The Braga, kvas and pivo home brewing according to the DomostroïArticle 2 of 6 The brewing of braga, kvas, and pivo beers according to the Domostroï

Chapter 46 of the Domostroï: barley beer, meads and flavoured wines.


A modern brewing of white kwas, one of the recipes given by the Domostroï
A modern brewing of white kwas.

The chapter 46 describes barley malt beer as an ordinary beverage or as a welcome drink for guests. Honeyed barley beer, 6 kinds of mead and 3 kinds of flavoured wines for special occasions, religious festivals, or visits of distinguished guests.

« 46. How a Man Must Keep Liquor Stored for Himself and His Guests. How to Present This Liquor to Company.

When a bachelor, of moderate means and thrifty, wishes to keep beer in stock for his guests, he fills the casks in March, after the barley malt has been brewed. For special occasions, he adds a little honey to ordinary beer keeping it on ice and calling it mead or March beer. To celebrate holy days, name-days, weddings, births, christenings, memorials to the ancestors, or the visit of a merchant, invited guests, or respected abbot, the host should decant mead from a vat into five pewter jugs or (depending on the number of people being served) small casks. He should put nutmeg in one little bag, cloves in a second, beneficial herbs in a third. He will warm these on the stove and mix them with the mead. He should mix sherry juice with warm wine and put it in a jug, combine raspberry juice and wine in a second jug, and add wine to prepare syrup in a third. Then he can offer his guests six kinds of mead, two [sic. three] kinds of wine and cherry juice, in either casks or pewter jugs, and two kinds of beer as well.

Anyone who keeps his house stocked and has an orderly wife will never be shamed before his guests. Except for the occasional rare item, god provided everything they need at home. »

(C. Johnston Pouncy, 155-156.)

Comments :

  • The barley malt beer is the ordinary beverage. This beer is brewed in winter with the last barley harvest of the year. The barrels are then filled in March to store the beer and serve it until summer. The use of ice preserves the beer longer. There must have been no shortage of ice in Muscovy. The addition of honey to beer on special occasions must have two reasons: to sweeten a sour beer and restart the alcoholic fermentation to give the beer its strength and sparkle. We shall see later that the making of mead in hermetically sealed jars has the same purpose. Malted barley beer therefore falls into the category of premium beers, the kind that are offered with meads or wine to guests. Chapter 47 (below) states that braga and kwas are the ordinary beers of servants and peasants, except for Lent and the many fasting days decreed by the church (192 to 216 days depending on the year).
  • The malt-making (солод/solod) is attested by the oldest chronicles and the Legal Code (Pravda Rus'skaia) written in Kiev by Jaroslav (1019-1054)[1]. Since when did barley malt beer coexist with braga and kwas beers in the Rus' principalities? The former seems to have been hopped very early. It is a beer intended for the most potent persons (princes, nobility, clergy, monks) and the richest ones (large landowners, merchants). This beer is named пиво/pivo, which explicitly differentiates it from braga and kwas.
  • The assumption is that hopped and malted beer (barley, wheat, rye) is a brewing technique adopted by the Slavs, coming with them from Central Europe or carried by the Baltic Sea trade around the 10th century. The Gotland Merchants' Union, a forerunner of the Teutonic League, was already trading extensively in hopped malt beer by the end of the 11th century. The Varangians from Scandinavia had been malting grain for several centuries before they traded south along the rivers of Russia (map). The Gothic merchants from Visby established a trading post in Novgorod in 1080.
  • Nevertheless, another hypothesis remains open. Hops grew wild in Russia. It was a local trade, not an imported plant. The technique of malting cereal grains may have come to Russia at an earlier time through contacts with the Byzantine Empire or the peoples of Central Europe. An indigenous Russian origin of malted and hopped beers is therefore possible. This wide-ranging question remains to be studied. One fact is certain: braga and kwas on the one hand, and pivo on the other, formed two categories of beer for both technical and social reasons.
  • The celebration of the ancestors of the family or clan can be noted in passing. The Christianisation of the Rus did not erase this ancient custom.
  • The six kinds of mead show that this drink, more than kwas and barley beer, forms the core of the ancient and prestigious fermented beverages. As these beverages are also offered to popes, abbots and other Orthodox clerics, this implies that alcohol is not forbidden for clerics.
  • The addition of nutmeg and cloves shows that Domostroï was aimed at a wealthy category of merchants connected to the great international spice trade, or at least able to obtain supplies through it.
  • The berries (raspberry, blackberry, bilberry, cranberry, juniper, etc.) are used either to make wines or to flavour beer and mead. The term " vino " more often refers to these kinds of wine than to grape wine, which is rare in these northern regions and imported by merchants for the richest social categories or the churches. The wine trade took the Baltic route (Hanseatic merchant cities, English merchant companies) or up the Dnieper via the Black Sea and Constantinople (Genoese or Greek merchants). However, " vino " also refers to wines cooked with or without aromatics, and from the 16th century onwards to distilled beverages, whatever their origin (beer, mead, wine).


Excavations in Novgorod in the 1950s uncovered ancient documents written on birch bark. One of them, dated 1360-1380, speaks of brewing barley beer. "Greetings from Griksha to Esif. Onanya dispatched [a person or a letter] with the words... I replied, 'Esif didn't tell me to prepare a meal for anyone.' Then he sent to Fedosya : 'Brews beer [пиво / pivo]. Don't just stand around. Cook (brew) the grains (жито)'.[2]


Muscovy, its brewing traditions (kvas, braga and pivo) between the 10th and 16th centuries.
Document on birch bark found in Novgorod (northern Muscovy) and dated 1360-1380 (document no. 3). From top to bottom: 1) image of the bark with scale 2) transcription of the text 3) transliteration into modern Russian. Excavations undertaken in Novgorod between 1933 and 1978. А. А. Зализняк. Значение берестяных грамот для истории русского языка (pdf, 200 Кб). Из книги: "Берестяные грамоты: 50 лет открытия и изучения" М., 2003.


Brewing beer (Вари ты пиво): the letter above uses the term pivo to refer to beer, possibly barley malted beer, as distinct from braga or kwas. But жито also refers to rye or wheat. 'Brew' derives from варишь (cook, bake) / варити (to cook). The place where the beer is brewed, перевара (the 'brewery') extends the kitchen and is technically no different. Перевар also refers to the vats or cauldrons for cooking/heating honey or beer wort[3]. The Ipatiev Chronicle (1425) speaks of "cooking/heating 300 vats (Перевар) of honey" to celebrate Vladimir's festivals. The hops (хомела) is also mentioned in Novgorod for the same period, documents no. 706 and no. 709 (Novgorod, 1240-1260), "From Milosta to Zakharii. Don't sell hops (khmelya), but hurry here, so ...". Likewise the sale of honey (медом) - no. 605 (Novgorod, 1100-1120), no. 901 (Novgorod 1075-1100) - or the theft of an apiary - no. 766 (Novgorod 1300-1320).


[1] Article 9: "And this is the schedule of fees which obtained in Iaroslav's reign [1019-54] for the bloodwite collector: the bloodwite collector is to take seven buckets of malt [7*16=112 liters] for a week, and a ram or half a carcass of meat or two nogatas; and on Wednesday a kuna or cheese, and on Friday the same; and two chickens per day, and seven measures of bread, and seven measures of millet, and seven measures of peas, and seven [measures] of salt." The Pravda Rus'skaia, The Expanded Redaction Translated by Daniel H. Kaiser (extract). Bloodwite was a punishment for committing a blood crime, replacing the death penalty (often with torture) for the murderer found in Byzantine laws. The collector was responsible for collecting the fines paid to the prince, but himself and his company were maintained at the expense of the peasant community, held collectively responsible for the crime, during the time of the trial, which is regulated by Article 9. This article describes the meals provided to the bloodwite collector for one week: malt beer (pivo), meat, cheese, chickens, bread, peas and salt. It should be noted that clerks and court officials do not drink braga or kwas. A city carpenter, in fact a builder of wooden walls, received 'only ten measures [10 * 13 litres] of malt' per week along with other victuals (Article 96, if 'measure' means 1 vedro or 1 bucket).

[2] Document no 3. Consult and for the context of the excavations, the dating of the documents and their palaeographical analysis.

[3] For the lexicon of beer brewing, see the analysis of the 1951 Novgorod excavation texts by А.В. АРЦИХОВСIИИ и М.Н.ТИХОМИРОВ - HOВГОРОДСКИЕ грамоты НА Бeрecte (и3 Раскопок 1951 г.), ИЗДАТЕЛЬСТВО АКАДЕМИИ НАУК СССР, Mосkвa  1953, pp. 26-28.

The Braga, kvas and pivo home brewing according to the DomostroïArticle 2 of 6 The brewing of braga, kvas, and pivo beers according to the Domostroï