The English Ales of Pomerania

Introduction

Brewing can demonstrate interesting continuities over time. Its special magic, as for winemaking and distilling, is to create an uplifting quality. Often a bond develops between producer and public, and locale of production acquires an aura.

Few things are more emotive to the beer lover than a weathered old brewery.

Some breweries still brew in the old stand, inevitably with changed ownership over time. Some American Budweiser is still brewed in a forest of buildings in downtown St. Louis, Missouri originating in the 1800s.

Molson-Coors has brewed for over 200 hundred years by the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, although soon most operations will transfer to Longueil, Quebec. (This YouTube video gives background).

As brands and breweries can long endure in the public mind, new breweries may adopt the old names, or even move into the original premises.

Brewery Revival in the “Polish Corridor”

Take Stary Browar Koscierzyna, a Polish brewery, hotel, and pub complex. It is in Koscierzyna in northern Poland, about 30 miles south-west of Gdansk.

A brewery similarly named operated in the same location until 1948.

Gdansk before 1945 was more commonly known by its German name, Danzig, while Koscierzyna was long called Berent. Both were in East Pomerania in West Prussia, from the late-1700s until the end of WW I.

In the 1920s and 30s Danzig was a Free Port, and Koscierzyna in the Polish Corridor. The Corridor was a land bridge on former German territory for Poland to access Danzig and the Baltic, including the new port of Gdynia.

To visualize the Corridor see this image at Wikipedia Commons.

East of Danzig was East Prussia. Today Danzig, East Prussia minus a Russian enclave, and much of West Prussia/Corridor are in Poland.

The ethnic mix in these areas varied. Danzig before WW II was mostly German-speaking. Koscierzyna and many other towns in the Corridor had a Polish ethnic majority, especially after WW I. Some towns counted many Kashubians, a west Slavic people closely related to the Poles.

Small percentages of Jews lived throughout until Hitler’s regime sealed their fate.

Brewery History

The hotel website has a good timeline that starts with the earlier brewery, the Berenter Brewery. It was established by Carl Teodor Hanff in 1856, although some brewing took place even earlier.

The brewery was progressively enlarged and industrialized. Abraham Berent took over in 1888, and in 1895 Wilhelm Brendel bought part of the brewery. Before WW I light and dark beers were produced, a Smietanka and Dubeltowe, probably lagers.

The timeline states Abraham Berent was the most dynamic of the early owners. Yet, the brewery had its “golden years” in the interwar period, employing not more than 15 staff but with bottling facilities spread through the region.

WW II is not mentioned but the brewery resumes after, then in 1948 is converted to mineral water production, and later to make mead. All operations ceased in 1998.

Archeology work took place in 2010. Badges of some type in white porcelain were unearthed marked Louis Cohn, seemingly pre-WW I. I am unclear what connection he had to the brewery, if any.

In 2011 investors commenced work for restoration and installation of a new brewery, hotel, pub, and pizzeria. Evidently a substantial investment was made. The results as shown in the gallery are impressive including the gleaming copper brewhouse.

The complex occupies the solid red brick structure descended from the 19th century.

(Source: hotel website).

Interwar Beer Range

A Wikipedia entry for the brewery sets out similar information to the website, adding the beers interwar were “Kozlak, Pelne Jasne, Slodowe Pasteuryzowane and Englishe Ale”. It references a 2017 publication by Isabella Byszewska on revival of the brewery.

So bock, light, malt, and English ale. In the excellent Polish Beer Labels site, original prewar labels of the brewery are reproduced, including for the English ale. It states more specifically – in English, not translated – “à la English ale”, with a Continental flourish.

The “19” is Plato starting extract. The likely result was a strong beer at least 7% abv. The brewery was hearkening back I think to English pale ale before WW I, which makes sense in this context.

Other labels in the group state 2.5% or 4.5% alcohol. The English ale does not state the alcohol content, but “dubeletowe”, or double, on the label suggests a strong beer.

A possibility is this English ale was a strong ale, vs. pale ale as such. I incline against though, given as well that another brewery in the region issued a “pale ale” with inclusion of the double term (see below).

English-style Beer in Prewar Poland 

In leafing through perhaps 1000 labels on Polish Beer Labels, I saw only a handful for ale. There is a pale ale from Wielkopolski brewery in Bydgoszcz, which is some 80 miles south of Koscierzyna.

In Poznan, yet further south but still in the Corridor, a bottler sold English Bass Pale Ale, together with Barclay Perkins Imperial Stout and Pilsner Urquell. These particular labels appear to pre-date WW I.

It seems in parts of northern Poland a slim English ale heritage was being honoured. Via the busy Danzig port British beers would have landed routinely. Porter is the best example and there are many labels for porter in Polish Beer Labels, but few for ale.

Still, a little ale was brewed locally. The “à la” meant perhaps Koscierzyna’s version was bottom-fermented. The timeline notes an ice warehouse onsite in 1872, so lagering was probably the rule at least from that time. Other images show what seems standard lagering in wood tuns.

Ales Today at Stary Browar Koscierzyna

Given the revived brewery is a craft brewery, I expected to find in its range an India Pale Ale, a leitmotif of craft brewing everywhere. And indeed, there is one in the beer list on the brewery’s dedicated website.

The taste notes suggest the fruity, tropical style popular worldwide today, and state that American hops are used.

But an English-style IPA is also listed. This is relatively rare for craft breweries. Of course some is made but the American style dominates everywhere, indeed IPA “means” the American type, full stop.

Why, then, would a revived Polish brewery in a formerly German territory feature an English pale ale?

I think I’ve given you the answer.

The English IPA suggests a classic English palate with its “ripe orange” and “bitter orange”, among other flavours that together spell British. Indeed all-English hops are used.

 

(Source: brewery website).

Extract per the taste notes is 16 P., producing 6.4% abv, lighter than the 1930s ale. It will do just fine.

In Conclusion

Despite a long hiatus, continuity has prevailed for a Polish brewery’s heritage. First, brewing was re-established in the original locale. Second, a minor but still notable brand in the prewar brewing line was brought back, via the English IPA. This is gratifying, showing too as it does, an appreciation for classic flavours of the past.

See in the Comments my additional remarks for the brewing today.

Note: our next post Ale of Zywiec, Poland continues this discussion.

Note re images: all intellectual property in images shown belongs to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images are identified and linked to original source in text. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

………….

*With apologies to the native speakers I have omitted Polish diacritical symbols in these notes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The English Ales of Pomerania”

  1. Fascinating article. It is tempting to think the English ale would be a strong ale, as this was quite well known across much of northern Europe in the early nineteenth century, both imported and locally brewed. It would be the type exported to Russia from Burton and that known in the Hanseatic ports as ‘English oil’. 19º Plato is about 1.079 original gravity, which is a bit too strong for the majority of pale ales but just right for a strong ale. However, by the 1930s that kind of ale had been out of fashion for about 70 years, although I suppose it might have survived in a few pockets.

    Reply
    • Thanks very much, and your thoughts do track mine quite closely, except I came out on the other end. The terminal gravities at different alcohol results starting at 8% abv (a minimum I’d think for Burton strong type) seemed too dry for it, but still it might be that, which is even an older throwback as you suggest than pale ale.

      It seems unlikely the 1930s records survive but one never knows, as business continued in the facility until the 1990s although brewing did stop before that in the late Forties.

      I’d like to visit one day certainly, the renovation seems very well done, and it would be interesting to chat with the people (and brewer!).

      Gary

      Reply
      • After I did the post, I located a blog account (in Polish) from December 2015 of a visit to the complex, see here.

        Good additional detail appears. There is a museum in the old brick chimney, the only part of the first (Berenter) brewery to survive. It looks very well done.

        The writer states an intent to write at further length about the history, I don’t know if this was done.

        Also, in 2015, the brewer was Tomasz Patzer. The brewery’s capacity (2015) = 18,000 hL per annum.

        The beers appear to have evolved since the period mentioned.

        Reply
        • As I mentioned in the text, the hotel complex and brewery proper each has a website.

          If I read it all correctly the main brewhouse was constructed off the site to handle more capacity and bottling, but following the design of the first Berenter brewery, a compact industrial brick building with chimney later replaced, probably under Abraham Berent, by a larger brick structure c. 1890.

          Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: