Alcohol Production: In the Chortitza and Bergthal Colonies
In Ukrainian and Russian archives we have found a wealth of sources explor- ing how the Mennonites in the Chortitza and Bergthal colonies established alcohol production. These documents reveal how Mennonites interacted with various levels of the Russian administration over the issue of alcohol and provide examples of Mennonites winding up in trouble for not following the rules. Unfortunately, many of these records are written in older, highly bureaucratic, and very messy handwritten German and Russian, and are difficult, or in some cases impossible, to translate.1
By the time of the exodus of Dutch Anabaptists into the northern part of the kingdom of Poland in the sixteenth cen- tury,2 brandy production was relatively widespread in the Netherlands. Prussian Mennonite historian and genealogist Kurt Kauenhoven has claimed that the distilling of brandy was one of the crafts that early Mennonites brought with them from the Netherlands. The first known Mennonite distiller was Ambrosius Vermeulen of Danzig, who started distilling in 1598.3 By 1661, nine out of forty-seven Mennonite families living in Danzig were in the brandy distillation business.4 A sales con- tract from the year 1618 states: “Peter Paulsen has sold . . . to Jacob Jantzen from Emden [in the Netherlands] a half Morgen [about two-thirds of an acre] of rented land from his farm in Beyershorst . . . and it is granted upon his insistent request, that he be allowed to build a brandy dis-tillery there.” Over the next two centuriesbrandy distilling became popular among the Mennonite population. By the time Mennonites migrated to Russia, they were well known for their Branntwein (brandy).
We know little about the produc- tion and consumption of alcohol by Low German Mennonites from the time they arrived in northern Poland in the 1500s until the Prussian period in 1772. Contrary to popular belief, most Mennonites who lived in West Prussia were not landowners. Instead, they “possessed” their land through heredi- tary land leases of twenty to fifty years. Typically, entire villages would be leased by groups of families from the Crown, the nobility, local cities (Danzig or Elbing, for example), the Catholic or Lutheran church, or wealthy estate owners. The landlord often owned the local estab- lishment that produced or sold alcoholic beverages in or near the village. The land- lord usually included a clause in the rental contract which required the tenants to purchase their alcoholic beverages from the landlord’s establishment or Schenke,6 and prohibited the tenants from produ- cing alcohol for their own use or for sale.
Since Mennonites were not heavy con- sumers of alcohol and were sought-after tenants, a clause was often included in the contract which would allow them to pro- duce their own alcoholic beverages, but not for sale. For example, a contract for the village of Platenhof, later renewed in 1654 for another forty years, allowed the tenants to brew beer for their own use.7 A document from 1627 names Abraham Wiebe and Paul Dick, likely Mennonites, as representatives of the Platenhof ten- ants.8 A contract from the year 1725 for the village of Tiegenhagen allowed the tenants to bake bread and brew beer for their own needs.9 According to the village descriptions found in the 1772–73 census of West Prussia, many of the villages in the Elbing territory were forbidden to brew their own beer or distill their own brandy and were required to obtain these from the city of Elbing.10 These beverages were sold through the local Krug (tavern or inn). The village was then taxed 30 groschen per Tonne (barrel) of beer and 1 groschen per Stoof (about 1.25 litres) of brandy. All the villages found in Gerhard Kling’s transcription of the census were allowed to brew their own “Schemper,” which seems to refer to homemade wine, but not for sale (and therefore it was not taxed). Most villages in the Elbing district had an inn. The only innkeeper (Krueger) listed, who appears to have been a Mennonite, was Claas Dyck of Krebsfeld. Over time, more Mennonites established their own breweries and taverns. It has been claimed that Jacob Hoeppner, one of the two dele- gates who travelled to Russia to identify locations for Mennonite settlement, was an innkeeper and a general store owner (Hakenbuedner) in Bohnsack before moving to Russia.11
A few of the early immigrants to the Chortitza colony had backgrounds in brewing or distilling. Isaac Toews (b. 1739), who immigrated in 1789 and lived outside the colony, was a brandy dis- tiller from Danzig. He eventually moved to Volhynia and his profession there is unknown.12 Martin Hamm (1740–1806), who immigrated in 1803, was a brandy distiller in Janischau, West Prussia.13 Jacob Wiens (1774–1810), who also arrived in Chortitza in 1803, was listed in Einlage in 1808 as a vinegar and beer brewer.14
The First Decade
The Privilegium granted to delegates Hoeppner and Johann Bartsch in 1787
makes no mention of alcohol.15 This Privilegium was mostly concerned with settlement conditions. It is likely that the early Chortitza Mennonites brewed their own beer and wine, which were relatively straightforward processes. A document from these early years indicates that the Mennonites of Schoenwiese were forbidden to sell wine.16 Likely such a prohibition was issued because the Russian authorities had learned that the Schoenwieser were selling wine to people outside the Mennonite settlement. Since the colony did not yet have a distillery, spirits were likely purchased through local Russian sources. In a 1798 report, Samuel Kontenius, who would eventu- ally become the head of the Guardianship Committee for Foreign Settlers, stated that the Chortitza colony, which con- sisted of ten villages at that time, had eight “drinking houses.” These establish- ments paid 600 rubles annually to the colony for a lease, and for the right to sell alcoholic beverages. Such fees were used to support the community shepherds and the leftover money was used to buy bulls for the colony herds.
It is possible that some people exter- nal to the colony leased these taverns. Among the various sources of commun- ity income, distilleries or breweries were not mentioned in the report. It seems likely that most alcoholic beverages, especially distilled spirits, were imported from outside the colony. 17 For example, on January 31, 1801, the widow of an unnamed merchant complained to the Guardianship Committee that Jacob Hoeppner owed her 100 rubles for two wine barrels full of vodka, purchased during Lent in 1800.18
Since a significant number of Mennonites were involved in the brewing, distillation, or sale of alco- holic beverages in West Prussia, the Mennonites who immigrated to Russia made a point of including a related term in the well-known Privilegium of 1800.19 Point 4 of this Privilegium states: “By right of ownership We permit the Mennonites to enjoy all the fruits of their land and fishing, to brew beer and vinegar, to distill corn-brandy, not only for their own consumption, but also for retail sale on their land” [italics mine]. The Privilegium was signed by Tsar Paul I on September 6, 1800; by October, the Chortitza Aeltester Johann Wiebe was already involved in negotiating a brandy lease (Brandwein Pacht).20 It is unclear if this lease involved the establishment of a distillery or simply the selling of brandy. Unfortunately, only one document from the correspondence between Wiebe and the Guardianship Committee has survived.
Although villages elected their own mayors after being established, the administration of the Chortitza colony was controlled by the colony church until the Guardianship Committee set up an election of a colony district mayor (Oberschulze) in late 1800.21 After this election, the colony administration was, in theory, independent of the church. The new district mayor, Peter Siemens, took office in 1801. Under his admin- istration the lease money went into the coffers of the colony. Apparently, the people of Kronsweide were unhappy with this arrangement and the village mayor, Heinrich Janzen, visited Siemens on May 21, 1801, to complain that Jacob Goertz was paying 70 rubles for the right to sell brandy at the tavern in Kronsweide, but the village was not entitled to any of the rent money. The following day Goertz visited Siemens to complain that the village administration was not allowing him to sell brandy. Siemens then visited Kronsweide to set things straight. It is not clear exactly what happened at this point. There appears to have been a physical altercation in which Siemens was struck. As a result, the Guardianship Committee ordered Mayor Janzen, together with councillors (Beisitzer) Cornelius Pauls, Georg Siemens, and Isaac Heinrichs to
be placed in the stockade in the village of Chortitza for a day followed by eight days of community ditch digging.22
A 1802 report on colonist activities contains the first recorded reference to the building of a distillery in Chortitza and a tavern in Schoenwiese.23 The next related reference, in the 1810 census of the colony, is to a “Brand Haus” rented by Gerhard Martens in the village of Chortitza (prop- erty number 36).24 The census records show that, in addition to his family (wife, three sons, and two daughters), he had five male servants in his household. This is an unusually high number, and they were likely involved in the distilling business. In May and November of 1811, census lists show that he had nine servants in his household.25 By May 1813 he had moved to Einlage and had only two servants, and in later censuses he is listed as a tailor.26
According to a state document, in 1813 taverns were operating in Einlage (leased by Jacob von Kampen), Neuenburg (Jacob Derksen), Kronsweide (Franz Pauls), Schoenhorst (Wilhelm Friesen), Neuendorf (Johann Bergmann), Insel Chortitza (Dirk Neufeld), Chortitza (David Epp [written as “Ek”]), Nieder- Chortitza (Johann Braun), and Rosenthal (Wilhelm Siemens).27 Leasing and com- mission income for these locations amounted to 487.75 rubles. A distillery contract brought in 500 rubles and distil- lery sales brought in an additional 1,148 rubles. Thus, the total income for the Chortitza colony from brandy sales and leasing of the distillery and taverns for the year 1813 was 2,136 rubles. This was 58 percent of the total income of the colony! The next highest source was the sale of wool (721 rubles), followed by the sale of silk (514 rubles), and imposed fines (120 rubles). All other sources (hay, fishing, water mill, etc.) brought in less than 100 rubles each.
Unfortunately, this document does not give the location of the distillery. A statis- tical overview of the Chortitza colony for 1819,presentedbyP.M.Frieseninhisvast history of the Mennonites in Russia, men- tioned, without any details, a beer brewery and a brandy distillery among the public buildings in the colony.28 David H. Epp’s biography of Heinrich Heese indicated that during Heese’s time as the Chortitza colony secretary (Gebietsschreiber) around 1818–1829, investors were removed from the failed distillery. Again, the location of the distillery is not given.29
None of the available documents contain any indication that the church leadership was opposed to the distillation of brandy or brewing of wine and beer in the colonies. The leasing of distiller- ies, wineries, taverns, and brandy/wine/ beer shops generated huge profits for the colony. The churches themselves had no income. If a new church building was needed, the funds came from membership levies (and volunteer labour), the colony coffers, and whatever money could be obtained from the imperial Russian state.
The Mennonite village of Kronsgarten was located a considerable distance to the north of the Chortitza colony, near the city of Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipro, Ukraine). Kronsgarten and the nearby Lutheran village of Josephsthal were part of the Ekaterinoslav administrative district, whereas the Chortitza colony was part of the Aleksandrovsk (later Zaporozh’e, now Zaporizhzhia) district. Both were under the authority of the Guardianship Committee and part of Ekaterinoslav province within New Russia. As a result, Kronsgarten was rarely included in census records, and other lists for the Chortitza colony; it was usually included together with Josephsthal in the Guardianship Committee records found in the Odesa (Odessa) and Dnipro (Dnepropetrovsk) archives.
In 1801, the Kronsgarten mayor, Jacob Bartel, requested permission from the Guardianship Committee to build a brandy distillery in the village.30 This request was granted with the stipulations that the contractor build the distillery at his own expense, the contract be for no more than three years, the brandy not be sold at other locations, and the condi- tions of the contract be reported to the Guardianship Committee. Kronsgarten was the site of a distillery and brewery for the next several generations.
Little is known about the history of this distillery and brewery. For many years, Peter Block (1797–1878),31 who was the leading minister, had the lease. He also operated an inn, likely with an accompanying tavern. His brother-in- law Heinrich Plennert (1809–1867)32 had the lease during the years 1847–49.33 The wives of Block and Plennert were sis- ters, and daughters of the minister Johann Bartel (1764–1813).34 In 1847 Johann Schroeder, a German colonist from Josephsthal, purchased the beer and wine brewing contract for ten years at a cost of 100 rubles per year.35 In 1859, Peter Klassen of Kronsgarten purchased these rights for a four year term (1860–1864).36
By 1813, the Chortitza village of Einlage had a tavern. It also had a distil- lery; however, we do not know the date ofitsconstruction.Twodocumentsfrom 1827 mention the distillery. The first is a description of buildings in the Chortitza colony, indicating that Einlage had one distillery and an associated residence. One structure was built of wood and the other was of Fachwerk (timber frame) con- struction. Einlage also had a tavern built of wood. All buildings belonged to the colony.37
The first known contract for the leasing of the Einlage distillery started in 1827.38 The contract was drawn up the year before with renter Cornelius Heinrichs (1782–1828). It stated: “In the year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty-Six, on the 9th of December, the Chortitza Gebietsamt has made a contract with the Anwohner39 of colony Kronsweide, Landwirth [landowner] Cornelius Heinrichs, to rent the distillery business that serves the sixteen villages of the Chortitza area located in the province of Ekaterinoslav, under the following conditions:
“1.The sale of brandy, also beer, mead, and wine in the sixteen colonies will be handed over in rent to Heinrichs for four consecutive years starting this coming February 10, 1827, until the same date of the year 1831.
“2. He will receive a residence in the
colony of Einlage as well as a house for the making of brandy, a cellar for storage and the equipment for the making of brandy, etc., of which there will be an inventory made on the tenth of February. He will be responsible for the maintenance of the equipment and will hand them over in a useful state at the end of his rental agreement. He may not build any new buildings or subtract the expenses from his rent without previously receiving per- mission from the municipal office.
“3. Should by any chance – God forbid that it would happen – a fire or other dis- aster not caused by his or his employees’ negligence destroy or damage the property he would not need to pay the expenses but he would be asked to pay the going fire insurance equivalent to 15 Huben [1 Huben = 41.5 acres] to the Gebietsamt. “4. The renter has to provide good brandy at all times and sell it in the prescribed amounts, to avoid being penalized. No one in this area is allowed to buy brandy or other drinks in other locations [outside the colony]. Should the renter become aware of this the culprits will be punished accordingly.
“5. The renter may not, without permission from the Gebietsamt, hire outsiders as wait- ers, nor loan drinks to someone in order to raise money for his rent; however, the Gebietsamt will assist him in every way pos- sible to help raise the money for the rent. “6. Should the renter through forbidden sale of brandy to outsiders diminish his privileges or suffer a loss, he alone will be held responsible and will not receive a reduction of his rent.
“7. The renter is obliged to take payment from the Mennonites of the Chortitza area in the common silver coins without a pre- mium [or surcharge].
“8. For the rent of above mentioned drinks Heinrichs has agreed to pay the Gebietsamt a yearly sum of three thousand one hundred rubles, to be paid in equal sums every third part of the year [four months], paid ahead of time upon his entrance, which has to be paid without delay, and when the rental agreement is signed he has to pay one thousand rubles as a security deposit to the Gebietsamt, which will remain in the
Office until his rent is completed.
“As a promise to maintain all these conditions the renter, Cornelius Heinrichs, has signed personally. Signed by Cornoelius Heinrichs, Gebiets Vorsteher Penner, Gebiets Beysitzer Pauls and Gebiets
An inventory of equipment was also
provided, which was used in the fol- lowing process: First, the grain had to be malted, which involved allowing the grain to germinate, in order for enzymes to be released that converted the starch into sugar. The malt was then roasted in a kiln. The malted and roasted grain was then fermented, using the appropriate yeast to turn the sugar into ethanol. At this point one had a type of unfinished beer (called the mash). This mash was then distilled, and the distillate was stored in barrels. Although the German- language documents repeatedly call the result “Branntwein” (brandy), it was actually a type of whisky. Brandy is made by distillation of wine. Russian-language documents use terms like “hot wine” (brandy) or “hot drinks” (any type of dis- tilled liquor). The Privilegium of 1800 specifically gave the Mennonites permis- sion to distill grain mash.
Cornelius Heinrichs died in 1828 and his widow married Julius Janzen (1805–1876), also of Kronsweide. Janzen renewed the lease in 1831. At the end of this contract Janzen and the Gebietsamt had a dispute regarding the assessment of the equipment and facility. This led to seven years of unpleasant correspondence between the parties.
Leasing of the distillery and associated sales was done by auction. For the 1835–39 rental agreement, the bidders were Jacob Wiebe (Neuendorf ), Johann Neustaedter (Einlage), Julius Janzen (Kronsweide), Jacob Harder (Schoenhorst), and Julius Siemens (Schoenwiese). Harder narrowly outbid Janzen (3,550 to 3,500 rubles).40
Johann Fast received the next lease, pre- sumably for 1839–43.41 Fast (incorrectly called Faust) was accused by a misguided Russian state bureaucrat of not paying taxes on the brandy he was distilling and selling. Over a two-year period this issue worked its way through the Guardianship Committee up to the Russian Senate and then back down through the Guardianship Committee. In the end, the right of Mennonites to produce and sell alcohol within their own settlements was confirmed. For the term 1843–47, we only know that in 1842 Julius Janzen indicated his intent to obtain the con- tract.42 Nothing has been found on the 1847–51 rental term. In the spring of 1845 the Chortitza colony experienced the worst flood since its founding. Einlage, which was right on the Dnieper River, was particularly hard-hit. The situation was so bad that the village was completely relocated. The distillery had damages assessed at 2,409 rubles and was rebuilt using bricks.43 Julius Janzen once again leased the distillery during the term 1851–55. The contract unfortunately is missing from the Odesa archives.44 During the 1855–59 term Bernhard Rempel had the contract. The bidders for the 1859–63 contract were Heinrich Heese (Ekaterinoslav), Abraham Neustaedter (Einlage), and Cornelius Heinrichs (Einlage), son of the Cornelius Heinrichs who held the first known lease.45 The contract went to Neustaedter with a bid of 3,225 rubles.
Mennonites were evidently not above bootlegging or obtaining cheap alco- hol from outside their own settlement. Historian David G. Rempel men- tioned that “in 1825–6 various levels of Mennonite and Russian authorities considered what to do with a Mennonite woman from Insel Khortitsa named Liske [Elisabeth – her identity is unknown], who had sold a half-bucket of illicit spirits to a resident of Voznesenskoe named Joseph Bugutskii.”46 Her case worked its way through the Guardianship Committee to the Senate in St. Petersburg but was dismissed since the cost of bringing her to the capital for a trial was not worth the trouble. Minister David Epp (1781– 1843) noted that during a Bruderschaft (brotherhood) meeting, the issue of Dirk Rempel and Wilhelm Friesen of Schoenhorst secretly purchasing liquor in Michailovka was raised.47
Jacob Wall of Neuendorf (1807–1860) mentioned beer brewing several times in his diary. On four occasions between 1847 and 1851 he indicated that Jacob Berg (1791–1881) brewed beer.48 Berg sold his brewery and adjoining houses in Neuendorf to Franz Peters (1816–1892) for 8,000 rubles. Wall also mentioned a Peter Berg, who moved to Chortitza to brew beer on April 7, 1853. This was likely Peter Berg (1831–1912), the son of the aforementioned Jacob Berg. Interestingly, Wall indicated that on December 21, 1850, the brewery was given orders from Ekaterinoslav (the Guardianship Committee) that it needed permission to brew beer. Presumably it was brewing without permission.
In 1845, a brewery was started in Einlage. It produced 1,500 buckets of
beer annually. The Einlage brewery dis- appeared early enough that, by the time of the post–Second World War flight of the Mennonites from the village, there was no living memory of when it ceased functioning, or its location.49
The Gemeindeberichte der Schwarzmeer Deutschen of 1848 indicated that the dis- tillery paid 770 rubles in annual rent and that the four breweries in the colony paid 700 rubles per year.50
On February 27, 1853, the landowners of the village of Schoenwiese agreed to invest 1,239.95 rubles to construct an inn (guesthouse and tavern).51 The GRANDMA database profile for Heinrich Janzen (1811–1887) states he founded a brewery in Schoenwiese in 1863, which was shut down by the government in 1914.52 The profile for his son Heinrich (1848–1905) indicates he also ran the brewery. It is unknown if there was a con- nection between the tavern built in 1853 and the brewery owned by the Janzens.
The Bergthal Colony
The Bergthal colony, established in 1836, was smaller than Chortitza. There is no evidence that a distillery existed in the Bergthal colony. As a result, the Bergthal people had to obtain their liquor from outside the colony and were required to
pay the appropriate taxes and follow the rules and regulations about transportation of alcohol. The following incident illus- trates the problems that could arise.
In March of 1840 the Bergthal Mennonite Jacob Harder purchased five barrels of liquor from the Russian estate owner and military officer Mikhail Korostovtsev of Timofeyevka.53 These barrels were transported to the Bergthal colony by Jacob Friesen, Peter Sawatzky, Gerhard Janzen, Heinrich Falk, and Jacob Sawatszky. The transport was stopped near the German village of Grunau and the drivers were accused of consuming two buckets of the liquor during transit. Their crime was not the consumption of the liquor itself, but the fact that some of the liquor had been removed during transpor- tation. As reported to the Guardianship Committee, the men were arrested and required to testify before the Greek court in Mariupol. Unfortunately, it is not known what happened to the five Bergthal men or the confiscated liquor, which was assessed at 75 kopeks per bucket (total value of 195 rubles) and taxed at 30 kopeks per bucket. The five confiscated barrels contained 196.8 buckets (at forty buckets per barrel that should have been two hundred buckets). A bit of a reality check is necessary: two Russian buckets is equal to about 25 litres, which is five litres of liquor per person. That quantity should have left these men nearly comatose! In the interviews of the arresting officers or the other witnesses, there is no mention of the Mennonite men being intoxicated. At no point were they accused of stealing and selling the missing liquor, which was the main reason why the rule was there in the first place.
According to the Privilegium, the Mennonites were allowed to produce and sell their own brandy, but only within their colonies. Any alcohol trans- ported outside of the colony was subject to taxation. This included transporta- tion between non-adjacent Mennonite settlements. As a result, the Bergthal Mennonites were required to pay taxes on alcohol even when it was acquired from the nearest Mennonite-owned distillery, which was in the Molotschna colony. A document from 1849 shows that Jacob Wiens of Bergthal village was importing liquor from Jacob Martens, who owned the distillery in Halbstadt.54 This liquor was sold at the local tavern, also in Bergthal village.
Leases for the right to sell alcohol in the villages of Bergthal and Schoenfeld were given within a year of the founding of these colonies.55 The Bergthal colony also had a brewery, located in the village of Bergthal, which was constructed in 1841 at a cost of 809 rubles for the brew- ery and 401 rubles for the Schenke.56 These facilities were initially run by Wilhelm Rempel and Jacob Braun, who paid 1,210 rubles rent in 1842. The description of a document missing from the Odesa archives states that the brewery at Bergthal was reconstructed sometime between 1859 and 1862.57
The distilling and brewing enterprises in the Russian Mennonite settlements have been largely overlooked. Yet within a decade of the founding of Chortitza, eight of its ten villages had a tavern, and during the colony’s early decades, the leasing of breweries and the distillery and the sale of alcohol generated at least half of the income of the colony administration.