The brewing of braga, kvas, and pivo beers according to the DomostroïArticle 4 of 6 Brewing dregs and fermentations according to the Domostroï

Chapter 65 of the Domostroy: brewing the honeyed kvas, the braga and the pivo beers.


The chapter 65 details the recipes for 6 variants of mead, kwas with honey and barley beer.

"Recipes for All Sorts of Fermented Honey Drinks: How to Distill Mead; Make Juice, Kvass, and Beer; Brew with Hops and Distill Boiled Mead.

Boiled mead[1]. Take one part honey to seven parts warm water. Strain the honey carefully through a fine sieve, making sure no wax gets through. Put the strained honey into a pot with half-measure of hops and boil it carefully. While you boil it, skim it with a fine sieve, till the mixture in the caldron is clear. When you have reduced the mixture by half, take it from the caldron and cool it by adding it to the warm water. Put the honey and warm water in a clean jar, free of wax, and cover it with yeast bread and honey. Warm it on the stove, then place it in another jar to ferment. When it has fermented properly, put it in a cask immediately so it will not spoil.

White mead. To “distill” white mead, choose clear, light-colored honey. Pound it well so there will be no bit in the mead. Mix one part honey to four parts warm water. Add one-quarter measure of hops to the brew. Then ferment it with yeast. When the mead has fermented, strain the yeast from the mead with a fine sieve until the mixture is clear. Then pour it into a cask.

Honey mead. To “distill” honey mead, take five parts honey to one-part warm water and strain it until it is clear. Place it in a jar and add three measures of hops. Ferment it with yeast. When it is ready, strain the yeast from the mead with a fine sieve until the mixture is clear. When you are done, pour it in a cask.

Ordinary mead. To “distill” ordinary mead, add honey to six-part warm water and strain it until it is clear. Place it in a jar with half measure of hops. Ferment it with yeast. When the mead is ready, strain the yeast from the mead with a fine sieve until the mixture is clear, then pour it into a cask.

Boyar’s mead. To “distill” boyar’s mead, take [off] the wax from six parts honey and mix it [them, instead of it] with hot water. Add a measure of hops to the brew and ferment it with yeast. Strain it so it is clear of wax and ferment it in the jar for a week. Then place it in a cask and let it stand in the cask for another week. Then strain the mead clear of yeast and place it in a second cask. Fill the cask up with honey.

Mead with spices. To add nutmeg and cloves to brewed mead, pour ordinary mead into small casks and top them off with honey. Place the spices in small bags and put the bags into the little casks with the mead. Cork the casks tightly so the air from inside will not escape.

Berry mead. To make berry mead, place berries of any type in a caldron with ordinary fermented mead. Cook the mixture slowly and for a long time so the berries will boil but not burn. When the berry mixture boils, let it stand overnight. Separate the berry mead carefully from the dregs and pour it into a cask. You must decide which mead to use as a base and how much to thicken the berry mixture. But when you decide the berry mead is finished, place it in a cask you have not used for mead before so there will be no yeast either in the cask or in the mead.

Berry juice. To make ordinary berry juice, take any sort of berries and put them, with water, in a caldron. Cook the mixture slowly and for a long time so that the berries will boil but not burn. When the berries boil, let them stand overnight. Then carefully separate the berry juice from the dregs and put it in a cask that has not has yeast in it.

Ordinary kwass. To brew ordinary kwass, take four parts honey and strain it until it is clear. Put it in a jar and ferment it using an ordinary soft loaf, without additional yeast. When it is done, pour it into a cask.

Imitation beer. To supplement ordinary beer that is sitting in a cask, strain the yeast from it and pour it into another cask that has no yeast. Put a bucket of beer in a caldron and add honey. For every bucket of beer you take from the cask, add a measure of honey. Heat the honey and the beer in the caldron to boiling point, until the two are thoroughly blended. Chill the mixture thoroughly and pour it into a new cask." (C. Johnston Pouncy pp. 196-198)


Comments :

-      The ratios of the various qualities of mead and beers are summarised in this table.

Fermented beverage Ratio honey/water Hops Spices Berries Strength
Boiled mead 1 to 7 1/2     Low
White mead 1 to 4 1/4     Mean
Mead 5 to 1 3     High
Ordinary mead 1 to 6 1/2 yes yes Low
Boyar's mead 6 to 1 1     High
Honeyed kwas 1 to 6       Low
Imitation beer 1 to 1       Normal


Fête de mariage au 16ème siècle (Olearius)
Russian nobility wedding in the 16th century (Olearius)

Two types of mead stand at the extremes of alcohol density: the stronger Boyar mead, and the honey-based kwas, the weaker mead with boiled mead. The Boyars personify the ancient landed gentry of Muscovy, devoted to war and serving the reigning Rurikids and then Romanovs from 1598. This latter dynasty was to reduce their political powers during the 17th century, without diminishing their economic and social role. As in other countries, this nobility drank very strong alcoholic beverages and knew no limits in the power they exercised over the peasants on their estates and in the monopolisation of the country's wealth. The distillation of beer and mead is undoubtedly a technical development introduced in Russia by the Boyars.

As for the weakest honey-based kwas (ratio 1/6) or boiled kwas (ratio 1/7), the Domostroï states that it is reserved for women: "A woman should never under any circumstances drink alcohol – wine, mead, or beer – nor should she receive it as a present. Liquor should be kept in the cellar or the icehouse. A woman should drink weak beer or kvass, both at home and in public." (Chap. 36, op. cit. p. 138). This instruction introduces the chapter 36 which deals with domestic secrets, confidences and discretion. The merchant families are in fierce competition with each other. The drunkenness of its members is seen as a risk of divulging sensitive information or spreading gossip. The women drink low-alcohol beers, either the beer of the second brew (cf. chapter 47), or the various low-density kvas (based on honey (ratio 1/6), boiled mead (ratio 1/7), ordinary mead (ratio 1/6)), or braga, a sour beer based on oats or rye (cf. chapter 47).

Fête de mariage au 16ème siècle (Olearius)
Russian nobility wedding in the 16th century (Olearius). The newly husband drinks kvas (Olearius).

The mistresses of the household receive guests or are invited to other houses. These meetings between women raise a problem of control for the editor of the Domostroï who recommends the following "When the mistress entertains guests and drinking is appropriate, she herself must not touch alcohol. A single adult man should bring the drink, the food, and all the utensils. He should be the only man present, whatever the time of day. Then any dishonor or ignorance can be laid to his account." (Chap. 36, op. cit. 139). One can read between the lines the fear of sexual debauchery and orgies, but also the transfer of all responsibility to the only man present who is in charge of serving the alcoholic beverages. His status is that of a slave attached to the house, entirely subject to the authority of the master and mistress of the premises. A sort of scapegoat, he is there to be punished and beaten in place of his masters or their guests. "But if someone works badly, disobeys orders, is lazy, incompetent, unsanitary, or a thief, the mistress of the house (just like the master) must correct her." (Chap. 33, op. cit. 131). The master punishes the men, the mistress punishes the women. The whip and the knout are of ordinary use[2].

Partie de boisson au 16ème siècle (Olearius)Public drinking bout and collective drunkeness, 16th (Olearius)

"… she herself must not touch alcohol." does not mean abstinence for the mistress of the household but, as we have seen above, restriction of drinking to low-density beers, kwas or braga. Chapter 49 (How a Man must Consult His wife Before giving Orders to the Steward concerning the Dining Area, Cooking, and Breadmaking) confirms that braga and kvass beers are reserved for the housewife at mealtimes: ";Bring drinks to the table according to the master’s order, keeping in mind the number of guests. For the mistress bring braga and kvass." (Chap. 49, op. cit. p. 159).


  • The regular kwas is fermented with a loave or bread, without addition of leaven. It is the rye bread (usually) that provides the yeast, one of the characteristics of the acidic brew and kwas. The kwas mentioned in the text is made from honey, but the same method applies to braga made from "poor" grains (rye, oats). (rye, oats) or bread crumbled in water.
  • Imitation beer : this "enriched" beer is clearly a way of reviving an old ordinary barley beer by separating it from its leaven, mixing it with one measure of honey per pail of beer, heating it in a cauldron and putting it back into a new barrel for fermentation after cooling. This method can also be used to treat a beer that is fermenting too slowly or not at all. Honey provides fresh and fermentable sugars. Finally, it is a way of strengthening an ordinary beer. Beer heated with honey does not retain any of its original qualities: its alcohol evaporates and its taste deteriorates.


The Domostroï lists a wide range of fermented beverages: braga, kwas, beers made from malted barley, oats or rye, 6 kinds of mead, 3 wines made from cooked (concentrated) berries or not, imported grape wines. This is just for the restricted social context of the merchants and other notables of Muscovy. There are other kinds of beer in the country, which the Domostroï does not describe, specific to the peasant world, and of course, the strong beverages of the boyars and the nobility. A social classification of these beverages seems to be based on a triptych: 1) fermented beers with low alcohol content, 2) honey kwas and strong meads, 3) malted barley beers flavoured with hops.

The low-density beers (braga, kvas made from leaven or unleavened bread and optional honey), probably of rural origin, are intended for servants and family members in their private meals. They are also reserved for women in public meetings or celebrations, theoretically.[3].

Meads also come from the historical background of Central Europe and the Baltic countries. The new socio-economic differentiations emerging in 16th century Muscovy created new uses for fermented beverages and perhaps enriched the range of meads (6 kinds). These meads were clearly devoted to guest receptions, an honorary showcase of the house, witnesses of its good fortune (God rewards his best devotees), of its generosity and technical know-how. The social life of wealthy Muscovites seems to have been dense at this time, despite the political turmoil.

The beers based on barley malt and hops are linked to the brewing tradition of the Germanic states. In the mid-16th century, two polymaths from the kingdom of Bohemia wrote "treatises" of brewing advocating brewing methods based exclusively on the use of malt and hops: J. Placotomus in 1551 and Thaddaeo Hagecio in 1585[4]. However, Muscovy is far from Bohemia. The Domostroi repeatedly states that malt and hops are bought from merchants: "The chancery official, majordomo, steward, or merchant in whom trust has been placed, or the master himself, should regularly check the marketplace for household supplies – grains, hops, butter, meat and fish (both fresh or salted)." (Chap. 40, op. cit. 145). "The master must stock everything his household needs throughout the year : rye, wheat, oats, buckwheat, oat flour, barley, malt, peas, and hemp." (Chap. 43, op. cit. 151).

And further on, an extensive list of non-perishable goods that a well-run household should buy and store throughout the year: " A house run by a sensible, God-fearing master and mistress should contain everything the household will use during the year. This includes lumber, drink, food, grain, fat, meat (aged half-carcasses of red meat, ham, corned-beef, dry-cured meat), winnowed grain, fresh and salt fish, biscuits, flour, oat flour, poppy-seeds, wheat, peas, butter, hempseed, salt, malt, hops, soap, and ashes – anything that can be stored in advance without perishing." (Chap. 44, op. cit. 152).

These hops were collected or grown on Rus agricultural estates as indicated by the inventory of their production, for the estates of the nobility in the 14th century (Smith 1968, year 1304, 35), of the monasteries (Smith 1968, year 1460, 62), or those of the state servants (op. cit. year 1540, 89). Hops were not imported, except occasionally from the Baltic Sea trading posts. The question of a Central European influence arises, however, with regard to the art of brewing, its technologies, methods and equipment. This is an example of a complex brewing tradition, forged by several historical strata: an ancient Slavic background, the tradition of the Varangians of Scandinavian origin who traded between the Baltic and the Black Sea in the 9-11th centuries, the Baltic and Hanseatic tradition of the 12-15th centuries, and finally the more recent German-Baltic tradition from Livonia and Prussia.

Domostroi, so precise in its technical descriptions and so fervent an advocate of household food self-sufficiency, never mentions malting techniques. Barley or wheat bought from merchants or peasants could then be malted in the domestic context. The malting process is no more complex than brewing. The silence of the Domostroi on malt making seems to indicate that malting was in the hands of specialists. These specialised craftsmen or merchants imported the technique from western regions (Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine) or from the merchant cities on the Baltic shores of the Hanseatic League (see map). This opens the door to further historical research. As with hops, malt and its techniques may have an ancient indigenous origin. Rye malt is attested in sources from the 17th century. It is used to brew kvass and braga, in the absence of honey. The malting of rye, barley and wheat constitutes a common technical core.


[1] Обарноï мед, « Obarnoi med », mead from scalded honey.

[2] Chap. 17 "How to Teach Children and Save Them with Fear" describes the most brutal methods of education drawn from the Ecclesiastes book: « Break him (a son) in while he is young, beat him soundly while he is a child, or he may grow stubborn and disobey you and cause vexation.". Such advices are for a father to his own son. Imagine the fate of serfs and house slaves! The Orthodox Church never fails to appeal to the most authoritative proverbs and biblical texts at this time;

[3] We have no evidence that the recommendations of the Domostroi were followed in the real life of Muscovites. Like the monastic rules idealised by the texts, the Domostroi is a complex scaffolding of rules impossible to respect to the letter. The master of the household was often absent for commercial operations, missions in the service of the nascent state, supplying, etc., leaving domestic affairs in the hands of his wife.

[4] De Cervisia ejusque conficiendi ratione, natura, viribus et facultatibus opusculum, authore Thaddaeo Hagecio ab Hayck (1585).

The brewing of braga, kvas, and pivo beers according to the DomostroïArticle 4 of 6 Brewing dregs and fermentations according to the Domostroï