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.





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