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The first Israeli beer news portal in Israel. Founded in 2008. All about beer, accessible and professional.

A bit of history

Beer of the Russian Empire

Russian Old Beer

The human body has an enviable characteristic – it forgets bad things. After all, if we remembered all the pain and unpleasant events that happened to us during all our lives, we would simply go crazy! In addition, we subconsciously embellish our past – because when we were young, everything around us was perceived differently than it is now.

All this is right, but you still want to jump into a time machine and see: what was it like, our past? It’s not so easy to get a time machine, but you can read about the beer of the Russian Empire now.

A remarkable statement once appeared in the pre-revolutionary press: “What is grape wine? It is a drink of need, consumed only when beer is not available”. – Undoubtedly, modern marketers need to take this into account! What kind of beer was produced in Russia before the revolution?  The brands and varieties can be divided into three main categories:

  • Higher brands – Porter, Export, Export, Bock Beer, Vienna, Munich, Bohemian, Pilsen and other brands.
  • Bavarian, Nuremberg, Kulmbach, Erlang and other Bavarian brands, except those mentioned in the first category.
  • Regular or half beers.

At the same time, the first two categories did not always have clear frameworks. The most common brands of beer were Pilsner and Stolovoye, brewed by a third of the breweries of the Russian Empire. Pilsner is the main representative of Bohemian beer.

Vienna and Bavarian beers occupied a slightly smaller part of the assortment. In terms of its properties, degree of fermentation and color, Vienna beer stands between Pilsen and Bavarian beer. Then came Martovskoye, Eksport and Eksportnoye. One tenth of the Russian breweries produced Munich and Bock Beer. Black beer, Bohemian, Velvet and Czech were somewhat less common. Cabinet, Tsarskoye, Pomegranate, Russian, Imperial, Ideal, and Porter were also produced.

Some plants brewed rarer brands as well: Royal, Black Velvet, Export Black, Imperial, Kulmbach, Double Moscow, Light Light, Czech Gold, Wheat, Montenegro, Erlang, Salvatore, El, many of which were the breweries’ own developments, as were Hinzenberg, Kharkov Three Stars, Kronov, Triple Mountain, Delta, Golden, Blue, Red Label, Double Golden Label, Monopol, Vienna Cabinet, Crystal, Riga Porter, Riga Table, Vyatka Barley, Kuban White, Coburg, People’s Russian Porter, Eastern Bavaria, Medved, Charlottal, Durdinskoye, Vienna Pure No. 1 and others.

Already at that time non-alcoholic beer was brewed – Black non-alcoholic beer, Russian beer and others.

Beer lovers must have wondered: “What was the taste of beer before the revolution? Did it taste like modern beer?”. So far, time and modern technology have not had a significant impact on the taste of old brands of beer. Old recipes can be used to reproduce any brand of beer with sufficient accuracy. Even ancient beer recipes that are more than a thousand years old are being restored.

A better description of the beer’s taste is given by E.K. Profet’s brewery in Stavropol:

  • “Bohemian – pale, light, dry, unsweetened, with a predominant hop flavor.
  • Martovskoye – semi-dark, semi-dry, not bitter.
  • Export – half dark, soft, the strongest (and therefore strong – V.D.), more than other varieties can withstand the road and storage.
  • Vienna – semi lighter, light, extractive, with a slight hop flavor.
  • Black velvet, boiled and prepared from specially tinted malt, strongly extractive, of the weakest alcoholic character”.

Breweries did not always follow strictly defined technological instructions when making beer. They could make their own, so to speak, proprietary changes in the recipe, so some brands of beer from different breweries could have different physical and chemical parameters. The quality of water and raw materials significantly influenced the flavor differences of the same beer brands.


BreweryBrandDensity (% Plato)Alcohol by vol., %Alcohol by mass, %
Х-К. Стрицкого, РигаПльзеньское11.30%4.6%3.62%
“Вальдшлёсхен”, РигаПльзеньское11.70%4.0%3.16%
Трёхгорный, МоскваПльзеньское10.70%3.9%3.11%
Шаболовский, МоскваПльзеньское11.30%3.8%2.98%
Хамовнический, МоскваПльзеньское10.20%3.3%2.60%
Сокольнический, МоскваПльзеньское9.60%3.4%2.68%
И.И.Дурдина, ПетроградПльзеньское11.60%4.3%3.40%
“Вальдшлёсхен”, РигаСтоловое11.10%4.3%3.41%
Трёхгорный, МоскваСтоловое11.90%4.7%3.67%
Шаболовский, МоскваСтоловое11.30%4.0%3.18%
Хамовнический, МоскваСтоловое11.90%4.3%3.42%
Сокольнический, МоскваСтоловое10.80%3.7%2.90%
Шаболовский, МоскваЧерное14.50%1.6%1.23%
И.И.Дурдина, ПетроградБаварское светлое12.30%4.3%3.40%
И.И.Дурдина, ПетроградБаварское темное12.20%3.8%3.00%
И.И.Дурдина, ПетроградМюнхенское12.90%4.3%3.40%
И.И.Дурдина, ПетроградПортер18.60%7.0%5.50%
Капинкинский, ПетроградВенское12.50%4.4%3.50%
“Вальдшлёсхен”, РигаМартовское12.75%3.8%3.00%
Х-К.Стрицкого, РигаМартовское12.50%3.8%3.00%
Жигулёвский, СамараСветлое11.10%3.8%3.00%

Bavarian beer, for example, could contain 3 and 3.8% alcohol. Light beer from I.O. Vodenko’s brewery in Vologda contained 3.6% alcohol, while Zhigulyovsky in Samara contained 3%, Munich beer – 3.76%, Porter – 7.16%, Black Velvet – 2%. The main thing is that the alcohol content should not be less than the percentage defined for a given brand of beer, but sometimes this ” range” is so large that a given brand acquires the indicators of another. Modern brewers have more definite clear-cut requirements.

On the initiative of brewery owners or brewers, shamrock, oak bark, mug wort, quassia, gentian root, aloe, Turkish pepper, flame thorn seeds, picric acid, etc. were sometimes added to beer instead of hops in order to save on raw materials. This initiative by German brewers is due to the deep tradition of using herbal additives in brewing, despite the fact that Bavaria is the birthplace of the beer purity law.

In the 19th century and even later, glycerin(!) was added to give beer a more pleasant flavor and to form a white and thick foam. Sulfuric acid or its mixture with alum was sometimes used to clarify beer. Potato flour or sugar molasses could be used instead of barley.

Salicylic and boric acids, borax, acidic calcium sulfide and other substances were used to make beer more stable. The use of porcelain stoppers with rubber gaskets for corking bottles was also harmful. They contained a significant amount of antimony and lead, which passed into the drink.

In 1882, at the All-Russian Industrial Art Exhibition in Moscow, the Moscow Bavaria brewery was awarded a silver medal for the use of rice and corn in brewing. The law-abiding owner of the Lomzyn brewery, F. Tylinski, petitioned for permission to add a quarter pound of Icelandic moss to the beer wort for each 460-bucket mash.

However, there were attempts to restore order in the brewing industry, as Article 253 of the Statute of Excise Duties, issued in 1901, prohibited the use of any materials other than malt, water, hops and yeast in brewing – Russia decided to adopt the famous Bavarian law on beer purity.

The law of January 15, 1885 stated: “Sellers of beer are forbidden to dilute it with water, to add substances to it, even if not harmful to health, as well as to mix beer from different breweries. Perpetrators are subject to a monetary penalty of up to 50 rubles”.

It should be recognized that even in modern production, the addition of unmalted materials is not occasionally avoided: wheat, rye, rice, oats, corn, millet, cassava, sorghum. There are varieties beer types in which the addition of some of them is required, as they are a distinctive feature of the style. Sometimes enzymes are also added – barley harvests vary in quality, but the requirements for the taste of beer, unlike wine, are the same.

In the old taverns, it was difficult to find beer that wasn’t diluted with water. So, this is not a problem of today. Falsified beer could be sold by some beer warehouse at a low price – 3 kopecks for a bottle or 60 kopecks for a bucket. Beer was often filled into unwashed bottles from a well-known brewery.

In 1884, the Moscow beer storehouse of the St. Petersburg brewery “Vienna” changed the yellow labels for green ones – and immediately fakes were detected. From that time on, the labels also bore the signature of the warehouse manager, I.P. Nickels.

In January 1885, a peasant, K-v, who owned a porterhouse on Dyakovka Street in Moscow, came to Mikhelson’s print shop in Ananov’s house on Krivokolenny Lane and, presenting two labels of Vienna Shabolovsky beer on behalf of the Karneev and Gorshanov (Shabolovsky) brewery, ordered 20,000 pieces. Mikhelson decided to check with the brewery administration about the reality of such a small order. As a result, the fraudster was detained by the police when he showed up to receive the order on January 19.

In 1910 in Warsaw, K. Mahleid’s brewery was fined 200 rubles for producing beer with labels in Polish, while the inscriptions should have been printed in Russian or duplicated. Of course, such violation did not worsen the taste of beer.

Not only the police, but also various partnerships and associations fought against fraud: in 1914, the Kalinin Beer and Honey Partnership, the Russian-Bavarian Brewery Society “Bavaria” and the Ivan Durdin Partnership issued a statement in the press:

“In recent times the trade in beer from other breweries, sold as ours, has taken on larger and larger proportions in the city of St. Petersburg. Beer from other breweries is systematically poured into our branded bottles or put on the market in bottles similar to ours and with labels that differ little from ours. Several police reports have recently been made about this again.

Having decided to take the most resolute measures to prosecute these abuses from now on, we at the same time humbly request the Lord Beer Consumers to pay attention to the authenticity of bottles and labels and to the branding on the corks when receiving beer”.

The trials that took place on this occasion were quite frequent.

The breweries paid great attention to the design of their products. Beer bottles were characterized by originality and elegance, had on the glass all the attributes of the factory. Some beer containers were so original and delightful that they were preserved by Russians until our time precisely because of their unusualness and beauty.

Beer from the Durdin brewery in patented original decanters according to the first prize-winning model went on sale from April 19, 1912. The demand for Durdin light and dark beer made from the best barley and Zhatec hops and famous not only for the drink itself – what to drink, but also what to drink from – was unusually high.

On July 17, 1914 a decree was issued banning not only vodka, wine, but also beer trade on the occasion of mobilization – beer shops were closed, but vodka was still sold in restaurants of the first category. A complete ban was introduced only from December 15. Only by the spring of 1915 some of the breweries began to produce low-alcohol beverages, which allowed them to avoid closure. Others dried breadcrumbs for the army, switched to the production of similar products, rented premises to the Treasury, some managed to get orders for the manufacture of ammunition. The production of fizzy soft drinks proved unprofitable.

During the First World War, because of the increase in the price of black aniline dye from 30 to 310 rubles per pood, tanneries willingly bought spoiled beer to dye leather. It was rubbed with kampesha or sandalwood extract and then dyed with an infusion of beer on iron filings.

After the revolution, the industry began to revive – the Moscow City Council authorized the sale of beer diluted 1:1 with water to the Trichogorny brewery. Such “beer” was traded until 1921.

From IsraBeer: Modern breweries brew higher density beer for saving space and energy. Up to 25 percent water is can be added during filtration. Adding more water makes the beer taste watery. To dilute beer 1:1, i.e., to add 100% water, is, I’m not afraid to say, a real obscenity!

In the early years of Soviet power, the existing breweries continued to brew the same brands of beer, and the same labels were kept with minor changes in the inscriptions. Only gradually, especially in the thirties, new beer brands began to appear more and more, but sometimes just new names, and the design of labels became much simpler. In advertisements, breweries often emphasized the pre-war quality of their beer.

As we can see, everything was not so rosy in the past, and beer was diluted and counterfeited, and the variety was not the same as it is now. So we should not drive our Time Machine there.


The article uses materials from Pavel Egorov’s website and the book “About Beer” by V. Dovgan.

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