The Jews of Kraków and its Surrounding Towns

The Role of Jews
in the Polish Beer

(Article provided by Gregory Gembala)


In Poland, beer became popular during the times of king Bolesław Chrobry in the 11th century, becoming the Polish national drink for many centuries to come — which is easily forgotten. Jan Długosz, the well–known medieval chronicler wrote in the 15th century:

"Wine is rarely used here. The Polish nation does however have a drink brewed of wheat, hops and water, called 'piwo' in Polish. There is nothing better for the refreshment of the body. It is not only the delight of the inhabitants, but also of foreigners".

Since the 13th century, the right of beer brewing was the subject of royal bestowals, granted to the cities and noble landlords. In the 14th century, eighty-six breweries were active in contemporary Poland. There was even a special office that supervised beer quality, and was entitled to issue death sentences for forging this drink. Beer was often produced at home, due to the simplicity of its production and the availability of ingredients, such as barley, yeast and, most of all, clear water.

The economic changes in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries, initiated by the development of an agricultural system that was based on large noble manor estates, the "folwarks" (serfdom-based farms) and the slave work of the serfs, resulted in the growing role of mills, distilleries and, last but not least, breweries, as integrated elements of this new agro-economical system. Since mid 16th century, the "propination", i.e., the privilege of manufacturing liquor and beer, granted to the noble landlords, resulted in the development of local, small distilleries and breweries as part of the landlords' estates, the "folwarks". The breweries utilized local resources such as barley and hops in the manufacture of beer; the beer could either be sold or handed out to the serfs as part of their "payment". The quality of the Polish beer decreased alot with the introduction of "propination" — the nobles were more interested in the maximization of profits than in the quality of the product itself. The beer, which was produced in small, agricultural breweries of the noble estates, was of inferior quality and low alcohol content (under 10% alcohol volume), mostly due to the acceleration of the natural brewing process and lack of quality control. The quality of the beer wasn't that important because the distribution of the manufactured volume was guaranteed by the noble landlord who used the beer to pay the serfs; the surplus was sold in local inns that were mostly leased from the landlord, too.

On the other hand, 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.

Agricultural Breweries and Their Decline

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 inns. Most of the beer produced was distributed among the peasants as a part of their payment; the surplus was sold in local inns.

Until the very moment of the introduction of the consumption tax and the end of the "propination" privileges and serfdom, breweries were very profitable enterprises, due to the availability of local markets and low production costs. Production costs were low because most breweries used resources from nearby agricultural estates, a cheap or free serf work force, and an almost inexhaustible wood resource. However, since the late forties of the 19th century, the decay of agricultural breweries became visible. The Austrian authorities continuously increased the consumption tax rate along with other taxes, that resulted in the demise of many small, local breweries. The step-by-step cancellation of "propination" rights, as well as the shift in the drinking habits of the peasants, who preferred rather stronger liquors to beer, often of poor quality, resulted in the decrease of the traditional local beer production and the closing of many small, agricultural breweries.

Moreover, the second-half of the 19th century brought the introduction of industrial methods of beer production, delivering high quality, pasteurized beers, that could be shipped even to distant locations. Soon, industrial breweries emerged also in Galicia — in 1845, Jan Goetz founded the first industrial brewery in Okocim, near Brzesko; in 1852 Archduke Karl Olbracht von Habsburg opened his brewery in Żywiec. 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.

The major obstacle for small, agricultural breweries was the lack of funds sufficient to finance the shift to modern, industrial methods. Between 1850 and 1912, the number of breweries in Galicia decreased from 365 to 84. Despite this development, the beer production in Galicia constantly rose — from approximately 411-thousand hectoliters (about 26.4 US gallons) in 1850 to 1,591-thousand hectoliters in the year 1912.

The change in production methods influenced the whole beer-brewing industry in Galicia — by 1861, more than 82% of the breweries only used the method of "top fermentation", whereas twenty years later only 23% used this method, compared to 63% of breweries that used the "bottom fermentation" method. In the early 20th century, the structural transition of the beer-brewing industry in Galicia was almost over. By 1910, there were three large industrial breweries —in Okocim, in Żywiec, and in Lemberg — with capacities of over 100-thousand hectoliters of beer yearly. There were three other breweries producing over fifty-thousand hectoliters yearly. The medium-sized industrial breweries, producing over twenty-thousand hectoliters beer yearly, were evenly spread throughout Western and Eastern Galicia. Small breweries however still dominated in Eastern Galicia where the transition process proceeded slower. Even in 1913, there were still many local agricultural breweries active in Eastern Galicia, many of them owned or rented by Jews.

Jewish Arendars, Brewers, and Owners

As already mentioned, by the early 20th century there were still many small breweries in Eastern Galicia that were leased by Jews. Among others, the following local breweries had Jewish leaseholders (according to the Galician Business Directories of 1901 and 1913):

By the early 20th century, numerous breweries, small and medium-sized, were also owned by Jewish proprietors:

Apart from Jewish arenders (leaseholders and proprietors), Jewish citizens were also active as wholesale merchants. The largest breweries, Okocim and Żywiec, list their representatives in the towns of Galicia. The Okocim brewery had several warehouses — the warehouse in Kraków was owned by a certain J. Ripper; in Lemberg, by S. Weiser and Ozias Wiksel; and in Rzeszów by A. Silber. The representatives were: Herman Enoch in Andrychów; J.S. Selinger in Chrzanów; M. Scharf in Kołomyja; H. Litvak in Maków; M. Engländer in Nowy Sącz; S. Ochenberg in Przemyśl; J. Schor in Stryj; and I. Huppert in Wadowice.

The representatives of the Żywiec Archduke's Brewery were: Horman Enoch in Andrychów; S. Nachmann in Biała; Dolais and Reich in Jarosław; I.O. Seelenfreund in Lemberg; Alter Nussbaum in Limanowa; Salomon Korn in Nowy Sącz; Jacob Haberfeld in Oświęcim; M. Schatzker in Przemyśl; A. Freundlich in Rabka; Noah Horn in Rzeszów; M. Teiger in Sambor; Samuel Perlberger in Tarnopol; A. Kaempf and A. Keh in Tarnów; Israel Huppert in Wadowice; and Salomon Brüll in Zawoja.


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