Brewing dregs and fermentations according to the DomostroïArticle 6 of 6

The Domostroï and the beer history in Russia.


Smith and David's study (Bread and Salt, 1984) sets the Domostroi in a broader historical context. Smith reconstructed the major food developments in Russia since the 13th century as follows:

In 13-15th centuries:

Sale of kvass in a Russian village in the 17th century.
Sale of kvass within a Russian village in the 17th century.
  1. Russia is an ancient forest country. Honey and foraging plants abound. Meads are considered the traditional and prestigious beverage of the nobility and boyars. The Novgorod Chronicle mentions the role of mead: in 1026 during a fight between Yaroslav, Grand Prince of Kiev (1019-1054), and Svyatopolk (Michael & Nevill 1914 , 2)[1], in 1170 about a dearth that raises the price of grain and honey (ibid. 27)[2], in 1233 for a princely wedding at which mead is served and drunk in profusion (ibid. 78).
  2. The cereals grown are adapted to poor soils: rye, oats, spelt, buckwheat, millet. Braga and Kwas are the fermented beverages of the peasant world, of the servants of the wealthy classes.
  3. The beliefs of the ancient religions are still alive, although severely opposed by Christian orthodoxy. Agrarian rituals, village festivals, and family events are all based on collective offerings and consumption of braga and kwas.
  4. The beer made from barley malt (pivo) appeared in the northern merchant cities, especially Novgorod. It was the beverage of the merchants and wealthy servants of the nascent Rus state, which imposed its political authority on the other Rus' principalities from Moscow.
  5. In the 15th century, the Cossacks were primarily peasants fleeing serfdom and the oppression of the Eastern European states, in search of free land to live from hunting, fishing and honey gathering. The lower Dnieper basin and the Crimea were 'virgin' lands left vacant by the Tatars after the fall of the Golden Horde. This colonisation was to develop the rich southern black soil and gradually make wheat a competitor to the northern cereals (rye, barley, spelt). Any large-scale, long-term change in the grain economy inevitably affects brewing and baking. Initially available to the wealthier social classes, wheat entered the households of the richer peasants in the form of mixed flours to make lighter, puffier bread or to brew lighter beer.

In 16th century:

Distillation of beer in the 16th. The western attire is significant.
Distillation of beer in the 16th. The western attire is significant.
  1. At the dawn of the 16th century, a change took place with a more hierarchical society, a demographic growth and the consolidation of the centralized and conquering Muscovy. Massive deforestation, large-scale trade, the beginning of industry (especially saltworks, which consumed a lot of wood and iron to evaporate the brine) transformed the agricultural landscape. The forest retreats and with it the traditional beekeeping (apiaries in trees) and mead.
  2. The malted barley beer becomes the beverage of the wealthy classes. It rubbed shoulders with meads at the tables of boyars and aristocrats. Social segregation gradually relegated braga and kwas to the status of beverages for the poor or the servants, or beers for fasting and Lent.
  3. The distillation of fermented beverages was introduced to Russia through the Baltic Sea trade and Hanseatic merchants. Tsar Ivan IV established a tavern monopoly to sell distilled spirits, with a first attempt in Novgorod in 1544. This policy would continue to be strengthened with the creation in the mid-16th of kabak (tavern-breweries to brew, distil and sell). Until the dawn of the 20th century, the state monopoly of spirits (encompassing beer, wine and vodka) will be an ever more profitable source of income for the state treasury[3].

In 17th century:

  1. At the beginning of the 17th century, the trend intensified. The Romanovs made the fermented beverage trade an inexhaustible source of taxes. The state monopoly tavern (kabak) extends its hold throughout Russia. Boyars and landed gentry were as before allowed to brew beer on their estates for their own consumption, provided they did not sell beer or spirits on public market. The imperial family and its relatives were of course exempt from this new legislation.
  2. In the middle of the 17th century, the state monopoly on grain distillation was reinforced, consuming ever more grain and fuel at the expense of the diet of the poorest.
  3. Braga and kwas remain the popular beverages for both the peasants turned into serfs by the 1649 Code and the poorer populations of the cities. The last chapter of this Code (Chapter 25 - Statute on Illicit Taverns. In It Are 21 Articles) is dedicated to the trade, sale and taxation of spirits, beers and meads, the prohibition of tobacco, and above all the prosecution of offenders, their interrogation by torture, their punishments, fines and seizure of their property for the benefit of the tsar. The Code mentions only one exception to the monopoly of fermented beverages and alcohol: family ceremonies and collective celebrations, which nevertheless remain subject to prior declarations: "If people are given declarations for spirits, and for beer [pivo], and for mead: those people shall buy no additional spirits above [what is allowed in] the declarations, and shall not brew beer, and shall not make mead. "[4]. Home brewing of beer (pivo) was therefore a common practice. From this time onwards, braga and kwas were no longer considered alcoholic beverages in view of their low alcohol content.
  4. A debate opened between the central state and the Orthodox Church which denounces public drunkenness and the excessive alcohol consumption (pivo, vino, vodka). After a few symbolic measures, the Russian state accentuated its fiscal policy to finance its luxurious lifestyle and its wars in Europe. The Vodka makes its triumphant entry into the Russian legendary.
  5. The accelerated forest clearance of the country leads to the decline of mead, even after the colonisation of Siberia and the southern countries (Kazan and Astrakan Khanates, Crimean Khanate) with rich agricultural plains, the famous black soils or chernozem in the north of the Black Sea.


Muscovy, its brewing traditions (kvas, braga and pivo) from 10th to 16th centuries, a country between the Tatars in the east (fermented mare's milk) and the Hanseatic cities in the west (barley beer). Developments in brewing techniques and population movements.
Muscovy, its brewing traditions (kvas, braga and pivo) from 10th to 16th centuries, a country between the Tatars in the east (fermented mare's milk) and the Hanseatic cities in the west (barley beer). Developments in brewing techniques and population movements.


*   *    *    *    *    *    *


From the 18th century onwards, social and technical developments profoundly changed the picture depicted by the Domostroi. They are beyond the scope of this presentation.

As a provisional summary, the range of fermented beverages in Muscovy has been very wide since the 12-13th centuries. Honey and grains are the main ingredients, secondarily berries and fruits. Rye, oats, and buckwheat, which are used for brewing, are the cereals of the poor soils before the Russian Empire extended its domination in Ukraine and the Khanates of the northern Black Sea during the 17th century. Nevertheless, the nobility and boyars drank beer (pivo) made from barley or wheat, in addition to mead.

The brewing techniques favour the acid hydrolysis pathway. This implies that grain malting is not the main brewing method, at least in the farmers' world. Kvas and braga bear witness to this. The composition of these two rye-, buckwheat- or oat-based beers may also incorporate barley or wheat, also berries and fruits, even honey. Rye malting was practised in connection with the brewing of kvas and braga, and later to convert rye malt into beer for distillation. There are no typical recipes for kvas and braga. This is the common characteristic of all domestic or farmhouse beers in the world. One brews with whatever ingredients is at hand, depending on the harvest, the grain supply, the wealth or poverty of the household. The seasons offer their fruits, berries, roots and achenes, all of which are picked and collected, bounties that escape the prevarication of the state agents. All this goes into the brewing pot of braga and kvas, whose flavours, degree of fermentation and appearance vary from season to season, from day to day, and even from hour to hour. Homebrewing is intended for immediate consumption, which does not preclude means of preservation through ice or certain antiseptic plants. The technical boundary between braga and kvas is therefore not easy to draw.

Moreover, the differences between mead, beer and wine are more than blurred among Russian peasants, even though the primary ingredient is still grain starch. The borderline between fermented beverage and soup is also blurred. This seems to be a characteristic of the popular foodways of Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, subject to further study in Russia's neighbouring countries.

Kwas and braga are at the crossroads of several worlds: honey and poor cereals from Eastern Europe, dairy products from Central Asia (koumys), acidic soups from the Baltic and Siberia (vegetables, berries, mushrooms, roots, acidic fruits), and finally the tradition of malting of cereals from Central Europe and Scandinavia.

Kwas and braga are also in the mid-17th century, after the time of the Domostroi, the result of historical sedimentations that added to these two domestic and ancient beers new alcoholic beverages (pivo, wines, spirits), first fermented and later on distilled. These far-reaching developments have affected the role, the brewing techniques and the nature of braga and kvas. This will not prevent kwas from passing through the next centuries and still being brewed today both as a domestic beer, a farmhouse beer, and a semi-industrial beer.



Sources and bibliography:

Code of 1649

Duchesne L. - Le Domostroï (Ménagier russe du XVIe siècle), éd. Picard 1910.

Galton Dorothy – Survey of a thousand years of beekeeping in Russia, London Bee Research Association 1971. 

Johnston Pouncy Carolyn - The Domostroi. Rules for Russian households in the time of Ivan the Terrible, Cornell University Press, 1994. L’édition la plus complète à ce jour.

Kaiser Daniel H. - The Pravda Rus'skaia , The Expanded Redaction (Trinity Copy) Translated by Daniel H. Kaiser, exerted from The Laws of Rus'--Tenth to Fifteenth Centuries , ed. Daniel H. Kaiser, 1992.

Kennard Howard P. - The Russian peasant, Philadelphia, 1907.

Kotoshikhin Grigorii Karpovich - Russia in the Reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich, Translated by Benjamin Phillip Uroff, Edited by Marshall Poe, 2014. Published by De Gruyter Open Ltd, Warsaw/Berlin.

Michel Robert, Forbes Nevill – The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016-1471, London 1914.

Müller Klaus – Altrussiches Hausbuch ‘Domostroi’, Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag 1987. Ne contient pas les chapitres 64 à 67 de la version longue publiée par Johnston Pouncy.

Smith R.E.F. – The Enserfment of the Russian Peasantry, Cambridge University Press 1968.

Smith R.E.F., Christian David - Bread and Salt. A social and economic history of food and drink in Russia. Cambridge University Press, 1984. Une synthèse et une bibliographie de référence pour l’histoire des boissons fermentées en Russie depuis le 13ème siècle.


[1] The two armed troops had been camped for three months in the winter of 1016 facing each other on both banks of the Dnieper, which was beginning to freeze. The supplies of honey and mead were running out. A servant of Yaroslav secretly goes to question a friend from the opposite camp: "‘What dost thou advice to be done now ? There is but little mead brewed and the Druzhina (the boïars' group joined to Yaroslav) is large’. And that man said him: ‘Say thus to Yaroslav, if there is little mead but a large Druzhina, then give it in the evening.’". Yaroslav understands that he must cross the frozen Dnieper and attack that evening. This tells us that mead was the favourite and honourable beverage of the warlords and free men of that time.

[2] "(Year 1170) There was dearness in Novgorod ; and they bought a barrel [1 kad=105 l] of rye at 4 grivnas, and bread at 2 nogatas, honey at 10 kunas a pud (≈16 kg)." See footnote for the value of grivnas.

[3] All Western European and American societies had the same problem in the 18th and 19th centuries. A state that derives its income from the encouraged production and sale of alcohol, mostly distilled spirits, and the poorer social classes that sink into alcoholism.

Brewing dregs and fermentations according to the DomostroïArticle 6 of 6