Ale of Zywiec, Poland. Part 1.


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

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

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

Early Polish Ales

In 1844 John Macgregor in his Commercial Statistics. A Digest of the Productive Resources, etc. stated 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 keen attempt to implant English-style brewing:



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 the 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, the type withered. Bottom-fermentation beer took over: the clear lagers, exports, bocks, Bawarskies (dark Munich-style), and more.

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

Documented Early Polish Ales

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

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

Zywiec ale

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

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

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

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



(Source: Zywiec website)

What type of beer was this, exactly? The label does not say pale ale. It does state March (Marcowe). The other Polish words mean Zywiec spring, a general allusion to water quality, but not more.

In its earliest period, the 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 tradition. But this March beer was not (or little) promoted in England by this period vs. some trade billing still given October brewing.

Tizard’s manual in 1850 still refers to March beer, but the term really was a throwback to the previous century.

Still, a time lag or mere physical distance can often explain the survival of terms or methods in places distant from where they originated. Maybe March beer was a term once current in Poland, in the heyday of English imports.

Or, maybe the March ale of Zywiec was a Vienna lager, a style made famous by Anton Dreher from about 1840, with Bavaria’s Gabriel Sedlmayer in aid. But why the “ale”, then? Did the tan (Vienna) colour remind people of English ale sold in Poland earlier in the century?

Perhaps, yet further, the Zywiec ale was a strong Burton ale, with March here referring to a period of aging. Strong or Burton ales often were aged, although not always.

The label seems late-1800s, but the brand was also made between the wars, 1920s-30s. In Polish Beer Labels, click on Zywiec in bottom-left, a round label for Zywiec ale appears, three in fact. See in lower-third of the collection.

A couple of generic “Ale” signs or labels appear further up in the page, seemingly of later date, one is stamped “pivo mocne” (strong beer).

“March” is not stated on any of these mid-1900s labels, while it does appear (Marcowe) on other labels reproduced in the page, from seemingly the same period.

How the interwar Zywiec ale was brewed is hard to say. The quotation marks placed on the term ale suggest perhaps it was really a lager. It seems probable the beer at least tasted English, via the malts and (especially) hops used, but quite possibly it was bottom-fermented.

Possibly other Polish breweries marketed an ale in this period, however brewed. Given porter itself was a declining category, it seems unlikely there were many such beers.

Polish legislation from the late 1800s through to 1939 may have impacted use of these terms. Maybe “March” meant simply, exceeds 4.5% alcohol, a common strength on interwar beer labels. (The other was 2.5%, generally by weight).

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.

These notes continue in Part II.

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, it was generally by weight. 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 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

Yedidia Efron (1878-1951) was born in Indura, now in Belarus but formerly in the Grodno District of the former Russian Empire.

His family emigrated to Argentina when he was 17, in 1895. Efron became an educator and was well-known in the Jewish-Argentine community. Before he died he wrote a memoir that later was published in Buenos Aires as Amdur, mayn geboyrn-shtetl.

In English: My Home Town, Amdur. The Jews of Indura referred to the town as Amdur. The book appeared in 1973, and has been partly translated in English. Portions appear in the Jewish memorial site, KehilaLinks, see here.

Efron therefore recalled a time before the Nazi exterminations of Jews. A Russian pogrom did arrive, in 1905, but Efron had already departed. While the Christians in town are described as a separate community, by his account Jews and Christians lived and worked together, and generally had peaceable relations.

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 that part of Europe.

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

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.





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. Parts of its economy did enjoy growth in the late 1930s, not invariable for Poland at the time.

Yet, Jewish interests – arguably the Jewish future in the country – were increasingly compromised by anti-Jewish, nationalist agitation, for example to boycott Jewish businesses. The government also passed laws to bar Jews from entering universities and technical institutes.

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

See my 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).












Jewish Breweries in old Belarus. Part I, Pupko Brewery.


It had been my impression that between 1880 and 1980, Jews generally did not engage in commercial brewing, modern Israel apart of course. They were well-represented in brewing science, and in retailing and wholesaling beer, but not in production.

Jewish families did have an important role in hop factoring in Germany until, and apparently even after, the Nazi regime. There was also involvement in distilling in some countries, but these are different businesses.

Certainly, there were exceptions to the no-brewing custom, and I discussed some in earlier posts. But there were few if any in the United Kingdom, one of the great brewing nations. There is some irony here, as in modern times Britain has been among the most tolerant of nations viz. the Jews (a situation that may be changing, unfortunately).

The Briton James Death, in his The Beer of the Bible (1887), wrote that no English brewery was Jewish-owned, despite brewing being a lucrative trade. That may be an exaggeration, as how could he really know? But speaking so categorically in a respectable, indeed learned book tells a certain tale.

I then turned my mind to Eastern Europe, which I had not considered before, initially the Pale of Settlement. This opened my eyes to a different reality about Jews and brewing.

Jewish Brewing in Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement was the western fringe of the Russian Empire where Jews had the right to reside, unlike the rest of Russia with some exceptions. The Pale as a geographical and political  concept emerged at the beginning of the 19th century with the Polish partitions, but vanished with the end of WW I.

The lands comprising the Pale were largely coterminous with the earlier Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, preceded by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jews had lived continuously in these lands since the 1200s.

Britannica states:

The 1897 Russian census indicated that most of the Jewish population in the empire remained confined to the Pale. Almost 5,000,000 Jews lived within its boundaries, while roughly 200,000 lived elsewhere in European Russia. The majority of Jews lived in towns and townlets, though the largest communities were in the cities of Warsaw, Lódz, Vilna (now Vilnius), and Kishinev (now Chisinau) … The Pale effectively ceased to exist during World War I, when Jews in great numbers fled to the Russian interior to escape invading German forces.

In 1897 Russia’s total population was 125,640,021, see the Russian History Blog.

The image below shows the Pale of Settlement in 1901.



Grodno (Hrodna), at the western end of modern Belarus, near Poland, is name of both district and town. The Grodno district includes the town of Lida, which birthed the Pupko Brewery in 1876.

In 1910 Russia had 381 breweries, of which 110 were Jewish-owned, hence almost 30%; see pp. 314-315 of the 1911 study Emigration Conditions of Europe, which examined prospects for continued Jewish emigration to the United States.

Poland has a separate table, which shows Jewish capital was employed in 45 breweries, presumably excluding Galicia, a province then of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The total number is not stated.

The percentage of Jewish ownership for Russia, and probably for Poland, was much higher than for other countries, in part reflecting the substantial Jewish population in the Pale. The Report noted many Jewish firms were small, judged by the number of employees and mechanical power utilisation.

Therefore, 30% does not necessarily reflect the production percentage. Some Jewish breweries were sizeable though, winning awards at European exhibitions and gaining more than a local market. Pupko was one.

The Coming of Holocaust

Jewish life in Eastern Europe in that period could be dolorous, not to mention dangerous, due to unrelenting anti-Semitism.The persecutions started (in the modern period) with repeated pogroms in the Russian Empire, e.g. 1881 in Kiev.

Serious outbreaks later occurred in centres of Jewish life such as Kishinev, Odessa, Minsk, Kyiv, and Grodno, with thousands killed and injured and property destroyed.

Anti-Semitic measures, social or governmental, were ratcheted up in the Thirties, Nazi Germany the main example. The animus manifested as well elsewhere in Central and East Europe.

With World War II the Soviets occupied Western Belarus, then part of the Second Polish Republic, joining it to Eastern Belarus under their fief. There followed, deportations of business classes, which included many Jews, to Siberia and elsewhere far East.

The Nazis brought the Holocaust. Almost all Jews in Grodno (the town) and Lida were killed, there or after deportation. Small bands survived who escaped from ghettoes or trains and fought in the forests as partisans.

For Belarus as a whole, there are varying estimates, but the great majority of Jews perished, mostly shot or deported to death camps. Two-thirds of European Jews as a whole were annihilated by the Nazis, sometimes with aid of local auxiliaries – civilian men, women and children.

In the late 1930s in Poland including Western Belarus, Jewish businesses not affected by economic malaise continued to operate until the war, Pupko Brewery included.

Pupko Brewery Resources

As far as I know, no general history of Belarus brewing has been written, apart the obvious language barrier I would face. At least two modern books have been written on Polish beer history, one dealing with the “Borderlands”, or the former eastern provinces removed from Polish sovereignty after WW II.

The latter is Piwo to napój niezbędny by Sławomir Jędrzejewski, published in 2012. It would seem a good resource for those seeking further information. I cannot easily obtain these books, and if I did, language again is a barrier.

The website of the Alivaria Beer Museum in Minsk is attractive but does not set out historical content. I would think, or hope, the Museum covers Pupko history, and may visit one day.

This said, I have found information elsewhere, which I discuss below.

Brewery Website

We can start with the brewery website as, yes, the brewery still exists, although long out of Pupko hands. The name now is Lidskoe Brewery, with the main brand spelled Lidskae.

Lidskoe is owned by Olvi PLC of Finland, part of a small affiliate group that includes A. Le Coq in Estonia, which has importance in porter history.

The Pupko family was well-known in Lida, whose Jewish population was significant before WW II. During the interbellum period, according to the website Encyclopedia:

In 1921 there were 5,419 Jews (40% of the total population), reaching 6,335 (a third of the total) in 1931.

The percentage of Jews earlier was higher, but emigration was depleting their number. The Sztetl site states that in 1897 the percentage was 68% – presumably supplying a natural market for Pupko.

Elements of the Polish Army and Air Force were based in Lida between the wars, see this Lida entry in Wikipedia. This presence probably assisted the brewery’s fortunes.

The image below shows Lida around 1930 (source: Wikipedia link stated).



The timeline/infographic in Lidskoe’s website is well-researched and handsomely designed (indeed an inspiration to other breweries to do similar). I will summarize elements, but the full document is indispensable.

It starts by outlining pre-1800s beer and brewing in Belarus. Then it states:

Nosel [Nissan] Zelikovich Pupko, a citizen of Lida, builds a brewery at his own land plot. Long and narrow piece of land, as large as a half of a hockey field, stretches from the Vilenskaya street to the Lideika river. First batch of beer was marked on the factory chimney brickwork: the letters «Founded in 1876» can still be found there. Pupko’s house is located by the street, and the yard contains the factory buildings: double-stored factory with the office and separate buildings of the drying room and fermenting block.

A woodcut-style illustration, clearly a modern rendering, shows a bearded Nosel Pupko with draping black coat and hat in front of the brewery.

The chimney with founding year in patterned brickwork still stands at the brewery, as shown in the website. Other elements of the original structure endure, for example, a set of stairs installed around 1900, made of iron to resist fire. The original site is now much-enlarged and covered with tanks and other accoutrements of modern brewing.

The timeline reproduces a label of the first branded beer, c. 1900, noting:

In 1899 or 1900, the first known label of the factory emerges: «Dinner beer of N. Pupko’s Brewery». It is a cheap, popular beer. … The factory mark — the deer leaning against the barrel — can be found on thirty labels of the factory.

The deer still appears in current labels. An interwar label appears in a label collection at the National Archives in Krakow.

Nosel aka Nissan died in 1900. The brewery had a scale and reputation beyond the typical town brewery in Belarus, and benefitted from new technologies such as steam power.

Pupko was among the larger breweries in Belarus before WW II, although its exact size in the league table is not known to me. It had its own sawmill, no doubt using prime Memel oak for casks, easily available to Lida.

With war and political changes the Pupkos adapted. In WW I they made kvass and a no-alcohol beer, and in the 1920s, a low-alcohol (2%) table beer. I discuss below other beer types made over the brewery’s history.

Historians consulted by the brewery believe a Pupko grandson established a brewery in Umam, Ukraine in the late 1930s, called Bavaria.

The Lida brewery was seized by the Soviets after invading Poland in 1939. The Pupkos then in charge, brothers Mark and Shymon, left. The Germans took over in July 1941 after their invasion. The brewery was not bombed, in order to make beer for the army. The staff was retained, and the Pupko brothers brought back.

The site continues the history of the brewery, below I focus on WW II with reliance as well on additional resources.

Genealogical and Historical Resources

The families and activities of Jews in prewar Lida are reconstructed and memorialised at numerous websites. Most refer to the Pupko brewery, and provide additional information.

Foremost is this page at Kehila, a Jewish genealogical site. Some information was provided by Leon Lauresh, I understand an engineer and historian in Lida who has researched the brewery’s past.

He provided an image of the brewery itself, a painting rendered in 1916. It shows a courtyard surrounded by buildings of various design, the ubiquitous 19th century fire chimney, and what appears a dray and barrels.

Accounts are linked in Polish and Russian, which online translation permits to understand to a point. In 1900 the brewery was left to four sons, Itske, Gersh, Abram, and Meilakh, who continued and expanded the business.

In the early 1930s Meilakh was sole owner and by the advent of WW II, his sons, Mark and Shymon, ran the brewery.

The main (English) part of the site states:

In 1936, 28 workers and 8 technical specialists were employed at the brewery. 40,000 hectoliters of beer [4,200,000 quarts] were produced annually.  Raw materials used in 1936 were 157,3 ò. barley, 950 kg of hop, 87,7 ò. malt.

Details are given for brands and mechanization in this period, e.g., the brewery had its own “gas plant” (for carbon dioxide, likely) and power plant. The site also states:

There were branches of the firm [at least bottling plants, as some of the details in labels formerly online showed] in Baranowiczi, Nowogrudok, Hrodno [Grodno], Wilno [Vilnius], Molodeczno, Luninec, Pinsk,  Bereza, & Wolkowysk.

In 1929-1930 the brewery placed box ads in the Warsaw-based, Jewish-themed Trybuna Akademicka, which published mainly in Polish (via National Library of Israel).



Parowy means steam, to denote a mechanized operation.

A Kehila link states that after Lida was liberated in 1944 a British Royal Air Force party visited the town, on a secret mission. It was inspecting a new Russian YAK fighter. Beer was ordered from the brewery. The Lidskoe chronology mentions this as well.*

The brewery operated until mid-1943 when the remaining Jews in Lida including at the brewery were deported and mostly killed by the Nazis.

Mark and Shymon managed to survive, and departed overseas after the war. A Pupko descendant in Mexico, who ran a chemical plant there, visited Lida in 2005. She met with historians and remaining Jews in town.

I encourage again a review of these sources for a fuller picture.

Brewery Engineer Lochbihler

German soldier Joachim Lochbihler supervised the plant for part of the war. Before the war he was a brewery engineer in Nürnberg, hence the assignment. I believe he was in the Wehrmacht (German Army), not SS although some survivor accounts state SS.

42 people worked in the brewery when he was in charge.

Waitman Wade Beorn, a U.K.-based scholar of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, authored the study Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus (2014).

He writes, see section linked, that Lochbihler protected Jewish brewery workers from SS roundups, first, by ensuring some workers could live in the brewery, and subsequently (after he left the brewery) by warning staff to join partisans in the forest.

At the war’s end Lochbihler was held in an American POW camp as a suspected war criminal, but was freed upon favourable testimony from Jewish Lida survivors, including the Pupko family.

Jewish Lida memorial sites relate the Lochbihler episode substantially as Beorn does, who relied on survivor accounts. Lochbihler demonstrated a humanity evidently very rare in this context, but something to be noted.

Beers of Pupko and Lidskoe Brewery

Lidskoe has provided a service to beer historians by including on its site archival brands and labels reflecting different eras.

The narrative accompanying is illuminating. The beers evolved over time, as is expected. The main blonde lager produced today dates from 1967.

In the 1940s the main types were Vienna, Pilsener, and Munich beers, apparently developed at a research institute in the mid-30s. When the Soviets took over in 1939 the style names were changed to avoid a “capitalist” connotation.

Beers earlier included a strong, well-hopped “double” beer. A March beer, close to 6% abv, was brewed in the early 1900s and again in the 1940s, but not today.

A “Tsar’s” beer in the Empire period was flavoured with coriander, cinnamon or caramel, which is interesting unto itself. As far as I can tell the Pupkos never brewed a porter.

Today, the extensive line includes porter and stout, a few craft styles, and the Koronet line, expressed as English-style. There is a Koronet light I.P.A. I am not clear if this is top-fermenting.

The vintage labels are atmospheric. One shows a seated man with bottle in one hand, glass in the other, wearing traditional folk costume and headdress. The same image may be seen on eBay currently (see third row).

As a further resource, a striking display of Pupko labels appears in Polish Beer Labels, see here (click on “Lida” in localities on left margin).


My grandparents were mainly from the Pale of Settlement including Grodno. They arrived as young children in Canada before WW I. Due to their families’ foresight and intrepid spirit, but also Canada’s generosity to accept them, I am, in all likelihood, present today to write this.

Until recently though, I knew almost nothing of Grodno or Belarus, or their breweries.

Part II follows below, on Papiermeister brewery.

Note: images above are in each case linked to their original source. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*The RAF has often come up in my brewing research. Mandate Palestine, Iraq, and British Malaya are all examples.