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.





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