Historic Beer Birthday: Gottlieb Sigismund Kirchhof

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Today is the birthday of Gottlieb Sigismund Kirchhof (February 19, 1764-February 14, 1833). He was born in Teterow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, but spent most of his life in St. Petersburg, Russia, and considered himself to be Russian. Trained as a pharmacist and a chemist, and “in 1812 he became the first person to convert starch into a sugar, by heating it with sulfuric acid. This sugar was eventually named glucose. He also worked out a method of refining vegetable oil, and established a factory that prepared two tons of refined oil a day. Since the sulfonic acid was not consumed, it was an early example of a catalyst.” In other research, “he provided the groundwork for scientific study of the brewing and fermentation processes.”

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Here’s a biography from Encyclopedia.com.

Kirchhof’s father, Johann Christof Kirchhof, owned a pharmacy until 1783 and at the same time was a postmaster. His mother, the former Magdalena Windelbandt, was the daughter of a tin smelter.

In his youth Kirchhof helped his father run the pharmacy; after the latter’s death in 1785 he worked in various pharmacies in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, qualifying as a journeyman apothecary. In 1792 he moved to Russia and worked in the same capacity at the St. Petersburg Chief Prescriptional Pharmacy. From 1805 he was a pharmacist and became a member of the Fizikat Medical Council, a scientific and administrative group that supervised the checking of the quality of medicaments and certain imported goods. Kirchhof began his chemical studies under Tobias Lowitz, the manager of the pharmacy, and A. A. Musin-Pushkin. A few of his works were undertaken jointly with A. N. Scherer, and all of his scientific activity was carried out in Russia. In 1805 he was elected a corresponding member, in 1809 an adjunct, and in 1812 an academician adjunct of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1801 Kirchhof was elected a member of the Mecklenburg Natural Science Society, in 1806 a member of the Russian Independent Economical Society, in 1812 a member of the Boston Academy of Sciences, in 1815 a member of the vienna Economical Society, and in 1816 a member of the Padua Academy of Sciences.

Kirchhof’s first major discovery was the decomposition of barite with water, which Lowitz reported in “Vermischte chemische Bemerkungen” (Chemische Annalen [1797], 179-181), explicitly mentioning the discoverer. Klaproth had discovered this reaction much earlier. In 1797 Kirchhof reported two important results: the bleaching of shellac, which had an appreciable significance for the production of sealing wax, and a wet process that made it possible to begin industrial production of cinnabar. Cinnabar was produced of such high quality that it supplanted imported cinnabar, and some was exported. In 1805 Kirchhof developed a method for refining “heavy earth” (barite) by allowing caustic potash to react with barium salts. In 1807 he entered a competition organized by the Independent Economical Society to develop a method for refining vegetable oil. In collaboration with Alexander Crichton he worked out the sulfuric acid method of refining oil and received a prize of 1,000 rubles. The two men founded an oil purifying plant in St. Petersburg on Aptekarskiy Island, the largest factory at that time, with an output of about 4,400 pounds of oil per day. In many respects (for example, in the method of adding acid and the clarification of oil by glue) Kirchhof’s method is closer to modern methods than that of Thénard (1801).

In 1809 Kirchhof resigned from the Chief Prescriptional Pharmacy but continued to carry out the assignments of the Fizikat Medical Council in his laboratory there; he also conducted investigations in his home laboratory. During this period he began prolonged research to find a method for producing gum from starch in order to supplant the imported products; he then began investigating the optimal conditions for obtaining sugar from starch.

Kirchhof studied the action of mineral and organic acids (sulfuric, hydrochloric, nitric, oxalic and so on) on starch and found that these acids inhibit the jelling of starch and promote the formation of sugar from starch. He also studied the effect of acids on the starches of potatoes, wheat, rye, and corn as well as the effect of acid concentration and temperature on the rate of hydrolysis. At the same time he was searching for new raw materials for producing sugar by the hydrolysis of starch. In 1811 Kirchhof presented to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences the samples of sugar and sugare syrup obtained by hydrolysis of starch in dilute acid solutions. He advanced a technological method for producing sugar that was based on his investigations published in 1812. Best results were obtained by adding 1.5 pounds of sulfuric acid in 400 parts of water to 100 pounds of starch. The duration of reaction was between twenty-four and twenty-five hours at 90-100° C. The bulk of the acid did not enter into the reaction with starch, because after completion of the reaction, Kirchhof neutralized it with a specific amount of chalk. This was the first controlled catalytic reaction.

In 1814 Kirchhof submitted to the Academy of Sciences his report “Über die Zucker bildung beim Malzen des Gestreides und beim Bebrühen seines Mehl mit kochendem Wasser,” which was published the following year in Schweigger’s Journal für Chemie und Physik. This report describes the biocatalytic (amylase) action, discovered by Kirchhof, of gluten and of malt in saccharifying starch in the presence of these agents. He showed that gluten induces saccharification of starch even at 40-60° C. in eight to ten hours. During the first hour or two the starch paste was converted into liquid, which after filtration became as transparent as water. Mashed dry barley malt saccharified the starch at 30° R. in one hour. Similarly, Kirchhof studied the starch contained in the malt, separating starch from gluten by digesting it with a 3 percent aqueous solution of caustic potash. The starch treated in this manner could not be converted into sugar. Thus he proved that malt gluten is the starting point for the formation of sugar, while starch is the source of sugar.

The catalytic enzyme hydrolysis of starch discovered by Kirchhof laid the foundation for the scientific study of brewing and distilling and resulted in the creation of the theory of the formation of alcohol.

In his last years of scientific activity Kirchhof developed a method of producing unglazed pottery by treating it with drying oils; a method to refine chervets (a substitute for cochineal) from oily substances; and a method for rendering wood, linen, paper, and other substances nonflammable. For refining chervets he suggested the regeneration of turpentine by mixing it with water and then distilling the mixture.

Kirchhof also conducted research assigned by the Academy of Sciences, including analysis of gun-powders, William Congreve’s rocket fuel, mineral samples, and mineral and organic substances.

And here’s a more thorough explanation of what he discovered, and how it applied to brewing beer, from Science Clarified:

A Brief History of Catalysis

Long before chemists recognized the existence of catalysts, ordinary people had been using the process of catalysis for a number of purposes: making soap, for instance, or fermenting wine to create vinegar, or leavening bread. Early in the nineteenth century, chemists began to take note of this phenomenon.

In 1812, Russian chemist Gottlieb Kirchhof was studying the conversion of starches to sugar in the presence of strong acids when he noticed something interesting. When a suspension of starch in water was boiled, Kirchhof observed, no change occurred in the starch. However, when he added a few drops of concentrated acid before boiling the suspension (that is, particles of starch suspended in water), he obtained a very different result. This time, the starch broke down to form glucose, a simple sugar, while the acid—which clearly had facilitated the reaction—underwent no change.

Around the same time, English chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) noticed that in certain organic reactions, platinum acted to speed along the reaction without undergoing any change. Later on, Davy’s star pupil, the great British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), demonstrated the ability of platinum to recombine hydrogen and oxygen that had been separated by the electrolysis of water. The catalytic properties of platinum later found application in catalytic converters, as we shall see.

AN IMPROVED DEFINITION

In 1835, Swedish chemist Jons Berzelius (1779-1848) provided a name to the process Kirchhof and Davy had observed from very different perspectives: catalysis, derived from the Greek words kata (“down”) and lyein (“loosen.”) As Berzelius defined it, catalysis involved an activity quite different from that of an ordinary chemical reaction. Catalysis induced decomposition in substances, resulting in the formation of new compounds—but without the catalyst itself actually entering the compound.

Berzelius’s definition assumed that a catalyst manages to do what it does without changing at all. This was perfectly adequate for describing heterogeneous catalysis, in which the catalyst and the reactants are in different phases of matter. In the platinum-catalyzed reactions that Davy and Faraday observed, for instance, the platinum is a solid, while the reaction itself takes place in a gaseous or liquid state. However, homogeneous catalysis, in which catalyst and reactants are in the same state, required a different explanation, which English chemist Alexander William Williamson (1824-1904) provided in an 1852 study.

In discussing the reaction observed by Kirchhof, of liquid sulfuric acid with starch in an aqueous solution, Williamson was able to show that the catalyst does break down in the course of the reaction. As the reaction takes place, it forms an intermediate compound, but this too is broken down before the reaction ends. The catalyst thus emerges in the same form it had at the beginning of the reaction.

Enzymes: Helpful Catalysts in the Body

In 1833, French physiologist Anselme Payen (1795-1871) isolated a material from malt that accelerated the conversion of starch to sugar, as for instance in the brewing of beer. Payen gave the name “diastase” to this substance, and in 1857, the renowned French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) suggested that lactic acid fermentation is caused by a living organism.

In fact, the catalysts studied by Pasteur are not themselves separate organisms, as German biochemist Eduard Buchner (1860-1917) showed in 1897. Buchner isolated the catalysts that bring about the fermentation of alcohol from living yeast cells—what Payen had called “diastase,” and Pasteur “ferments.” Buchner demonstrated that these are actually chemical substances, not organisms. By that time, German physiologist Willy Kahne had suggested the name “enzyme” for these catalysts in living systems.

Enzymes are made up of amino acids, which in turn are constructed from organic compounds called proteins. About 20 amino acids make up the building blocks of the many thousands of known enzymes. The beauty of an enzyme is that it speeds up complex, life-sustaining reactions in the human body—reactions that would be too slow at ordinary body temperatures. Rather than force the body to undergo harmful increases in temperature, the enzyme facilitates the reaction by opening up a different reaction pathway that allows a lower activation energy.

One example of an enzyme is cytochrome, which aids the respiratory system by catalyzing the combination of oxygen with hydrogen within the cells. Other enzymes facilitate the conversion of food to energy, and make possible a variety of other necessary biological functions.

Because numerous interactions are required in their work of catalysis, enzymes are very large, and may have atomic mass figures as high as 1 million amu. However, it should be noted that reactions are catalyzed at very specific locations—called active sites—on an enzyme. The reactant molecule fits neatly into the active site on the enzyme, much like a key fitting in a lock; hence the name of this theory, the “lock-and-model.”

Historic Beer Birthday: Grigori Rasputin

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Today is the birthday of Grigori Rasputin (January 21, 1869–December 30, 1916). He “was a Russian peasant, an experienced traveler, a mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of the Russian Empire. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915 when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I. Advising his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, in countless spiritual and political issues, Rasputin became an easy scapegoat for Russian nationalists, liberals and aristocrats.

There is uncertainty over much of Rasputin’s life and the degree of influence that he exerted over the extremely shy Tsar and the strong-willed Tsarina. Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend. While his influence and position may have been exaggerated by society gossip and his own drunken boasting his presence played a significant role in the increasing unpopularity of the Imperial couple. Rasputin was murdered by monarchists who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family.”

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Here’s his entry from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, original name Grigory Yefimovich Novykh (born 1872?, Pokrovskoye, near Tyumen, Siberia, Russian Empire—died December 30 [December 17, Old Style], 1916, Petrograd [now St. Petersburg, Russia]), Siberian peasant and mystic whose ability to improve the condition of Aleksey Nikolayevich, the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne, made him an influential favourite at the court of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra.

Although he attended school, the peasant Grigory Yefimovich Novykh remained illiterate, and his reputation for licentiousness earned him the surname Rasputin, Russian for “debauched one.” He evidently underwent a religious conversion at age 18, and eventually he went to the monastery at Verkhoture, where he was introduced to the Khlysty (Flagellants) sect. Rasputin perverted Khlysty beliefs into the doctrine that one was nearest God when feeling “holy passionlessness” and that the best way to reach such a state was through the sexual exhaustion that came after prolonged debauchery. Rasputin did not become a monk. He returned to Pokrovskoye, and at age 19 married Proskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina, who later bore him four children. Marriage did not settle Rasputin. He left home and wandered to Mount Athos, Greece, and Jerusalem, living off the peasants’ donations and gaining a reputation as a starets (self-proclaimed holy man) with the ability to heal the sick and predict the future.

Rasputin’s wanderings took him to St. Petersburg (1903), where he was welcomed by Theophan, inspector of the religious Academy of St. Petersburg, and Hermogen, bishop of Saratov. The court circles of St. Petersburg at that time were entertaining themselves by delving into mysticism and the occult, so Rasputin—a filthy, unkempt wanderer with brilliant eyes and allegedly extraordinary healing talents—was warmly welcomed. In 1905 Rasputin was introduced to the royal family, and in 1908 he was summoned to the palace of Nicholas and Alexandra during one of their hemophiliac son’s bleeding episodes. Rasputin succeeded in easing the boy’s suffering (probably by his hypnotic powers) and, upon leaving the palace, warned the parents that the destiny of both the child and the dynasty were irrevocably linked to him, thereby setting in motion a decade of Rasputin’s powerful influence on the imperial family and affairs of state.

In the presence of the royal family, Rasputin consistently maintained the posture of a humble and holy peasant. Outside court, however, he soon fell into his former licentious habits. Preaching that physical contact with his own person had a purifying and healing effect, he acquired mistresses and attempted to seduce many other women. When accounts of Rasputin’s conduct reached the ears of Nicholas, the tsar refused to believe that he was anything other than a holy man, and Rasputin’s accusers found themselves transferred to remote regions of the empire or entirely removed from their positions of influence.

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By 1911 Rasputin’s behaviour had become a general scandal. The prime minister, P.A. Stolypin, sent the tsar a report on Rasputin’s misdeeds. As a result, the tsar expelled Rasputin, but Alexandra had him returned within a matter of months. Nicholas, anxious not to displease his wife or endanger his son, upon whom Rasputin had an obviously beneficial effect, chose to ignore further allegations of wrongdoing.

Rasputin reached the pinnacle of his power at the Russian court after 1915. During World War I, Nicholas II took personal command of his forces (September 1915) and went to the troops on the front, leaving Alexandra in charge of Russia’s internal affairs, while Rasputin served as her personal advisor. Rasputin’s influence ranged from the appointment of church officials to the selection of cabinet ministers (often incompetent opportunists), and he occasionally intervened in military matters to Russia’s detriment. Though supporting no particular political group, Rasputin was a strong opponent of anyone opposing the autocracy or himself.

Several attempts were made to take the life of Rasputin and save Russia from further calamity, but none were successful until 1916. Then a group of extreme conservatives, including Prince Feliks Yusupov (husband of the tsar’s niece), Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich (a member of the Duma), and Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich (the tsar’s cousin), formed a conspiracy to eliminate Rasputin and save the monarchy from further scandal. On the night of December 29–30 (December 16–17, Old Style), Rasputin was invited to visit Yusupov’s home and, once there, was given poisoned wine and tea cakes. When he did not die, the frantic Yusupov shot him. Rasputin collapsed but was able to run out into the courtyard, where Purishkevich shot him again. The conspirators then bound him and threw him through a hole in the ice into the Neva River, where he finally died by drowning.

The murder merely strengthened Alexandra’s resolve to uphold the principle of autocracy, but a few weeks later the whole imperial regime was swept away by revolution.

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Naturally, the reason Rasputin has anything to do with beer, is that Mark Ruedrich, the founder of North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, California, named his imperial stout after the “mad monk,” and his Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout has become a classic beer, one of the earliest examples of what’s become a very popular style of beer, and, frankly, is still one of the best tasting.

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For one of my newspaper columns, in the Fall of 2012, I wrote about imperial stouts, and below is an excerpt from that, the part that tells the story of North Coast’s Old Rasputin:

Happily, you don’t have to go as far as Russia, or even England, to find an imperial stout. We’re very lucky that one of the best Russian Imperial Stouts brewed anywhere is made in nearby Fort Bragg. North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout was also one of the first brewed in America, and was most likely the second (after Bert Grant’s Imperial Stout), which makes it the oldest one still being made. I visited the Fort Bragg brewery last week and watched the latest batch of Old Rasputin being bottled, as I spoke to founder Mark Ruedrich about his beer.

When they opened in 1988, North Coast had a terrific stout they called Old No. 38. But a few years later, Ruedrich decided he wanted to do something different, and noticed that almost nobody else was making the style. Grant’s version also included honey, which is not a traditional ingredient for the style. So he set to work brewing an authentic version of the style, which by that time was even nearly gone in England, too, with very few still making it.

Shortly before its 1994 debut at the pub, Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the “Celebrator Beer News,” happened to be in town visiting the brewery. He recalls Ruedrich handing him a glass and saying. “Here’s a new beer I’m about to release.” Dalldorf recalls seeing its inky black color and asking “don’t you already make a stout?” Mark responded with something like “this is different, just try it.” Like most of us, Tom immediately fell in love with it.

The beer has a definite “wow factor” from the very first sip, with gorgeous milk chocolate, roasted coffee notes and warming sweet flavors from its 9% a.b.v. It’s as bold as they come and infinitely complex, an ever-lasting gobstopper of a beer. It also enjoys near perfect balance. It’s a sipping beer, and changes as it warms in your glass. It’s a not a beer for a pint glass, you’ll want a snifter to get the full aromas of the beer as you slowly sip it by the fire.

One additional fun fact: on the label of Old Rasputin in a quote written in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet. Translated, it’s apparently a traditional Russian saying, or proverb: “a sincere friend is not born instantly.” But if you’re a fan of big beers, you’re love for this beer will almost certainly be instantaneous. For even bigger flavors, if that’s possible, try North Coast’s Old Rasputin XIV, which is their imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels.

The cyrillic text on the label is taken from an old Russian proverb. “A sincere friend is not born instantly.”

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The label also features part of a well-known photograph of Rasputin. And while you find it all over the internet, its origin seems unknown, or at least widely uncredited.

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The Smithsonian published a story on the 100th anniversary of his death a few years ago, entitled The Murder of Rasputin, 100 Years Later:

The holy man is he who takes your soul and will and makes them his. When you choose your holy man, you surrender your will. You give it to him in utter submission, in full renunciation.” – Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The murder of Rasputin, Russia’s infamous “Mad Monk,” is the fodder for a great historical tale that blends fact and legend. But the death of the controversial holy man and faith healer had a combustible effect on the tense state of affairs in pre-revolution Russia. Rasputin was killed on December 30, 1916 (December 17 in the Russian calendar in use at the time), in the basement of the Moika Palace, the Saint Petersburg residence of Prince Felix Yussupov, the richest man in Russia and the husband of the Czar’s only niece, Irina. His battered body was discovered in the Neva River a few days later.

In the decade prior, Rasputin had risen rapidly through Russian society, starting as an obscure Siberian peasant-turned-wandering-holy-man and then becoming one of the most prominent figures in the Czar’s inner circle. Born in 1869 in the village of Pokrovskoye, on the Tura river that flows eastward from the Ural Mountains, where Europe meets Asia in Siberia. He seemed destined for an ordinary life, despite a few conflicts in his youth with local authorities for unruly behavior. He married a local woman, Praskovya Dubrovina, became the father of three surviving children, Maria, Dmitri and Varvara, and worked on his family’s farm.

Rasputin’s life changed in 1892, when he spent months at a monastery, putting him on the path to international renown. Despite his later nickname, “The Mad Monk,” Rasputin never took Holy Orders. Men in Rasputin’s position usually gave up their past lives and relationships but Rasputin continued to see his family – his daughters later lived with him in Saint Petersburg – and support his wife financially.

His religious fervor, combined with an appealing personal charisma, brought Rasputin to the attention of some Russian Orthodox clergymen and then senior members of the Imperial family, who then introduced him to Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra.

Nicholas wrote to one of his ministers in October 1906, “A few days ago I received a peasant from the Tobolsk district, Grigori Rasputin, who brought me an icon of St. Simon Verkhoturie. He made a remarkably strong impression both on Her Majesty and on myself, so that instead of five minutes our conversation went on for more than an hour.”

The Imperial couple had consulted unconventional spiritual advisors in the past, but Rasputin filled this role by his ability to read their inner hopes and tell them what they wanted to hear. He encouraged Nicholas to have more confidence in his role as czar, and Alexandra found that his counsel soothed her anxieties. By the First World War, Rasputin was also providing political advice and making recommendations for ministerial appointments, much to the dismay of the Russian elite.

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Rasputin cemented his relationship with the czar and czarina when he supposedly helped alleviate their only son Alexei’s hemophilia. Rasputin’s alleged healing powers continue to be debated today. The Czar’s sister, Grand Duchess Olga, wrote that she observed Rasputin healing Alexei by kneeling at the foot of his bed and praying; the calming atmosphere that he created in the palace may have assisted with the recovery. Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting, Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, thought that Rasputin employed peasant folk medicine used in Siberian villages to treat internal bleeding in horses.

Historians continue to debate Rasputin’s impact on Alexei’s health. In his 2016 book, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs, Douglas Smith observes, “Rasputin’s assurances calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence, and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.” In addition to increasing confidence in recovery, a key variable may have been Rasputin’s insistence that doctors keep away from Alexei. Medical knowledge was still sparse, even though drugs like aspirin were available for treatment. Unfortunately for Alexei, aspirin, considered a cure-all remedy, had the then-unknown side effect of thinning the blood, which would have exacerbated hemophilia symptoms. French historian Hélène Carrère d’Encausse argued that when Rasputin insisted that remedies prescribed by the doctors be thrown in the fire, the discarded medicine likely would have included aspirin. Rasputin’s insistence that the doctors leave him alone would have improved his condition and appeared to create a miraculous improvement in his symptoms.

Rasputin presented himself in the Imperial Court as holy man, despite no formal affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, and spoke as a self-appointed representative of the peasantry, but his behavior away from court offered a different portrait. His drunkenness and affairs with women of all social backgrounds, from street prostitutes to society ladies, scandalized the public. Rasputin appeared to bask in his fame, showing off shirts embroidered for him by the Empress and inviting her friends and servants to his home in Prokovskoye. (Rasputin’s wife appeared untroubled by his infidelities, commenting “He has enough for all.”)

The press, unshackled thanks to rights granted to them by Nicholas II in 1905, spread lurid tales about Rasputin both within Russia and abroad. Rumors about Rasputin’s influence over the Czarist regime spread throughout Europe. Petitioners, believing that Rasputin lived with the Imperial family, mailed their requests to “Rasputin, Czar’s palace, Saint Petersburg.”

Soldiers on World War I’s Eastern front spoke of Rasputin having an intimate affair with Alexandra, passing it off as common knowledge without evidence. As the war progressed, outlandish stories expanded to include Rasputin’s supposed treason with the German enemy, including a fantastical tale that he sought to undermine the war effort by starting a cholera epidemic in Saint Petersburg with “poisoned apples imported from Canada.” What the public thought they knew about Rasputin had a greater impact than his actual views and activities, fueling demands that he be removed from his position of influence by any means necessary.

Until he murdered Rasputin, Felix Yussupov lived a comparatively aimless life of privilege. One of Nicholas II’s daughters, also named Grand Duchess Olga, worked as a nurse during the war and criticized Yussupov’s refusal to enlist, writing to her father, “Felix is a ‘downright civilian,’ dressed all in brown…virtually doing nothing; an utterly unpleasant impression he makes – a man idling in such times.” Plotting Rasputin’s murder gave Yussupov the opportunity to reinvent himself as a patriot and man of action, determined to protect the throne from a malign influence.

For Yussupov and his co-conspirators, the removal of Rasputin could give Nicholas II one last chance of restoring the reputation and prestige of the monarchy. With Rasputin gone, the czar would be more open to the advice of his extended family, the nobility and the Duma and less dependent on Alexandra. There was hope that he would return from military headquarters and once again govern from Saint Petersburg.

The most well-known account of Rasputin’s murder was the one that Yussupov wrote in his memoirs, published in 1928. Yussupov claimed to have invited Rasputin to his palace to meet his wife Irina (who was in fact away at the time) and then served him a platter of cakes and numerous glasses of wine laced with potassium cyanide. To Yussupov’s astonishment, Rasputin appeared to be unaffected by the poison. A desperate Yussupov borrowed the revolver of the Grand Duke Dmitri, the czar’s cousin, and shot Rasputin multiple times, but was still unable to kill him. According to the memoir, “This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die.” There was reputedly water in his lungs when his remains were discovered, indicating that he had finally died by drowning.

Yussupov’s account of Rasputin’s murder entered popular culture. The lurid scene was dramatized in numerous films about Rasputin and the Romanovs and even made it into a 1970s disco hit by Boney M., which included the lyrics “They put some poison into his wine…He drank it all and said, ‘I feel fine.’”

Rasputin’s actual murder was probably far less dramatic. His daughter Maria, who fled Russia after the Revolution and became a circus lion tamer billed as “the daughter of the famous mad monk whose feats in Russia astonished the world,” wrote her own book in 1929 that condemned Yussupov’s actions and questioned the veracity of his account. She wrote that her father did not like sweets and never would have eaten a platter of cakes. The autopsy reports do not mention poison or drowning but instead conclude that he was shot in the head at close range. Yussupov transformed the murder into an epic struggle of good versus evil to sell books and bolster his own reputation.

The responses from the public were mixed, reflecting Rasputin’s checkered reputation. The elite, from whence Yussupov and his co-conspirators came, rejoiced and applauded the killers when they appeared in public. The peasantry mourned Rasputin as one of their own, seeing the murder as one more example of the nobility controlling the Czar; when a peasant rose to a position of influence with the Czar, he was murdered by wealthy men.

To the dismay of Yussupov and his co-conspirators, Rasputin’s murder did not lead to a radical change in Nicholas and Alexandra’s polities. To the emergent Bolsheviks, Rasputin symbolized the corruption at the heart of the Imperial court, and his murder was seen, rather accurately, as an attempt by the nobility to hold onto power at the continued expense of the proletariat. To them, Rasputin represented the broader problems with czarism. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Provisional Government leader Alexander Kerensky went so far as to say, “Without Rasputin there would have been no Lenin.”

And, apropos of nothing, there’s apparently a commercial vodka called “Rasputin.”

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We Do More Than Just Brew Beer

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This is a fun piece of illustration, an infographic New Year’s Eve card of sorts, commissioned by Baltika, which is a Russian brewery that’s part of the Carlsberg Group. They hired Anton Egorov to create something like Мы больше, чем просто варят пиво, which is a reverse translation of their English version of the infographic, “We Do More Than Just Brew Beer.” Egorov completed it in December of 2014, so presumably they used it in either 2015 or 2016, since according to the artist’s description, his illustrations were for a corporate calendar. That’s one I would have liked.

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Weird History: Russian Army’s Beer Rescue

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Here’s an odd one from recent history. On January 20, 2004, the BBC had a headline that read: Russian army rescues kegs of beer. Subtitled “Russian troops have retrieved 10 tonnes of beer trapped under the Siberian ice after a week-long operation,” you know you’re in for something special. Here’s the story:

A lorry carrying the beer was lost while crossing the frozen River Irtysh, near the city of Omsk, about 2,200 kilometres (1400 miles) from Moscow.

The driver managed to jump out after the ice gave way, but the lorry and its cargo sank.

Six divers, 10 men with electric saws and a tank pulled the beer kegs – but not the truck – to safety.

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With temperatures reaching -27C, the rescue mission was fraught with problems.

Russia’s Tass news agency reported that the recovery team eventually managed to pull the vehicle through a hole in the ice.

They retrieved the kegs of beer but the rope snapped and the truck slipped back under the water.

The Rosar brewery in Omsk said the freezing temperatures probably kept the quality of the beer from deteriorating and said it will still take the delivery.

It plans to sell the beer at a discount.

As many people commented at the time, at least the Russian Army had their priorities straight.

The Tass News Agency added the same day:

Russia has sent in the army to bolster a week-long struggle to rescue 10 tons of beer trapped under Siberian ice, Itar-Tass news agency said Tuesday. A lorry carrying the beer sank when trying to cross the frozen Irtysh river, and a rescue team of six divers, 10 workers and a modified T-72 tank from the emergencies ministry have so far failed to save the load.

“The situation hasn’t developed according to our ideal scenario,” the deputy head of the Cherlaksky region, told the agency. Temperatures were around minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit) in the region, near the Siberian city of Omsk and around 1,400 miles from Moscow.

A week-long effort to cut a 100 yard corridor to the river bank to pull the truck to dry land failed when the vehicle was swept away from the rescue site, Tass said.

But it said the soldiers were confident it would take them just a day to retrieve the beer.

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Naked Beer Cans

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This is an interesting design, generic beer cans, made to look as if they were essentially clear and showing the contents inside, albeit in an idealized way. They were created by Timur Salikhov, a designer from St. Petersburg, Russia.

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He starts with the premise “Why hide what good beer looks like?”

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And then he designed the cans to appear as if they were a freshly poured glass of beer. It’s fun concept and apparently he’d like to sell the idea to a brewery. I think the only unfortunate aspect of his design is that without additional branding on the package, it may look too generic. BUt it sure looks like a beer I’d like to open.

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Russia Beer

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Today in 1991, Russia gained their Independence from the USSR.

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Russia Breweries

Russia Brewery Guides

Other Guides

Guild: The Union of Russian Brewers

National Regulatory Agency: Federal Service for Consumer Rights and Social Welfare, Ministry of Health and Social Development

Beverage Alcohol Labeling Requirements: Labels must include the following information: Product name (and type, for beer); Manufacturer name and address; Trademark, if any; Date marking (both bottling and use-by dates); Alcohol by volume (expressed as minimal content for beer); Special instructions for storage; Reference to applicable regulatory compliance document; Certification information. Also, Additives must be listed, and for beer, label must include information on extractability of original wort, basic source composition, major ingredients listing (determined by manufacturer), and nutritional value.

Drunk Driving Laws: BAC 0.00%

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  • Full Name: Russian Federation
  • Location: North Asia bordering the Arctic Ocean, extending from Europe (the portion west of the Urals) to the North Pacific Ocean
  • Government Type: Federation
  • Language: Russian (official), many minority languages
  • Religion(s): Russian Orthodox 15-20%, Muslim 10-15%, other Christian 2%; Russia has large populations of non-practicing believers and non-believers, a legacy of over 70 years of Soviet rule
  • Capital: Moscow (Moskva)
  • Population: 138,082,178; 9th
  • Area: 17,098,242 sq km, 1st
  • Comparative Area: Approximately 1.8 times the size of the US
  • National Food: Shchi, Kasha and Pelmeni
  • National Symbols: Bear, Golden Bicephalic Eagle; Birch tree; Moscow Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Matryoshka doll, AK47, Khokhloma, Ushanka, Kosovorotka; Red Star, Spasskaya Tower, Khokhloma, Double-headed eagle; Volga River
  • Affiliations: UN, CIS
  • Independence: From the Soviet Union, August 24, 1991 / Notable Earlier Dates: 1157 (Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal created); January 16, 1547 (Tsardom of Muscovy established); October 22, 1721 (Russian Empire proclaimed); December 30, 1922 (Soviet Union established)

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  • Alcohol Legal: Yes
  • Minimum Drinking Age: None (to drink); 18 (to buy) [Note: There is no law or regulation in Russia that prohibits minors from consuming alcohol, but selling alcohol to minors is prohibited by federal and additional regional laws.]
  • BAC: 0.00% [Note, WHO claims 0.03%]
  • Number of Breweries: 160

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  • How to Say “Beer”: pivo / Пиво
  • How to Order a Beer: odno pivo, pozhaluysta / одно пиво, пожалуйста
  • How to Say “Cheers”: Budem zdorovy (“let’s stay healthy”) / Chtob vse byli zdorovy (“let everybody be healthy”) / Na zdorovia *may not actually be used* / Na zdorovje (“to your health”) / Za sbychu mecht / будем здоровы / за ваше здоровье / пей до дна
  • Toasting Etiquette: Begin eating only after somebody says a toast, even if there is no alcohol on the table [which is almost impossible]. Toasting is a very important part of dining. Toasts are common The host starts and guests reply. Do not drink until the first toast is offered. After a toast, many Russians like to clink their glasses together. Do not do so if you are drinking something non-alcoholic.

    Not drinking is a serious handicap to doing business in Russia. It’s the way things are done. In all but the most Westernized circles, you will have trouble winning trust if you do not get drunk with your hosts. It’s considered a way of breaking down barriers and getting to know the real you. Refusing to drink is unacceptable unless you give a plausible excuse, such as explaining that health or religious reasons prevent you from imbibing. Also you may smile and pretend that you are drinking, to show that you accept the toast and respect those around you. If you feel that you’re getting intoxicated, avoid signing anything.

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Alcohol Consumption By Type:

  • Beer: 33%
  • Wine: 1%
  • Spirits: 63%
  • Other: 3%

Alcohol Consumption Per Capita (in litres):

  • Recorded: 11.03
  • Unrecorded: 4.73
  • Total: 15.76
  • Beer: 3.65

WHO Alcohol Data:

  • Per Capita Consumption: 11 litres
  • Alcohol Consumption Trend: Stable
  • Excise Taxes: Yes
  • Minimum Age: 18
  • Sales Restrictions: Time, location, specific events, intoxicated persons, petrol stations
  • Advertising Restrictions: N/A
  • Sponsorship/Promotional Restrictions: N/A

Patterns of Drinking Score: 5

Prohibition: 1914-1925

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Beer In Ads #552: Russian Beer Queen


Tuesday’s ad is for a Russian brewer, though which one is a bit of a mystery, primarily because I don’t know the cyrillic alphabet. Though I’m pretty sure “Mockba” is Moscow, so that’s probably where the brewery is/was located. But the woman with the beer looks like she’s wearing a crown and holding a wreath of hops and barley.

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Beer In Art #134: Jean Beraud’s Open-Air Ball

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This week’s work of art is by a Russian artist, Jean Béraud, though he lived much of his life in France during the Belle Epoque. Open-air Ball, or Le Bal public, was painted in 1880.

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Depicting a typical scene of Paris night life in the 1880s, speculation has the setting being the Closerie des Lilas cafe. People are dancing on the right-hand portion of the painting, but resting with glasses of beer on the left, as shown in a detail of the artwork below.

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You can read Béraud’s biography at Wikipedia, and also at the Tate. You can see more of Béraud’s paintings at All Posters and Hoocher.