“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.






4 thoughts on ““Epstein’s Brewery”, its Fate in Vilnius”

  1. I’m late here but I wanted to add that I thought a lot of this series. It’s an interesting way to look at the horrible tragedy of the Holocaust by considering its intersection with brewing history – it helps illustrate in a small way how overwhelming it was, and how horrible the madness behind it was.

    • Thanks very much Clark. It started with the brewery histories themselves – that is my expertise here – but the larger context could not be ignored, and has a personal aspect for me as well, as explained in the first piece.

      The last posts have stretched beyond the original group, but soon I may chronicle one or two more with Jewish roots.


  2. This was news to me. Thank you for posting.

    I would rather describe the pale of settlement as part of the western Russian Empire, since we are, after all, talking about parts of what is now Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, etc. Historically none of those areas were ever Russian ethnically, and they definitely are not now. (It’s just a detail, but one people may get upset over.)

    The Tauro/Tauras, Kalnapilio/Kalnapilis issue that you struggled with is part of Lithuanian grammar. The -o ending is genitive. So you would say Tauro Porter (Tauras’s Porter), but refer to the brewery as Tauras.

    “A majority of Poles and Jews” in pre-WWII Vilnius is an understatement. They made up 45% of the population each. Laimonas Briedis titled his history of Vilnius “City of Strangers” since post-1945 Vilnius was effectively resettled with people who were strangers to the city.

    • Thanks for all this Lars. We are in agreement viz. Russian Empire actually, and I did use that term in this series in connection with breweries in the Pale.

      I’ll have more soon on a similar note, with a detour first into the former Polish Corridor, something that developed out of this research but is really apart.

      Do keep reading, and thanks again for commenting.



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