Barley beer, meads and flavoured wines according to the DomostroïArticle 3 of 6 The honeyed kvas, braga, and pivo beers according to the Domostroï

Chapter 47 of the Domostroy: brewing kvas, braga and pivo beers.


The chapter 47 specifies the techniques for brewing kvass, braga, and barley malt beer with its two successive infusions. The use of ice is crucial for storing these fermented and most lively beverages, storing the brewing ingredients, controlling the fermentation and the leavens.

"47. A Brewing Lesson for That Same Young Man, How to Brew Beer, Make Mead, and Distill Vodka.

For brewing beer, braga or sour cabbage soup, take malt or mead and hops. These supplies should be measured or counted and the account recorded.

When beer is brewed from barley, oats, or rye, or when hops are steamed, you must supervise the fermentation and siphoning off yourself. All should be done carefully and cleanly, so nothing is stolen or wasted.

Do not drink just for something to do.

Once the beer is boiled, even after it is boiled, if the malt is strong, a cask or more of a second beer may be prepared. When all the beer is made, pour water on the lees. Add thirty or forty pails to barley lees [dregs], or fifty, even sixty, to a good strong mash. This mixture ferments well and is good enough for the family.

Beer from the first grade makes good sour cabbage soup. You can make vinegar too from a good mash; be careful to keep it in a warm place.

You must wash before you approach the brewery.

Store beer hops for making honeyed wine; Keep them, along with the mash, on ice in the summer, so they do not spoil. Keep yeast in stock for making honeyed wine also.

When you transfer these drinks to casks, watch your servants carefully. Old vessels are best for storage, since they are readily available and have already been tested.

You must distill mead yourself. While it ferments, seal the room. Only you may oversee the process. No one else must taste the brew while you blend it.

Distill vodka yourself, as well[1]. Never leave it unguarded. If you are otherwise occupied, have someone trustworthy take your place. At bottling time, estimate the end results from the amount in the caldron and distill three separate grades.

Let no one into the cellar, icehouse, smokehouse, or granaries without you. Mete out all the supplies yourself, measuring, weighing, recording what each person receives." (C. Johnston Pouncy pp. 156-157)


The monk-abbot Sergius preparing the leavened bread for communion in the 16th century.
The monk-abbot Sergius, 14th century. "Every day he performed the liturgy standing, and himself baked the communion loaves, pounded and ground the wheat, sifted the flour, mixed the dough and soured it". (16th). (Smith & Christian 17 fig.4)

Comments :

  • The text lists here the various types of beer: barley, oat or rye beers. This section deals with the specificity of Russian fermented beverages: brewing by the soured method. Unlike barley, oats and rye are not malted. There are two ways to convert them into brewing ingredients. Either mix the raw oat or rye grains with barley malt and let the malt amylases hydrolyse the oat or rye starch. Or cause amylolysis of the raw grain in an acidic environment. Then, the transformation of the starch into fermentable sugars takes place, albeit less completely than with the malt enzymes. This is why the text associates beer, braga and acidic fermented cabbage soup (sauerkraut). The beer referred to is a sour oatmeal beer, which is otherwise known as kwas. The braga (брага) is an ancient type of sour beer from Eastern Europe[2]. Its main technical characteristics : use of so-called poor cereals (neither wheat nor barley rather reserved for bread), a method of brewing by the acidic pathway (cf. Beer-Studies Path no. 6: Acid Hydrolysis of Starch), a variability that goes from liquid but thicky soup to filtered beer. Its social determinants: beer of the peasant communities, of the poor agricultural populations and regions. The braga of course disappeared from Eastern European cities quite early (18th century) and with it from chronicles and the field of scholarly studies. In the 20th century, Adam Maurizio had to scour the rarest archives and ethnographies to find its trace in the course of his investigation of ancient European foodways. We cannot say whether the Domostroy is the oldest mention of the braga.
  • when hops are steamed: a surprising technical indication. Steaming the hops is probably a way of preserving them. The text does not specify which part of the plant is processed (cone, flowers, leaves).
  • All should be done carefully and cleanly, so nothing is stolen or wasted.” : The Domostroï often insists on the hygienic measures that must be applied when brewing beer. The environment remains agricultural. Mud, dirt, animal droppings, personal hygiene of the servants, etc. were to be a permanent concern for home brewing. An economic awareness also guides this advice. What is spoiled, rotten or putrefied is not thrown away but given to the servants and thus lost to the family and its guests.
  • When all the beer is brewed, pour water over the lees. Add thirty or forty buckets to the dregs of barley, or fifty or even sixty to a good strong mash. This mixture ferments well and is good enough for the family": the brewing dregs are rinsed to obtain a beer of low gravity, the ordinary consumption of the family. The initial amount of barley malt is not given. The density of this small beer cannot be estimated. 50 to 60 buckets of hot water suggest that the initial amount of malted barley is about 50 to 100 kg. The frequency of the brews is not known.
  • Keep yeast in stock for making honeyed wine also.: the yeast is a leaven collected at the bottom of the fermentation jars or skimmed over the fermenting beer. The method of preservation (drying?) is not specified.


[1] The Russian expression горячое вино 'goriachoe vino', 'hot wine' or 'heated wine' may refer to cooked wine (Johnston Pouncy p. 157 note 3). This paragraph in chap. 47 may not refer to distillation or vodka at an early date, but to concentrated wine in the manner of port, with three different degrees of concentration.

[2] C. Johnston Pouncy (p. 156, n. 1) identifies 'braga' with Middle English bragget, braket, bragot and translates брага as ale. It is better to keep the original rus term braga. 'Ale' refers to a historical context alien to the Muscovy of the 16th century.

[3] The Orthodox Church celebrates communion with fermented bread. It does not follow the Roman Catholic innovation of unleavened bread.

Barley beer, meads and flavoured wines according to the DomostroïArticle 3 of 6 The honeyed kvas, braga, and pivo beers according to the Domostroï