Below we outline the history of the Rivne brewery, which still exists in Rivne today. The brewery was majority-owned by a Jewish family from about 1900 until the Soviets took control of the city in 1939. We outline first some background to Jewish life in Rivne.
Rivne aka Rovno, etc.
Rivne is in north-western Ukraine, in Volyn Oblast. It was known earlier as Rovno, or Rowne. There were yet other variants, depending on language and period.
From 1795 until 1918 Rivne was in the Russian Empire. Between the two world wars it was mostly in Polish hands, part of the Second Republic.
After WW II, it was in the Soviet bloc, dislodged when Ukraine acquired full independence in July 1991.
Before WW I, like many towns in the Pale of Settlement or Galicia, Rivne had a majority Jewish population. Even at the start of WW II the Jewish presence comprised half the population, some 28,000 people. Almost none survived the Nazi scythe.
Rivne grew quickly in the late 19th century due to its key rail access and dynamism of Jewish, Czech and other entrepreneurs. It was, concurrently, an active centre of Jewish religious life and education.
As noted by the Encyclopedia site:
Under czarist Russia, Rovno became a border town not far from the frontier of Austria (at Brody), and developed into a commercial center dealing in military supplies. With the completion of the Kiev-Warsaw railroad and later with the Vilna-Rovno line (1885) it also became an important railroad center for all eastern Volhynia. Since it had become a supply center, various local light industries were also set up in the area under Polish rule.
A somewhat unlovely but busy, modernizing city, it was dealt a blow by WW I and the struggle that followed with the Soviet faction. It regained stability with Poland’s stewardship, until WW II.
The Jewish community was certainly affected by slump and anti-Semitic agitation in the 1930s, but life and business continued for most. The brewery seemed mostly unaffected by the rising nationalist current, at least from our survey.
End of Jewish Life
A landmark study, Holocaust in Rovno (2014) by Jeffery Burds of Northeastern University documented the slaughter of virtually the entire Jewish community in 1941 and 1942.
German paramilitary SD and order police, with local collaborationist elements, did the killing over three days at Sosenki forest in November 1941.
The remainder of the community, held in the Jewish ghetto, was shot at another location in July 1942. Burds’ book is a difficult read, such is the savagery that was practised, but it is important to understand what happened.
A tiny handful of Rovno Jews survived who had run away or been sheltered. A few Jews inhabited the city after the war, but for practical purposes its Jewish character was extinguished forever.
This page in the memorial site, KehilaLinks provides a compact history of Rivne’s Jewish arc.
The city today comprises a quarter of a million people, and is radically different from the prewar city, for reasons that will be obvious. Yet the brewery still stands, and still makes beer.
The brewery was started in 1847 or 1849, dates vary. In the late 1800s (at any rate) it was controlled by Czech incomers, part of a small influx who came to improve brewing, other industry, and hop culture.
In the early 1900s Rivne brewery was a joint stock company called Bergschloss. Certainly in 1905 (see below) it was controlled by Hersh Meyer Pisyuk, also spelled Pisuk. He was a noted figure in the Rivne business community, and director of a local bank, the Homeowners’ Bank.
The brewery was substantially rebuilt by Pisyuk in 1906-1908. The handsome buildings, Russian neo-classical to my mind, still house the facility. There are good images in the brewery website. Its history page explains:
On March 28, 1903, the Rivne City Council granted permission for the reconstruction of the Hersh Meyer Pisyuk brewery at the corner of Shosova and Novakovska streets (modern Soborna and Kopernika streets). On June 3, 1904, the board considered an additional project. Apart from G. Pisyuk’s house, which dates back to 1900, most of the plant’s buildings were built in 1906-1908. Unlike the buildings built during the Soviet era, these buildings are still in use today.
Bergschloss Brewery declared itself at the international exhibition (1907) in Ostend (Belgium), receiving the “Diploma of the Grand Prize”.
On September 30, 1909, the royal decree approved the charter of the Society of Breweries and Alcoholic Yeast Factories “Bergschlos”. The initiator of the joint-stock company was GM Pisyuk, the fixed capital of the company amounted to 300,000 rubles, and dividends in 1909-1011. were calculated at the rate of 3% on the capital.
G. Pisyuk and GM Pisyuk almost certainly were Hersh Meyer Pisyuk; transliteration or translation factors likely explain the variant spellings. It is clear that he substantially modernized and refinanced the brewery.
A photo of bank executives included in a memorial volume on Jewish life in Rivne, reproduced in the Jewish Generations site, probably shows Pisyuk but he is not identified specifically.
Bergschloss labels displayed in the Polish Beer Labels site reveal beers of the interwar line. Note that an ale was produced, one of the very few Polish breweries to do so at the time.
One label is pre-WW I (the Cyrillic text), and states in English, “pilsener beer”. Czech influence persisted in the brewery gates into the 1900s.
A 1932 tourist publication contains a short profile of the brewery, stating H. Pisyuk founded it in 1905 and still owns it, naming another as director. Further details: Bergschloss was the most important enterprise in Rovno; it made bright beer (Jasne) and Ale among other types named; it manufactured yeast; it distilled liquor; and made lemonade and sparkling water.
Evidently Hersh Pisyuk or his family controlled Bergschloss when it was seized by the Soviets after invading the city in 1939. Communist rule had a significant adverse impact on Rovno Jews, but nothing compared to what the Nazis would wreak a few years later.
Unless the Pisyuks made it to safe territory before the German invasion, it seems unlikely they survived the Nazi assault on Rovno.
The brewery continued operating during the war, under the Soviets then Germans. Post-1945, it was presumably a Soviet state enterprise until Ukraine became independent.
Modern era of Brewery
The brewery today is owned by Marian Goda and Nadezhda Mymra. Goda started out as a brewery engineer. A discussion in Beer Tech Drinks, which pictures him, gives further background.
For a league table of Ukraine breweries in which Rivne figures, this page in the Landlord website is informative. It shows Rivne shares a relatively small national market, with commensurate small revenue, but evidently is still profitable, serving a local or regional market.
Put differently it is a survival of the time of “chimney” breweries. Numerous breweries in this category are still spread through the country.
A Czech character continues to colour the brewing approach. From Landlord:
… For several years a Czech Przemysl Brosh has been a chief brewer of “Riven”. He had worked at the “Uman Brewery” for a couple of years as well as at Czech companies “Staropramen” and “Gambrinus”. According to … Marian Goda, his company produces non-pasteurized beer. Natural ingredients are used for beer production at the factory. For instance, Munich malt is bought from Germany to brew “Bergshloss Black”, honey and rice are used for the light beer production. In 2014 Rivne brewery produced more than 1 million dekaliters of the brew, and they are not going to reduce production volumes in the near future. In Rivne the company opened a couple of bars and a beer restaurant. Soon the company will have its own beer museum.
Part of the brewery as seen today:
(Image attribution: By Xsandriel. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License, source: Wikimedia Commons).
For the brewery’s current line, see its beer page. The Rivne Premium, an all-malt lager, seems particularly appealing. The Bergschloss Dark has a sugar addition, which is almost a British touch, although some Czech Munich-style beer has used sugar, as I discussed earlier.
Volhynia became a recognized hop region although never of foremost rank, despite its cultivars originating in fine Czech varieties.
A 2018 study of Ukraine’s hop industry, Beer and Hop Branches of Ukraine: Conjuncture and Integration by T. Pryimachuk, A. Protsenko, R. Rudyk, and T. Shtanko, illuminates the background.
It notes that growers number less than 20. This is down significantly from past years, but hops are still produced in a number of regions including Rivne. The Rivne brewery (see website) states it has its own hop plantation; this likely represents the part of national production attributable to the Rivne region.
The study states the four leading brewing groups in the country – they hold over 90% of the market – mostly use imported hops. This is due to certain varieties they favour, bulk purchasing needs, and inadequate marketing by the Ukraine hop industry.
Obolon is one of the “big four” but locally owned. Together with the so-called private (or regional) breweries, it forms an important market for Ukrainian hops.
Indeed Rivne brewery (see website) states the “Rivne” line uses Ukrainian hops, while the revived Bergschloss labels use both domestic and imported.
Note: See in Comments the link I added showing the splendid pre-1914 buildings in full aspect.