polish Beer Labels (included in my Part I with further information).

Colomea is simply one of the many spellings for Kolomyja, which denoted not just the city but the region around it including Diatcowce, likely location of this brewery.

The fact that the card states “former brewery” can be explained by the fact that there were many disruptions in Kolomyja during WW I.

Breweries might shut for a time due to war conditions but start up again when times were more favourable. That clearly was the case here.

There is nothing like seeing the actual image, which renders the reality more tangible including the delivery vehicles lined up in the yard facing the buildings.

Thanks again to this reader for sending this to us, which deepens our understanding of this corner of European brewing history.

 

 

Note re image: The image above is the property of Ms. Isabella Seitz of Germany, who kindly agreed to its reproduction here.

 

 

Jewish Breweries of old Kolomyja, Galicia. Part I, Brettler Brewery.

Introduction

In this post I discuss the Brettler Brewery in former Eastern Galicia, now part of western Ukraine. Polish historian Grzegorz Gembala mentions the brewery briefly in his article “History of Beer Brewing in Galicia”.

A shorter version of the article, credited to Greg Gembala, appears in the genealogical and Holocaust memorial site, Kehilalinks. I linked to that version in a recent post.

My link above is to the full-length version, at least as it appears in English. I cannot see a date attributed, but the authorship seems recent.

Snapshot of Brewery Pre-WW I

As set out in each version of his article, Gembala writes:

Kołomyja / Kolomay (Jacob Brettler) — one of the larger breweries, producing 32.6 tsd hl beer in 1912

 

Hence, 32,600 hectolitres of beer in 1912, for a firm that began in 1890 in Kolomyja, Galicia. This denotes a medium-size brewery by Gembala’s metric.

This also means, larger than the agricultural breweries that issued from the old landed estates, but smaller than more technologically advanced breweries established from the mid-1800s by aristocrats or other wealthy, non-Jews.

As the references below show, Brettler brewed in different periods export, double, dark bock, standard lager, and lower-alcohol beer, similar to the range for other Galician and Polish breweries.

Kolomyja in Galicia

There are many spellings for this city, depending on language and time period. I will use the modern, and Gembala’s preferred spelling, Kolomyja. Variants include Kolomea and Kolomyia.

Kolomyja is located in the Carpathian hills in what was south-eastern Galicia, on the Prut River. From 1772 until 1918 Galicia was a province of the Austrian, later Austro-Hungarian, Empire, except for a period of Russian occupation during WW I. For most of the interwar period it was part of the Polish Republic.

Western Galicia was characterized by significant Polish ethnicity and in general, was Polonised as the term went. The eastern half was mainly Ruthenian, or today Ukrainain. Nonetheless many areas featured a mix of these and yet other ethnicities, especially in the cities.

With WW II, a period of Soviet occupation ensued, and nationalizations and other harsh consequences, especially for Jews. Then came German occupation and terror until 1944. After Russian liberation a Soviet socialist republic was created. Full independence arrived for the Republic of Ukraine in 1991.

Kolomyja and the Jews

Kolomyja had a very substantial Jewish population before WW II, half or nearing that level since the mid-1800s. Non-Jewish citizens comprised ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, with smaller numbers of other ethnicities.

For a good picture of Eastern Galicia in the 19th century with population breakdowns, this essay in Jewish Virtual Library illuminates.

The Nazis sometimes with local participation annihilated almost all these Jews, about 20,000 civilian people. This forever destroyed not just the people but a significant part of the character and pace of the city, which derived from its Jewish component.

Kolomyja was, before WW II, a Jewish cultural, educational, and religious centre of importance. Many Jews were engaged in business including textiles, oil exploration, finance, grain trading and milling, the professions, and both wholesaling and retailing.

Jews figured in the tavern trade, and brewing in Kolomyja was a Jewish business.

Background to Jewish Role in Galician Business Life

This subject has a complex history. In part, and see Gembala’s remarks in the brewing context, it arose from a societal structure influenced by its feudal past, where nobility controlled land worked by the peasantry.

To enhance value from the lands Jews were encouraged to settle and act as intermediaries, managing estates as lessees for often-absent aristocrats or gentry. This provided an economic interface with the volk, the people. An essay by Judith Kalik in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jewish History is informative for background, among a significant literature in various languages.

The American scholar Glenn Dynner has explained how, despite legal obstacles enacted in the 19th century to reduce the Jewish role in alcohol supply, Jews continued to participate in this sector, in his (2010) paper Legal Fictions: The Survival of Rural Jewish Tavernkeeping in the Kingdom of Poland.

By the late 1800s, in the general economy occupations held by Jews increasingly were performed by Poles and Ukrainians, although until WW I many sectors still reflected a strong Jewish presence.

The growth of the cooperative movement in Ukrainian and Polish-speaking communities is an example, which posed ultimately significant competition to Jewish traders in this sector.

Even before this, prosperity did not reign generally among Jews in Kolomyja.  Most Jews eked out a living as craftsmen: eg. cobblers, tailors, carpenters, and potters, or factory workers, peddlers, and shop-owners.

A story in the 1897 press in Chicago claimed rather dire conditions for all but a handful of Kolomyja Jews. Together with recurring pogroms (more so in West Galicia) and deteriorating economic prospects, these conditions caused the continual emigration of Jews from Galicia to the New World and Zionist Palestine, starting in the late 1800s.

Some departed for nearer lands, Hungary and Romania among them.

A small percentage of Jews in Kolomyja did acquire wealth. They assisted their compatriots by giving employment, creating loan societies, and funding social and religious causes. This was a vital assist before the era of governmental supports, although labour agitation characterised some industries.

Brettler Family and Brewing

The Brettlers were in the well-off group, with interests in grain milling among other enterprises. There are numerous references to them in a 1957 book published in Israel memorializing Jewish life in Kolomyja, called English Memorial Book of Kolomey. Portions are hyperlinked in the Jewish Generations site. See e.g. at p. 96.

Litman Brettler was an estate lessee. His son Jakub Brettler, described in the Memorial Book as a millionaire, founded the brewery in 1890. In the years leading up to WW I the business evidently was incorporated with other shareholders, including the Seidmann family, whom Gembala described as heirs of the Brettlers.

The 1913 Galicia and Bukovina Business Directory included this entry in the Kolomyja section.

So, three breweries in this period were associated with Kolomyja: Brettler, Stefan Weiss, and Baruch Weiser. They were independently owned but Brettler or heirs later had a connection to Stefan Weiss’ brewery.

A few years earlier, in 1909, this description of the Brettler brewery appeared in a regional compilation of business firms (as translated by Google):

First Kolomeaer Masch.-Dampfbr. by Brettler & Komp., owners Mendel Brettler, Moses Seidmann, Moses Breier and Nathan Baran; Operation of the brewery as a branch of the main office in Kolomea.

Jakub is not mentioned, so must have left the business or passed away by this time.

Surviving Labels and Bottles

The Polish Beer Labels site shows the Brettler name and labels for no less than three localities, Kolomyja, Diatcowce, and Korolowka. The second and third are just a few miles from the first, in effect satellite towns.

This map view shows Kolomyja today and one can see the other two flanking, called here Dyatkovtski and Korolivka.

Pre-1920s embossed Brettler bottles are occasionally offered on auction sites. These are tallish, brown wine-type bottles, see e.g. this Archiwum Allegro listing.

Stefan Weiss aka Stefana Weissa owned the Korolowja brewery from 1894 until 1925, but did not found it. I will deal with his brewery in a further post.

Location of Brettler Brewery

Based on all my reading, before the 1930s, it appears the Brettlers or heirs had only the one brewery in Diatcowce, a few miles north-west of Kolomyja.

The whitewashed factory buildings shown on Brettler labels for Kolomyja (see in Polish Beer Labels), were, I believe, in Diatcowce. Satellite views do not show these buildings, that I can see, they probably were demolished at some point.

If I am wrong and the whitewashed buildings actually stood in Kolomyja, they may still stand, but I don’t think so.*

For obvious reasons Brettler brewery wanted to show its association with Kolomyja, a substantial city compared to the hamlet of Diatcowce. It did this by stating the office was in Kolomyja, and the Diatcowce business, a branch.

The office did certainly exist in Kolomyja, and has survived. It forms part of an elegant block on the main square. You may view it in this site which memorializes Jewish Galicia and Bukovina. The caption identifies the portion that served as offices for the Brettler brewery.

A 1906 advertisement for Brettler Brewery, catalogued in the National Archives of Krakow, taken together with the 1909 business listing, bears out the head office-branch inference.

 

1930s and WW II

Polish business registries show the Brettler brewery still operating in the 1920s and 30s, but it seems to end before the onset of WW II. I don’t know if descendants of Jakub Brettler survived the Holocaust, it seems unlikely, but I don’t know in fact.

Kolomyja Today

A literal tour d’horizon (2017) may be had of Kolomyja, via YouTube. For some, depending on the perspective, it is a melancholy look.

Brewery Image

To see an actual image of Brettler brewery, see our Part II of this post.

Note re images: each image is identified with source linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed

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*See my caveat in Comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expedition Brewing Co. Lager

I mentioned Expedition Brewing earlier this week, based in Newmarket, Ontario. I had a chat recently with a principal, Colin Parr, who heads up marketing and sales.

Parr explained the venture is actually two years old but mainly got moving in the last six months. He provided details of the brewing, handled by Equals in London, Ontario, specialists who cater to the contract market.

Parr said Equal’s advice was useful to fashion the kind of palate he and business partner Patrick wanted.

Their Loch Ness Lager (see website) is a blend of two malts, one a Munich malt, to which some acidulated malt added. Loch Ness shares with its stablemate Bigfoot Bock a good body, a plus for most beers, in our book.

The bitterness is balanced, with light citrus and mineral notes. The taste is slightly honeyed and reminds me of English digestive biscuit.

The brewery bills Loch Ness Lager as inspired by Helles and Dortmund styles. I’d call it more classic “craft lager”, with a distinctive note from the malt grist. If we can get the restaurants and bars to open again, a pitcher will go great with piping wings, a charcoal burger, or a cheese plate.

It’s excellent addition to the Ontario lager scene.

 

Amsterdam Dutch Amber Lager

Amsterdam Brewery’s Adventure Brew series currently features Dutch Amber Lager. It was first brewed at Rotterdam brewpub on King Street in Toronto, “way back when”, c. 1988.

That facility converted a few years later to Amsterdam Brewery, a commercial microbrewery, which later moved to south Bathurst Street. In 2012 it moved to Esander Drive in Leaside uptown. There is a small batch branch on Queen’s Quay by the lake, the Brewhouse. The associated pub is closed currently due to Covid-19.

Until 10-12 years ago Dutch Amber Lager continued to be brewed, I used to buy it in bottles at the King Street and Bathurst locations. Now it is back, temporarily, as an Adventure Brew.

The term “Dutch” is a nod to the brewery’s name and first owner, who was from Holland; it is not meant to designate the style, which is Vienna Lager. The current can states Vienna Lager on the side, in fact.

It’s a very good Vienna, different from any other I’ve had. There is an almost mapley malt character with fruity or winy notes, backed by good noble hopping (or that type).

It’s a natural, local take: craft to the max.

 

Expedition Brewing Co. Bock

Some notes now on Expedition Bigfoot Bock. It’s from Expedition Brewing Co. in Newmarket, Ontario, a fairly new brewery. Production is currently contracted out to Equals Brewery in London, Ontario, specialists to the contract market.

Expedition’s website is marketing-oriented, with a fun theme built around travel, adventure, and tasting beers.

For Beer et Seq, it’s always about, or finally about, the beer. I can say with confidence: Expedition hit the ground running with this one. It has a rich, molasses-like flavour, one found in many fine German bocks. Not surprisingly, it’s an all-barley malt beer.

 

 

The flavour is full and sustained from start to finish, with a mineral-like hop edge, but the story here is the malt. The grist achieves a winy, rich taste with the molasses persisting into the finish.

Some good bocks have issued in Ontario in the last 12 months, and there was the return of Molson-Coor’s Creemore Urbock, an early craft stand-by. Hop City’s Boxcar Bock impressed as well.

But this Expedition takes the palm. It is 6.2% ABV, strong enough but not so strong that the bibbing enjoyment is affected.

I bought mine at The Beer Store in Toronto, Leaside branch. Expedition has a lager as well, which I review later this week.

 

 

 

 

 

Pantomime Golden Ale

This week I highlight some recent Ontario beer releases that stand out.

From Amsterdam Brewing in Toronto we have Pantomime Golden Ale. It features a fairly new British hop, Harlequin, developed by the U.K. hop supplier Charles Faram – specifically its Hop Development Program.

The beer is a recent release of Amsterdam’s Small Batch Adventure Brew series. Since the beers are available for a limited time only it gives the Amsterdam brewers a chance to stretch and try new ideas.

Amsterdam describes Pantomime Golden Ale as a collaboration with Charles Faram, a venerable but innovative business with roots in the 19th century.

A Charles Faram webpage offers a good description of its Hop Development Program. An object is to marry “new world” flavours with a character informed by English soils and environment.

I attended a seminar in Toronto recently led by Ben Adams and Shayn Sawchuk of Faram’s Toronto office. This added further perspective, e.g. the “Harlequin” name was inspired by the how’s multi-coloured hop bract (the main leaf structure of the plant).

Pantomime Golden Ale employs Harlequin as single hop. It is added throughout the boil, at whirlpool stage, and by dry-hopping at termination of fermentation before final gravity is reached.

The malt for Mannequin is the classic Maris Otter from British maltster Crisp.

The result of all this showcases peach and pineapple from the Harlequin against a rich, velvety malt base.

Classic English malt and a new English hop with non-British blood in its lineage produce together an accomplished golden ale. Never had a better one.

You can buy it at Amsterdam’s shop on Esander Drive, at the Brewhouse shop downtown on Queen’s Quay and through the website for delivery. All details in the above link.

 

 

Ale of Zywiec, Poland. Part II.

Sala on the Burton – Burton on the Sola

In Part I, I queried whether Zywiec’s ale was a strong type such as Burton ale, or an English pale ale, drier, less strong, from Burton but a later implant.

I reviewed rare Zywiec ale labels from the late 1800s and for the 1920s-1930s. All these state “ale”, using the English word, with no further description except “March”, for the earliest.

A 1912 print advertisement for Zywiec takes the matter somewhat further. The ad is from the Jan Goetz-Okocim brewery archive, maintained at National Archives in Krakow (NAIK).

It is among 16 exhibits set out in an historical page of the website for Wyborcza, the Polish newspaper. The ad could suggest (or in my opinion) the ale was a rich Burton-type, not a pale ale.

First, there is no doubt Burton ale had a vibrant trade in Poland in the 1700s. Numerous sources attest to it, in that century and the next. For my purposes here, ample evidence is provided by the 1864 essay-collection of George Augustus Sala, After Breakfast.

He noted that Russia, Poland, and the Danubian provinces “were great consumers of the sweet strong ale of Burton” in the reign of George II.

The goods were sent to St. Petersburg initially, and as we saw earlier the middle and upper classes formed the main market. The brewer Benjamin Wilson of Burton is associated in particular with expanding the trade in Poland after the introduction of tariffs foreclosed the Russian market.

Examining the advert – see in the second row of thumbnails – both porter and ale are mentioned (and other beers). The ad was likely placed by Ludwig Lazar named in the ad, an agent for Zywiec in Krakow.

Here is a detail from the ad (source: Wyborcza page linked and NAIK):

 

 

Google translation renders the ale wording as:

Excellent Like English sweet and very restorative at a price like a porter.

Not quite grammatical, but the sense seems much like Sala’s beer. Pale ale, particularly as exported, generally was not sweet due to prolonged maturation and heavy hopping.

Pale ale was famously a “tonic”: bitter, dryish, bracing, not restorative really. The alcohol content itself is not stated in the ad. Restorative, if it meant strength, seems more consistent with an English Burton (barley wine) strength, not a pale ale.

At the same time, a piece of evidence seems to lie against.  In 1991 a supplement to a newspaper in Zywiec, entitled Echo Browaru, reviewed Zywiec brewery history. It stated the porter was introduced in 1881, which is confirmed by other sources, and the ale, 10 years later.

The account then described the latter as “pale ale”, without further details.  The sweet and restorative description that appeared some 20 years after Zywiec introduced its ale seems at odds with a pale ale designation, yet presumably the 1991 account relied on reliable information.

It may be that in the 1890s the beer wasn’t a pale ale, but became one after WW I, during the interwar period mentioned in my Part I.

Only brewing records, or further relevant information, can ultimately answer these questions. I would add that whatever style this ale was, or in specific periods, it should not be viewed as unrelated to the vogue for British ale in the country in the early 1800s and 1700s.

True, the 1991 account also suggests the ale and porter were introduced for “export” purposes. But we know porter remained a popular niche style in Poland through the 20th century.

This itself is connected, as commonly understood, to the early popularity of British porter in the country. The same must be true for the more attenuated ale tradition.

Zywiec continued making ale into the 1930s, but to all appearances as an outlier: this style of Polish brewing, such as it was, had practically disappeared.

Porter by contrast remained an item of the Polish brewing inventory. Indeed Zywiec still makes a porter, as noted in this description from its American site.

It seems doubtful Zywiec made ale in Communist Poland post-WW II, but I do not have details in this regard, for that period.

The other 15 exhibits from the Okocim archive are also of good interest. Most pertain to Okocim brewery itself, from the late 1800s-early 1900s, but some pertain to other breweries. These show cooperage works, line shaft power transmission, the exterior of buildings, offices and more, in excellent resolution.

Below, for some general atmosphere, is a modern image (source: Wikipedia) of the Sola river, where it is dammed about 12 miles upriver from Zywiec.

 

 

N.B. The Zywiec porter description somewhat defeated me, even with Google translation. I think it states the medical profession approved the product for their prescriptions.

Note re images: source of each is identified and linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Nikopol Brewery

Marzen on the Dnieper

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

Note re image: source identified and linked in text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Takeaway

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.