Polish Beer Slump 1930s

In the Polish brewing journal, Przegląd Piwowarsko-Słodowniczy, March-April 1938 issue, at p. 45, a table lays out national production for 1937, and by month, and similarly back to 1933.

Note how production ramps up with approach of summer, almost an evergreen in the world brewing scene.



The item noted that 1937 production represented a 51.5% decline from the two-month peak economic period in 1929/1930. Presumably a like-with-like or averaging was done, as the earlier data is summarized, but the percentage is telling.

Economic malaise was likely the main reason, as 1930s depression hit parts of the economy hard, not necessarily large industrials but smaller manufacturers, small traders, shopkeepers, farmers, and artisans.

Some Jews had economic boycotts to deal with as well after 1934, an agenda of nationalist politicians which the government tolerated in various ways.

Possibly excise tax policy did not help, this has been said for the spirits industry, where a similar drop in (legal) consumption occurred. See Adrian Zanberg’s article (2010), “‘Villages … Reek of Ether Vapours’: Ether Drinking in Silesia before 1939”, in the journal Medical History. He noted:

As the burden of taxation grew, per capita alcohol consumption declined. Between 1928 and 1932 government sales of alcoholic drinks decreased by 53.4 per cent32 as the legal consumption of spirits had fallen from 1.6 to 0.7 litre per person.33 These figures suggest that the Polish state had failed to observe the changes in alcohol consumption. Many consumers turned to illegal options. Demand was seemingly met by the bootleg industry, the production of denaturated alcohol,34smugglers, and—to a lesser degree—ether producers.

While the article focuses on Silesia, the ether problem was also national. The government had made it illegal in 1928 but economic travails caused resort to unlawful sources.

Much of it was made in Germany and smuggled in.  Since ether was diluted in many kinds of drinks – a mixture with raspberry was popular – it seems likely some used beer for this, an evident way to stretch supply, although the article does not mention this.

I noted earlier that some breweries closed even ahead of the Soviet and German invasions of 1939; an economy on the ropes could not have helped.

As well, there was the risk small breweries always face of takeover. Lublin brewery-owner Hersz Jogna Zylber made that point in his 1936 article I referred to recently.

A statement (translated) from the Polish Wikipedia entry, Breweries in Poland, bears out the overall picture:

… in 1928 beer was brewed by only 179 breweries, which produced a total of 2.5 million hl of beer, which was 8 liters per capita.

Production before WW I was far higher, as numerous sources state including the last link above. And the complement of breweries had fallen by over 50%.

It would make an interesting study to trace this arc methodically. Likely further factors were involved such as changing consumer habits and beer quality. But at day’s end, a Depression will affect alcohol consumption significantly.

The 1930s slump hit rural Poland especially hard. A short but impactful article, by scholar Zachary Mazur, “Global Depression, Local Tragedies: Rural Life in 1930s Poland” makes the point (November 2020, in Culture Pl).

And in that period most Poles still lived in the country; whereas today a majority lives in cities. Regional breweries, still spread over the country despite a decline in numbers, took the hit.

As to the ether fad, it did not continue after WW II. This seems mainly due to tight Communist controls; see the 2010 study linked. Today the substance is rarely used, by my canvass, although it is not unknown especially in some border areas.*

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


*Once again Wikipedia offers excellent background, see here for ether addiction.









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