Who Made It? (Toto)

 who made it?



Who made it ?!? by toto
August 2013


There’s an old Polish saying that warns: "you’ve brewed your beer, so now you have to drink it”. Its meaning is figurative and more general, of course – it refers to responsibility for your own actions. As far as its literal meaning, however, it refers to beer production. Thus, who made the beer is responsible for it.


That’s also a legal rule – the law stipulates the inclusion on the label of the name of the so called manufacturing authorisation holder. It just so happens that this "authorisation holder” often doesn’t mean the product’s producer – the one who’s brewed the beer. At least it doesn’t specify where the beer was brewed. With extreme stubbornness, large and small companies hide the location of a beer’s production with no violation of the law. For the consumer, however, it may be significant, as a beer made according to the same recipe in Brewery A and Brewery B does not have to taste the same. And often it does differ considerably.


Let’s have a look at some instances of hiding the production location and try to decipher some producers.


The most prominent group that hides the production location are the largest companies. They usually have several breweries and often the same beer is brewed in each of them. Naturally, a beer won’t be shipped across the whole country, but will travel to retailers and wholesalers from the closest plant. Contrary to Russia for example (where specific breweries have their codes stamped on labels), large Polish companies don’t inform the customers where they’ve brewed the beer. But researchers from have deciphered the symbols used by the three largest companies on the Polish market.


The largest beer company in Poland – Kompania Piwowarska, which belongs to SAB Miller – owns three breweries. The location of brewing is signified by the first digit of the code placed below the best before date (usually on the backlabel). A code beginning with 1 means the brewery in Tychy, 2 – in Poznań, while 3 – Dojlidy brewery in Białystok. On that basis it transpires that Żubr (Buffalo) is not produced on the verge of the forest, as ads would have you believe. Unless you count Pszczyńskie Woods. On the south of Poland both Żubr and Lech Premium usually come from the brewery in Tychy.




A similar labelling system is in use at Carlsberg Polska, which also owns three breweries. The telling digit here is the one following L in the code (printed code, of course, not the bar code!). L1 means the brewery in Szczecin, L2 – Kasztelan brewery in Sierpc, and L3 – Okocim brewery in Brzesko. The firm used to own a brewery in Wrocław, and despite it being closed for a long time Wrocław’s Piast brand has been kept and is currently brewed in Szczecin under the Piast Wrocławski name.




Somewhat more complicated markings are used by Heineken-owned Grupa Żywiec. It has five breweries in Poland: Żywiec, Cieszyn, Leżajsk, Warka and Elbląg. The company’s codes don’t mark breweries, but specific filling lines instead. Each line, be it a bottling or a canning one, is signified by a letter placed near the end of the printed code (third or fifth to last). It is the second, and at the same time last letter in a code (the first one is usually L). The most probable meaning of the letters has been deciphered: A, B, D, F and T are presumed to mean bottling in Żywiec (beers produced in Cieszyn are also distributed there); H, K and S – Leżajsk; L, N and V – Warka; and finally P, R and Z – Elbląg.




Nothing has been learned about how (if at all) Van Pur, which controls breweries in Rakszawa, Zabrze, Koszalin, Łomża and Jędrzejów, marks its beers. Many labels lack any printed inscription other than the date, although some do feature the writing: “produced in the brewery in…”. But some don’t. We don’t know either if the company produces one brand in different breweries.


It’s not only the largest companies that don’t mark the brewery where the beer’s been made. Many small firms pose as breweries, even though they don’t brew any beer. A classic example can be a company from Wielkopolska named Jako , which has long been selling beers from other breweries without declaring it on the label. Initially it was products from various breweries, then from Belgia brewery in Kielce, then Namysłów, and most recently Cornelius in Piotrków Trybunalski. There was a time when they mentioned the production of beer in their company on their website, but in reality it was only a bottling plant.


Another classic example is Dionizos from Radom, which sometimes refers to itself as Zamkowy Brewery in Radom or Radom Brewery. It even belongs to the Association of Polish Regional Breweries. The brewery does exist and brews its own beer, but… it is a home brewery. Beers sold under that brand (usually it’s various concoctions containing sundry flavourings) are usually brewed in several different breweries (Jagiełło, Na Jurze, Gościszewo, Zodiak and – recently the most popular – Krajan), with the appropriate location of brewing not always indicated. It needs to be highlighted, however, that their website clearly states that the beers are produced under their brand by other breweries.


While Jako and Dionizos have been on the market for years, a few more recent initiatives have been created trying to cash in on the popularity of niche beers in Poland. They order beer in other breweries, making the impression of producing it themselves. In truth Pszczyński Brewery and Łebski Brewery sell under their own brands beers from Witnica, Wielicki Brewery – beer from Południe Brewery in Wąsosza, and Wojcieszów Brewery mainly deals in Czech Skalaks from Maly Rohozec.


A different case is the one of Gontyniec Brewery. It started out similarly to the above firms, selling beers from other breweries under its own brand (without mention of the place of production). Later, however, it bought out the brewery in Czarnków and currently is building another facility in Kamionka, having just bought Konstancin brewery too.


Even the first Polish craft brewery – Artezan – doesn’t state the place of their beers’ production. The labels sport the company’s address (Komorów), but not where the beer is brewed (Natolin).


Completing the picture are what one might call ‘supermarket beers’ (‘Produced for…’), together with ones produced for a particular company or even a particular event. In spite of appearances, currently most of them state the appropriate brewer on the labels.


While all of the above examples are more or less disagreeable for the consumer, especially the discerning one, it’s worth to finish with a particularly brazen instance of customer deception. Some unscrupulous restaurant breweries sold (some maybe still do) regular commercial beers for big money, claiming they were being made on the premises. For these businesses, clearly the old Polish saying of "you’ve brewed your beer, so now you have to drink it” was not at all applicable.


So let’s raise a glass and look forward to the day when, with greater transparency and increased customer awareness, we know exactly what beer we are drinking and who brewed it!



About the author: toto is a regular contributor to popular beer blogs and has for many years been interested in beer and the beer market in Poland.

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