History of beer in Lviv

Documents from old Lviv archives prove that beer has been sold in Lviv as far back as the 14th century.

Lviv beer has always been a widely respected and popular beverage. Beer was not only consumed for pleasure; it was also used to pay salaries and to settle debts. It was even offered as a valuable gift to honorary guests such as kings.

According to several sources, Lviv’s first professional brewery guild was established in Lviv in 1425. Its emblem consisted of three taps that merged into one. Each tap symbolized the three main specialists involved in the production of beer — maltsters, mead-brewers, and beer brewers.

To inform clients that they have just brewed a fresh batch of the malty beverage, brewers hung a special sign outside of their stores.

Lviv beer brewers were not only entrepreneurs. Whenever Lviv was threatened by enemies, the brewers courageously joined the effort to protect the city. At the request of the city, the guild of brewers guarded their own defensive tower which each new brewer helped stock up with ammunition. The tower was located around today’s Lesya Ukrainka Street. Beer knew no social boundaries and was popular amongst all social classes, rich or poor. Lviv’s nobility, burghers, and even its monks treated themselves to a stein or two of beer on any occasion that called for celebration.

Lviv’s local authority watched closely over the quality and sale of its beer. In 1668 and 1871 a few so-called “beer wars” even took place in the city. Official guild members protested and fought against illegal beer producers — “partaczes” as they were called — who unlawfully brewed and sold beer on the outskirts of the city and threatened the guild members’ business with unfair competition.

With time, Lviv residents developed their own tastes and preferences for different types of beer. The most popular types were barley, wheat, and oat beers. No matter what type of beer it was, there was really only one general requirement: that only freshly brewed beer could be sold. In addition to Lviv, other brewers from nearby towns of Vynnyky, Kryvchytsi, and Zhovkva profited tremendously from the popularity of beer and demand for it among Lviv residents.

It may be hard to believe but in the 15th century beer brewed in Lviv was even sold in Bavaria.

Though it did so in a quirky way, beer helped drastically change the architectural landscape of Lviv to the one we see today: in 1527 on Virmenska Street a fire broke out in one of Lviv’s smaller breweries while it was brewing beer. It was unfortunately a windy day, and as a result, the fire quickly spread throughout the city. Thus, Gothic Lviv was rebuilt into a city in a more renaissance style. The fire of 1527 also consumed the beer guild’s original emblem and laws. As this was not the last of such fires, the beer brewers’ emblem wasn’t renewed until 1625. Today we have gone back to what has always been ours for centuries.

Lviv Beer Drinking Culture

Over the ages a special Lviv beer drinking culture has developed, one that is still alive today. Like in Prague or Munich, the city created its own unique culture. Beer was not only consumed to quench one’s thirst; it was savored. With the help of beer, muses were born, and then sometimes drowned in that very same beer. The 19th century saw the emergence of a popular, uniquely Lviv beer snack — the “shnitslyk,”—an open-faced sandwich topped with cheese or fish. A real growth in the development of beer brewing and its drinking culture occurred in the 19th century. By 1862 about 40 breweries were actively brewing beer in Lviv. To improve their service, brewers founded their own corporation to which hoteliers and transport workers joined. The owners of these breweries were typically Jewish or German entrepreneurs, and at that time, businesses were traditionally named after their owner. Beer brewing was a profitable business, one that was passed down from generation to generation, and was rarely sold.

Patrons of Lviv restaurants and bars, while enjoying their malty beverages, would create proverbs, sayings, anecdotes, and fables about beer and its devoted fans.

“He who drinks Lviv beer, lives one hundred years,” said the Ukrainian writer Anatolii Kos-Anatolskyi; “Lviv beer is first rate, it gives a guy the greatest traits!” is said to this day in Lviv.

With a stein of beer in hand, people socialized, fell in love, and signed important agreements. Because of its egalitarian character and sophisticated culture of drinking, beer transformed Lviv into one of Europe’s capitals of beer consumption.

For residents of Lviv, the culture of beer drinking was part of everyday life; and was similar to the customs that were prevalent in London, Berlin, and Florence. “Some live off of this beverage rather than bread,” wrote Johann Bretschneider. This was written in reference to 17th century Englishmen who on average, consumed up to three liters of beer a day, a feat which practically substituted the consumption of bread. Every housewife during that era was supposed to know how to make her own home-brew. Even a recipe for beer soup, a dish that was enjoyed by gourmands and beer addicts alike, has been passed down to us today. Researchers have confirmed that the large number of obese people seen in 16th-17th century paintings is a direct result of the continuous consumption of both beer soup and beer. We personally believe that there should be a lot of a good person, and good beer will only help make a person bigger!

Lviv unpasteurized beer was always a beverage to be proud of and was even used for bribes. There was also once a saying that a person returning from a visit to Lviv with neither a box of chocolates nor a bottle of beer in hand is not someone to be trusted. It is difficult to calculate how many important disputes and affairs were settled thanks to beer! Many guests from all over the Soviet Union would come to Lviv thirsty for some beer and adventure, and would leave a piece of their hearts in the city forever.