CONTINUOUSLYFAMILY OWNEDSINCE 1782VODKA.AN ILLUSTRATEDHISTORY
Academic bohemia ball at the officers’ Yacht-Club, Warsaw, 1932
A SMALL SCHNAPPS,OR AN INTRODUCTION
The history of the Baczewski family is not just a story about the productionof spirits; it is also the story of a family whose fortunes are closely tiedto Poland and the Poles. It embraces the company’s wonderful growthover 157 years, right up until the outbreak of World War II, the tragicconsequences of the German and Soviet occupations, its post-warrebirth in Vienna and finally its triumphant return in the year 2011.This is a story well worth reading. So find a comfortable armchair, and keepa glass of vodka at hand – ideally some lightly chilled MONOPOLOWA.
Ball at the School of Decorative Arts & Artistic Industry, Poznań, 1935
A CLEAR DROPOF HISTORY
a bottle from the years 1880-90
Before we begin the actual tale of the Baczewskis’ famous company, though,a word or two on the history of vodka in Poland – to whet your appetite forthe chapters to follow.Although hard to verify today, a beverage known as gorzałka (firewater)was distilled and drunk between the Vistula and the Oder rivers in the late14th century; apparently it had medicinal qualities, although its tastemercilessly stung the palate. However, it was only in the chronicles of theSandomierz province district court in 1405 that the magical word VODKAappeared for the first time. Historians have also noted that just over 30 yearslater it was used, though in what context we do not know, in the inventoryof the town of Dąbrówka (the document is to be found in the Town & LandRecords in Lviv, in the so-called Bernardine Archives).Herbs were initially soaked in alcohol, and later underwent a process ofdistillation. Production technology was constantly being improved, while thepopularity of such beverages spread rapidly through all social strata of thePoland of the day. Before long came the first distillers, who would rub theirhands with glee. Even then the production of alcoholic beverages wasa source of significant income – in time seeing large sums of money flowinto the royal and later the city coffers. This was thanks to a tax known at thetime as the ‘czopowe’, but better known to us all today as excise tax; it wasonly in 1658 that this was described in the Volumina Legum.
In the 16th century the beverage – still considered a medicine – was so wellknown that, in 1534, the botanist and herbalist Stefan Falimirz, in a handbookfor pharmacists entitled 'On Herbs and Their Potency', devoted the chapter‘On the burning of vodkas’ to the technology of using herbs for ‘burning’tinctures. Somewhat later in Kraków, in 1568, a handbook by Marcin Siennikentitled ‘Herbarium’ was published. Its author expertly described the processof producing liquors and their salubrious impact on many disorders sufferedby man.But, as usual, there are two sides to every coin. In an article on ‘Thehistorical structure of alcohol consumption in Poland’ (Marcin Wnuk,Barbara Purandare, Jerzy T. Marcinkowski, Department of Hygiene, SocialMedicine Faculty, Poznań University of Medical Sciences), the situationon the alcohol market at that time was described as follows: “In the late16th century a new phenomenon arose in our lands: ‘propination’, or inother words a nobility-controlled monopoly on the production and saleof alcoholic beverages. This practice, intensifying in the 17th and 18thcenturies, continued uninterrupted almost to the end of the 19th century,and played an enormous role in pushing the rural population towards drink.“It was probably in this period that boozing as a mass practice first appearedin Poland. (…) In the mid-17th century, on average one in 52 villages inWielkopolska had a distillery, while a hundred years later there was onefor every 10, and towards the close of the 18th century there was alreadyone distillery for every 6 to 7 villages. As distilling developed, so too diddrunkenness increase, because the propaganda spread about drinking vodkacontributed to greater sales for this beverage (…)”. Although the authorscite data from Wielkopolska, one may presume the situation to have beensimilar or even worse in other parts of the country. Sometimes nobody wasin control of the situation; reportedly the councillors of the town of Bieczwere in the custom of drinking themselves unconscious before councilsittings. Things became so bad, that in 1551 the mayor commanded totalabstinence among his staff, on pain of forfeit of office; sadly, how manyof them retained their positions we know not.Propination ensured enormous revenue for the nobility, but ultimatelyresulted in all the distilleries functioning on a local market. Some historiansconclude that as such the chance of making the excellent Polish beveragesone of the country’s most important export commodities was wasted.
The topic of alcohol distillation was also brought up increasingly often ina variety of publications, including by Jurek Potański in his work ‘Vodka orFirewater’ (1614), and Jakub Kazimierz Haur (Kraków, 1693), who in thebook ‘Store or treasury of excellent secrets’, in the chapters ‘A Discourseon healthy liquors’ and ‘Firewater & distillers’, provided recipes for preparingalcohol from rye, or to be more precise, for rye spirit.A fact to bear in mind here is that people then were already ‘burning’ vodkaswith a variety of flavours and aromas. Apart from alembic and skimmer(named after the equipment used), there were also cinnamon, wormwood,aniseed and sweet rush vodkas, as well as others made of rye and oats, millet,buckwheat, mare’s milk (a speciality among Cossacks and Tartars), acornsand wild chestnuts; potatoes only came into use in the 19th century. Humaningenuity truly knows no bounds when it comes to selecting ingredients!The range of books for devotees of spirits expanded steadily over thecenturies. A handbook by Jan Paweł Biretowski published in 1768,‘Interesting News’, was intended above all for those distilling vodka bythemselves, describing in detail the rectification process. And six years latera work in circulation was one by Jan Krystian Szymon, its descriptive titletranslating as ‘Practical information on distilling vodkas, distilling goodalembic firewater and liquors’. We may therefore presume that – forobvious reasons – the demand for such publications was rather high.
Before long there were respectable producers operating in Poland; theirexperience and knowledge, and in particular the growing demand, meantthat the most enterprising of them could begin the production of spirits onan industrial scale. And thus were born the distilleries of yesteryear fame,soon to become major producers of a variety of spirits:1804 – Jakób Haberfeld’s Polish Vodka & Liqueur Factory in Oświęcim1816 – The J. Prochownik Vodka Factory in Poznań(the Artur Gaede Factory from the 1920s)1816 – The Potocki Counts Factory in Łańcut(producing liqueurs and rosoglios from 1838)1823 – The Kantorowicz family factory in Poznań(since 1908 – Hartwig Kantorowicz)1831 – The Ostrowit liqueur factory in Ostrów Wielkoposki1834 – Karol Rudolf Vetter’s factory in Lublin1848 – The A. H. Winkelhausen plant in Starogard Gdański1879 – Akwawit – Leszno-Poznań1886 – Rektyfikacja Warszawska1888 – Bolesław Kasprowicz’s plant in GnieznoThe late 18th and early 19th century was actually a favourable periodfor producers of alcoholic beverages throughout Europe – and it saw theestablishment of many a family firm well-known and valued to this day forthe quality of their products, including Hennessy (1765), Gordon’s (1769),Piper-Heidsieck (1785) and Jim Beam (1795). And so the brand J.A.BACZEWSKI – established in 1782 – belongs to an elite group of pioneers.1810
Once flavoured vodkas and liqueurs had settled themselves nicely intothe glasses of consumers throughout Europe, scientists began researchattempting to determine once and for all who had invented the beverage,and what its ideal strength should be – both in regard to the taste and,as it so happened, in terms of economics.Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, known above all for compiling the periodic tableof the elements in 1869, could claim the best (or rather the best-publicised)results. On 31 January 1865 he defended, in public, his dissertation entitled‘On the Combinations of Water with Alcohol’, in which – among other things– he was the first to explain the phenomenon of so-called contraction involume (a physical phenomenon where the volume of a solution or mixturechanges as a result of chemical reaction or intermolecular interactionsbetween the mixture’s ingredients).As the subject was interesting, information about the discovery spreadrapidly and before long Mendeleev was attributed with expressing theview that vodka tastes best when containing just under 40% of alcohol.
At this point one should mention the longstanding Polish-Russian dispute toascertain who had produced vodka for the first time, and where. Both partieswould, every now and again, strive to prove at all costs that they owned therights to produce this beverage – and at stake was the exclusive right to usethe name ‘VODKA’, and thereby the global market worth hundreds of billionsof dollars.In our own times a situation was brought about that really could have frozen(sic!) the blood in everybody’s veins. The years 1977 to 1982 apparentlywitnessed the events described below; apparently, because despite muchsearching no evidence has been secured. Yet frequently such stories, thoughembellished wittingly or otherwise by authors and journalists, do actuallycontain a grain of truth. In any case, you can judge for yourselves!When in autumn 1977 the Polish People’s Republic took its allies the USSRto the GATT tribunal – information which in itself sounds rather improbable,one has to admit – the Russians, and in particular Soiuzplodimport (then theproducer of Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodkas, claimed in their defencethat their ancestors – long before our own – enjoyed vodka. The USSR’sAcademy of Sciences and the institutions approached by distillers’representatives refused to take part in the process of determining thedate when production of alcohol began on Russian soil, which may seemsomewhat strange. However, there was a certain Russian who acceptedthe challenge and led to a conclusion favourable to our eastern brothers;such a finale seems to be just as one would have expected.In the book ‘A History of Vodka’ completed in 1979 – but only published in1991 – its author William Vasilyevich Pokhlyobkin, who conducted researchin the archives, claimed that this drink had been in production in Russia sincearound 1430. He determined that the means of producing vodka had beenmastered by Isidore, a monk at Moscow’s Chudov Monastery, and that it washe who possessed the knowledge for and constructed an apparatus enablingthe distillation of alcohol from fermented corn. This top quality beverage,produced for decades exclusively for the rulers of the Grand Duchyof Moscow, was then known as ‘bread wine’ (or ‘table wine’). Moreover,the same Pokhlyobkin also claimed that in 1894 Mendeleev headed a tsaristcommittee tasked with defining the standards of Russian vodka production.It was at this committee’s sittings that the scientist is said to have announcedthat the ideal level of alcohol in vodka is 38%, but to make it easier tocalculate the tax due, this value was rounded up to forty percent.
Yet the matter was not that clear; the committee did indeed deliberate, buta year later, and only regarding issues in the technological improvementsin production and matters of trade in alcoholic beverages, while Mendeleevspoke up at its conclusions only in regard to the value of the excise tax.Some experts on the subject claim that the truth is more prosaic, or to beprecise – economic; the ideal proportions of water to alcohol were definedby the tsar’s officials when Mendeleev was but 9 years old, and the reasonswere purely financial: in times most difficult for the economy, as much as40% of Russia’s budget came from excise (the similarity in the percentagevalues is totally coincidental), and as such the authorities were very keenon controlling the tax system, which until then had been far from tight.Nevertheless, this brilliant scientist was still to become the father of Russiandrinks – and for many years, information regarding Dmitri Mendeleev’sservices were to be found, among other places, on the labels on RussianStandard vodka.Ultimately, in the year 1982, a mysterious tribunal acknowledged that theabove story of the monk Isidore and his beverage was true. The Poles weresadly unable to present any documents confirming that their firewater(vodka) had been in production before ‘bread wine’ (‘table wine’) appeared.As such, the Russians were recognised as wining this dispute – at leastaccording to their documents. And this fact is painful for us to bear.The turn of the 1980s was abundant in many dramatic events, both inthe Polish People’s Republic and in the USSR, and the entire matter wasfortunately forgotten. In any case, the beverage by the name of WÓDKA(in Poland only) and VODKA (in other countries) continues to be distilledand to be available – much to its consumers’ satisfaction – worldwide.
Young lawyers’ ball, Warsaw, 1930s
The time from which we begin our tale of the Baczewskis’ business was nota happy one for Poland. We must bear in mind that the country’s formermight was succumbing to gradual disintegration, and as the result of manyunfavourable circumstances its lands were annexed successively by Russia,Prussia and Austria over three subsequent partitions. The final one, of theyear 1795, resulted in the neighbouring powers completely absorbing itsterritory – and up until 1918 there was no fully sovereign Poland to be foundon the map of Europe.During this difficult period, in 1782, ten years after the first partition, a certainLayb Baczeles, 35 years of age, established the first vodka factory in thevillage of Wybranówka near Bóbrka, some 44 km from the city of Lviv.Although we know next to nothing of his later activities, we do know the dateof his death: 7 July 1811. A befitting obituary was published in the GazetaLwowska no. 28.The company’s history in the 19th century is still full of secrets, the solvingof which is helped by a perusal of the announcements and mentionspublished in the daily newspapers of Lviv and Vienna.According to some researchers, round about the year 1810 the founder’s son,Mayer (Majer) Baczeles – later known as Leopold Maksymilian Baczewski– moved the distillery to the village of Zniesienie on the outskirts of Lviv(possibly as a subsidiary of the plant in Wybranówka). However, this seemsrather unlikely, considering that in the years 1831-37 a guide for entrepreneursincludes the company Chana Baczeles und Sohn. Chana may have been thefounder’s wife, sister or daughter, and in that case Mayer his son, nephew orgrandson. Unfortunately attempts to definitively settle this matter have failed.1835 1811
Whatever the case, the opening of the new factory was possible presumablyfor administrational reasons. In the years 1781-1789, the ideas propagatedby revolutionary France reached the Viennese court, and under their influencethe Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II granted the Austrian Jews many rightsequal to those of the Empire’s citizens, permitting new settlements andallowing – albeit on a limited scale – the learning of crafts, arts andagriculture in schools that had, until then, been closed to them.Thanks to these developments, the company’s owners were able to rapidlydevelop it, bringing in the most modern machinery and technology thenavailable in the world. This included a two-column continuous still fordistilling the spirit, invented by the Irish excise officer Aeneas Coffey – whopresumably showed up at the distillery in the year 1832, barely two yearsafter patenting it. Because this device enabled uninterrupted operation, itcontributed significantly towards an improvement in production quality andefficiency. Vodkas, rosoglios and liqueurs made using this technology weresignificantly purer and smoother than the spirits produced by the competition,and as a result soon gained a reputation and popularity in Lviv, Galicia andthe entire Empire.18731854A description of alcohol producers given in the daily Wiener Zeitung in 1854gives, as the company’s owner, Leopold Max (Maksymilian) Baczewski.We cannot be certain when Meyer Baczeles changed his surname, but itcertainly happened after the year 1844.Interestingly enough, by then the company already had a subsidiary in Vienna.
At this point another woman appears in the company’s history: DeboraBaczewska. We know little of her as well, although at the turn of the 1860sshe was the sole owner of the business, then going by the name of L.M.Baczewski, Widow & Sons; a court in Lviv made this information publicon 13 March 1862.Issue no. 163 of the Gazeta Lwowska in 1872 noted that the companyL.M. Baczewski, Widow & Sons, in business for almost twenty years, hadsubmitted its wares for the Vienna Exhibition. In the year 1877 a report fromthe Lviv exhibition was published in this same periodical: “By its veryappearance, the exhibition of J.A. Baczewski’s domestic factory of rosoglios,liqueurs and rum in Zniesienie and the factory of L.M. Baczewski, Widow& Sons in Lviv, is eye-catching. The various glass and porcelain bottlesand flasks, adorned with beautiful labels designed by the lithographerMr Kostkiewicz, and their smart corks, present from afar like a display ofwonderful fancy goods. This care given to ornamental appearance, in whichnobody surpasses the Baczewskis, is connected to the great attention givento the goodness of the spirits contained within these vessels…”1872 1862Then, in the same source materials, we can find information about LeopoldMaksymilian’s factory, or perhaps only a part of it, being taken over by Józef(Josef) Baczewski (1803-1883) – although we are uncertain as to whetherhe was a son, brother or nephew. According to information published on27 March 1872 in the newspaper Wiener Weltaustellungs-Zeitung, the factoryunder his management must have already been well-known, as testified to bythe invitation to participate in the works of a committee prior to the approachingVienna fairs. The fact of the distillery winning prizes at an exhibition in Parisin 1867 was also noted.The information cited above reveals irrefutably that there could have beenat least two Baczewski companies operating simultaneously for severaldecades, while their mutual ties are not entirely clear.
1913 Potwierdzenie przyjęcia do Mieszczańskiego Towarzystwa Strzeleckiego we Lwowie, 1865Lech Kokociński collection
However, what we are certain about is that in 1856 the founder’s greatgrandsonjoined the company. Józef Adam Baczewski (1829-17.05.1911),graduate of the technology faculty at Lviv University, had also obtainedspecialist training in the spirits industry. His arrival – as it later turned out– was to prove one of the most important events in the factory’s history.Yet it was probably only around the year 1882 that the management of theBaczewskis’ enterprises passed entirely into the hands of Józef Adam.It was not only work that J.A. Baczewski was occupied with; as a true patriot,he fulfilled his duties towards country and city. He took part in the JanuaryUprising, was a long-standing councillor of the capital of Galicia, a memberof the Zniesienie Parish Council, an activist of the Chamber of Industry andCommerce in Lviv, and an active participant in numerous social and charityorganisations right up until his death, earning him a proud place in the historyof the Polish city of Lviv. His numerous activities most probably did notkeep him from marking his company’s one hundredth anniversary, withcelebrations held throughout the Monarchy.In the 1880s, Józef Adam moved the company’s head office to the formerCielecki palace, which was attached to the factory buildings at Zniesienie(postal address: Lviv 24), at Żółkiewska 100 (today Chmielnickiego 116).The area was only incorporated into the City of Lviv in 1930, when it joinedtogether with three other districts: Kulparków, Sygniówka and Zamarstynow.It would have been little exaggeration to call this land, on the northernoutskirts of Galicia’s capital, the Lviv spirit distillation centre – as apart fromthe Baczewski factory other distilleries there included those of Józef Kronik& Son (established in 1872), J. Siegel & Syn, G.R. Losch, Lubliner M.& Sons, the Kapelusz Brothers (a subsidiary of a distillery in Brody)and Wollkemberg, Pordes & Co. (Podzamcze).According to Irina Kotłobułatowa, in 1908 the palace and the gate to thegrounds were thoroughly rebuilt to the designs of Władysław Sadłowski,a professor of architecture, and the remains of these buildings can be seento this day.
The Baczewski family tomb chapel, Łyczaków cemetery, LvivThe Baczewskis' Town House, no. 31 Town Square, Lviv
The factory’s location is linked to a certain interesting fact – let’s call itgeographic – which, although it did not actually have a direct effect on thebusiness’s fortunes, is worth recalling.It just so happens that the Baczewskis’ distillery, the Church of St Elizabeth(modelled on St Stephen’s cathedral of Vienna, and the city’s secondmost prized historical building after the railway station), and the manor ofcouncillor Ernst von Kortum are situated on the so-called Great EuropeanWatershed. As Jerzy Janicki wrote: “In geographers’ terminology, this meansthat the city – lying on the very border between two drainage basins, theBaltic and the Black Sea, and itself having no decent river (the Peltev wasshamefully paved over in the late 19th century) it treats the two seas fairly.Although this may sound ridiculous, it has actually been scientifically proventhat when it rains the drops landing on the Gródecka side of the roof on theChurch of St Elizabeth flow via the Bug into the Baltic. And those falling onthe Sapieha side (Miru today) join the Dniester to feed the Black Sea”. In thetragic days of September 1939, and the events preceding the capitulationof Lviv, this extraordinary setting takes on symbolic importance – more onwhich will be said later.In 1882 the architect Jan Schultz received an order for the erection ofa family tomb chapel in Renaissance style, featuring a cupola, in theŁyczaków cemetery (decorative black marble brought from the palace issaid to have been used to adorn its interior). This was a year before thedeath of Józef Adam’s parents, Józef and Wiktoria, who died almostsimultaneously, on 23 and 25 March 1883.The Baczewskis were also the owners of town house no. 31 on Lviv’s TownSquare (formerly Mazanczowska street), the ground floor of which featuredthe famous and excellently stocked company shop. We have architectBronisław Wiktor to thank for the building’s current appearance; in 1923he revamped the façade, resulting in its late Art Nouveau character(for some the style is rather Art Deco). Reliefs adorning the house,by Zygmunt Kurczyński, date from the same time, while the mightybalcony supported on lions’ heads also catches the attention of passers-by.
The excellent quality of the goods produced by the Baczewskis’ companyis reflected in the title of Imperial-Royal Privileged Factory (k.k. privilegierteLandesfabrik) granted by the authorities in 1810. In the late 19th century(probably in the year 1882) it was granted the right to use the Imperial EagleEmblem, valued enormously among producers, merchants and consumers,which entitled the company to boast ‘Purveyor to the Imperial and RoyalCourt’ (K.u.K. Hoflieferant) on its signboards and labels.From today’s point of view, Józef Adam Baczewski was not only anoutstanding businessman, but also a true genius of marketing – one ofthe first entrepreneurs of Central Europe to appreciate and effectively executea broad range of promotional and advertising measures. It was on hisinitiative that towards the close of the 19th century the company’s spiritsbegan to be sold not in ordinary flasks but in bottles in shapes never seenbefore; these remained a distinctive feature of this Lviv distillery rightup to 1939.And of course by no means was this the only innovation. Back then, vodkas,tinctures and liqueurs were sold only in ceramic flasks or dark glass bottles.Józef Adam, in his search for ideas to provide something different from thecompetition, suggested selling the company’s spirits in transparent, crystalbottles: “(...) because the main strength of this company’s wares is thatrare attribute that they have no need to hide from the eye of an expert (...)”,reported the Gazeta Narodowa paper on 3 September 1882. If we add thatthe bottles were enhanced with graphically attractive labels, it comes asno surprise that – in recognition of this entrepreneur’s outstanding services– the initials J.A. are to be found in the company’s logo to this day.
Under Józef Adam’s favourable management, the distillery enjoyed a periodof exceptionally rapid growth. J.A. Baczewski imported and installed modernequipment “according to Dutch and French models”, and also modernisedthe spirit refinery. With his openness and skill at putting bold ideas into effect,the company occupied a leading position in the spirits industry, which fromthe mid-19th century was confirmed in the numerous rewards regularlyobtained at international fairs and exhibitions.We’ll list just a few of the more important of them here:1866 Vienna, K.k. Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft Ausstellung1867 Paris, L’Exposition Universelle d’Art et d’Industrie1868 Le Havre, L’Exposition Maritime Internationale1869 Rudolfsheim, Altona; Amsterdam, L’Exposition internationaled’Amsterdam, Wittenberga; Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerbeund Industrie Ausstellung1872 Moscow, Polytechnic Exhibition; London, International Exhibition1873 Vienna, Wiener Weltausstellung; London, International Exhibition1878 Paris (Grand Prix)1882 Przemyśl1888 Paris, L’Exposition Universelle, St. Petersburg; Melbourne,Centennial International Exhibition; Barcelona, Exposició Universal1889 Barcelona, Brussels1900 Paris, L’Exposition Universelle (Grand Prix)1904 Vienna, Spiritus-Ausstellung “hors concours”
General National Exhibition, Lviv, 1894
The approaching year of 1894 was for one reason exceptional not onlyfor Lviv, where the first electrical tram line was opened, but also for theBaczewskis’ business. At the General National Exhibition opened on 5 June,organised to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of theKościuszko Uprising, the J.A. BACZEWSKI stand attracted visitors with theunique shape of a gigantic decanter, and tempted them with bottles ofdelicious vodkas and liqueurs. The organisation of the exhibition as a wholecost the enormous sum – for the day – of 1.1 million guilder, but it wasmoney very well spent as in the course of 139 days it had 1,146,329 visitors.It was a grand event for Galicia, until then considered the most economicallybackward region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The fairs’ artistic highlightwas the presentation of the Racławice Panorama, painted at an incrediblepace by the well-known Lviv painter Jan Styka (1858-1925) and brilliantbattle-painter Wojciech Kossak (1856-1942); facing an empty canvas on26 August 1893, they completed the work on 28 May 1894. The receptioncommittee declared that “the painting is brilliant, and has exceeded theboldest of expectations”; today the work is open to the public in the Rotundain Wrocław.1894The people of Lviv used what had until then been known as the ‘post-exhibition’square for organising the annual Eastern Fairs, the first of which was held inthe year 1921, then as a domestic event; the fair’s main attraction was theexhibition pavilion for the company J.A. BACZEWSKI, designed by ErwinWieczorek. In the year 1933 the fairs become international – and just fouryears later there were already 1,158 exhibitors, while the event attractedapproximately 220,000 visitors.
But by then there was a serious rival organising trade fairs in the 2nd PolishRepublic – in the capital of the country’s Wielkopolska region, where theInternational Poznań Fairs, well-known to this day, have been organised since1921. And it was there that from 16 May to 30 September 1929, to celebrate10 years of regained independence, the Polish General Exhibition wasorganised on a grand scale – presenting the achievements of Polishindustry, trade and services. The exhibition drew in crowds of approximately4.5 million visitors! The stands of various companies producing alcoholicbeverages, including J.A. BACZEWSKI, were of course enormously popular,not only thanks to their meticulous design but above all because visitorscould see – and perhaps also taste – a variety of beverages. The Baczewskis’wares were also presented abroad, at the Leipzig Fairs – the GazetaHandlowa reporting on the presence there of a leading Polish spiritsproducer on 27 February and 5 March 1931.The fact that the satirists would use the word ‘Baczewski’ as a synonymfor VODKA in their articles testifies to the huge popularity of the Baczewskivodkas – and the Lviv-based ‘Szczutek’ published the following joke:“So our comrade was involved in sabotage in Poland? And did he bring backsome Baczewski?”Nothing more, nothing less!
In 1911, following Józef Adam’s death, the company passed into the handsof his sons, Leopold and Henryk.Leopold (14.12.1859-1924) completed gymnasium in Lviv and graduatedfrom the chemistry faculty in Vienna, before lecturing for some years at theAgricultural Academy in Dublany. At this point it would be worth bringing upan important family occasion, Leopold’s wedding: “[between] an industrialist,widely and highly esteemed and greatly liked, and Miss Stefania Kopecka”.The wedding took place in the Bernadine Church “to an exceptionallycrowded congregation”, and was reported on in the social chroniclesof the Gazeta Lwowska on 23 August 1890. Before long the Baczewskiswere blessed with children: their daughters Wiktoria (born 11.01.1892),Janina (born 30.03.1894) and their son Stefan (01.12.1892-1940),who was to run the factory in the years between the wars.Leopold BaczewskiThe Baczewski coat of armsAs his father before him, Leopold also served the city with the breadth of hiseducation. He was the deputy chairman (1899-1908) and chairman (1908-1911) of the County Department in Lviv, and from 1897 a member of theChamber of Commerce and Industry, where he performed the duties of thevice-chairman (1905-1919) and chairman (1919-1924). His activities contributedsignificantly to the economic growth of Lviv and Galicia. Apart fromissues related to industry, he was interested in customs policy and thegrowth of the railways, was a counsellor at the Higher School of ForeignTrade College in Lviv and provided it with material support, thanks to which afoundation in his name was established. Leopold’s accomplishments wererecognised by the Austro-Hungarian administration, and on30 December 1908 he was granted a noble title of the first degree(Edler von) together with the name von Chomczyc(e) by EmperorFranz Joseph I himself (even before he graduated on 13 May 1909).
Henryk Baczewski with his son Adam
Doctor Henryk Baczewski (1864-25.11.1930), lawyer, awarded the Knight’sCross of the Imperial Austrian Franz Joseph Order, was a longstandingmember of the Lviv City Council. Married to Gabriela née Zgórska (1863-1935), he also took pride in three children: his daughter Helena, and sonsEmil (21.01.1892-19.10.1917) – a doctor by profession, and a keen poet)and Adam, who was to become an entrepreneur. Although less titled, hemanaged the company together with his cousin and tended to the company’sfinances extremely effectively – including in the years leading up to theFirst World War.Adam and Emil BaczewskiHelena, Adam and Emil BaczewskiHenryk Baczewski
Czasy, od których rozpoczniemy opowieśćo przedsiębiorstwie Baczewskich, nie były dla Polskiszczęśliwe. Musimy pamiętać, że dawna potęgaRzeczypospolitej ulegała postępującej dezintegracji– w wyniku splotu wielu niesprzyjających okoliczności,jej tereny były sukcesywnie anektowane przez Rosję,Prusy i Austrię, w czasie trzech następujących po sobiezaborów. W wyniku ostatniego, który miał miejscew roku 1795, sąsiadujące mocarstwa w całościwchłonęły jej obszar – aż do roku 1918, w pełnisuwerennej Polski, próżno szukać na mapie Europy.W tym trudnym okresie, dziesięć lat po pierwszymrozbiorze, w 1782 roku niejaki Layb Baczeles, lat 35,założył we wsi Wybranówka koło Bóbrki, położonej44 km od Lwowa, pierwszą fabrykę wódek. O jegopóźniejszej działalności nie wiemy prawie nic. Znamyjedynie datę śmierci – 7 lipca 1811 roku, w GazecieLwowskiej nr 28 opublikowano stosowny nekrolog.Historia firmy w XIX wieku wciąż pełna jest tajemnic,w których rozwiązaniu pomocna okazuje się lekturaanonsów i wzmianek prasowych, publikowanychw lwowskich i wiedeńskich gazetach codziennych.Według niektórych badaczy, około roku 1810 synzałożyciela, Mayer (Majer) Baczeles – znany późniejjako Leopold Maksymilian Baczewski – przeniósłzakład do wsi Zniesienie, pod Lwowem (być możejako filię wytwórni w Wybranówce). Wydaje się tojednak mało prawdopodobne, zważywszy na fakt, żew latach 1831-37 w informatorze dla przedsiębiorców,odnajdujemy firmę „Chana Baczeles und Sohn”.Chana mogła być żoną, siostrą lub córką, a Mayerw takim przypadku synem, siostrzeńcem lub wnukiemzałożyciela. Dotychczas nie udało się tego niestetyjednoznacznie ustalić.
Press Ball, Adria, Warsaw, 1937
1918-1939THE BACZEWSKIS’SPIRIT MONOPOLY
Shortly after Poland regained its independence, a new chapter began inthe company’s history. In 1920 the factory board passed into the handsof Stefan, Leopold’s son who obtained a thorough education in Lviv’sgymnasiums and Vienna’s Kollegium Kalksburg, and who graduatedin law in 1916, and his cousin Adam, son of Henryk. It was with greatenthusiasm that the two set about expanding the family company, which inthe years of the 2 nd Polish Republic was once again modernised and fittedwith the latest equipment.In the same year – following Wildner’s vacation of the position of Austrianconsul on 24 December 1923, Stefan Baczewski was appointed by decreethe honorary consul of the Republic of Austria in Lviv (on 4 January 1924)– the office was located on ul. Pełczyńska 35. His contacts with Viennaproved extremely significant in relation to the company’s post-war fortunes.1929There is also a rather mysterious story involving Stefan, the gist of which isas follows:Many articles dealing over the years with the history of vodka have includedinformation about the extraordinary collaboration between Stefan Baczewskiand Pyotr Smirnov – rivals in business but privately cordial friends. Thesetwo best-known producers of spirits could afford an extraordinary sense ofhumour, even for our times. When the labels on Baczewski’s wares includedthe information: “The only vodka matching Baczewski’s is the Russian vodkaof Pyotr Smirnov of Moscow”, the latter paid him back with an appropriateand equally laudatory sentence on his own bottles.
Perhaps this was the first recorded attempt at co-branding (or, to bemore precise, value endorsement co-branding, the purpose of which is tostrengthen the image of both brands), linked to the establishment in Lvivin the year 1923 of the company Société Pierre Smirnoff Fils. If this mutualadvertising campaign really is true, then it happened at a time when VladimirSmirnov was producing vodka in Lviv, i.e. in the years 1924-27. Moreover,the Baczewskis’ factory is believed to have rendered its production lineavailable to their rival – which could explain the ‘friendly’ gestures madeby such competitors.Sadly, despite much searching, there has been no success in clearlydetermining the reasons behind and terms of their specific collaboration,or any proof of this peculiar advertising campaign.Let us recall at this point that Pyotr Smirnov established his distillery in1860 in Moscow, under the name P.A. Smirnov. The plant was nationalisedfollowing the October Revolution, while the owner and his family had toescape Soviet Russia. In 1920 his son Vladimir opened a distilleryin Istanbul, which seems strange considering that Turkey is a Muslimcountry, and four years later moved to Lviv where he began selling vodkasunder the new name Smirnoff. Following the passing of the bill on theNational Spirit Monopoly (more on this later), he left for Paris and in 1933sold the brand rights to the Russian immigrant Rudolf Kunnett. Five yearslater and Smirnoff vodka changed hands yet again – and was taken overby the American spirits producer, the company Heublein, which effectivelypromoted the brand around the world.
The Polish General Exhibition, Poznań, 1929 1924
Also worth recalling is that in 1924 there was an advertisement for Baczewskion the first private aeroplane registered in Poland – an Albatros B.IIa, its pilotPaweł Zołotow, with the registration P-PAWA. The aircraft’s owner thusgathered the funds required to expand his passion for flying.But enough of this digression – let us return to the history of the Baczewskis’firm.1924 was a breakthrough year for all private producers of alcoholicbeverages, and totally transformed the situation they were in: a law passedon 31 July resulted in the establishment of a National Spirit Monopoly (PMS).In an article published in the monthly journal Mówią Wieki, Paweł Liberadescribed the circumstances surrounding this move thus: “In the first yearsafter regaining independence the production of alcoholic beverages wasinsufficient. Due to wartime destruction, only in 1924 was the NationalSpirit Monopoly formed. Although the law left the production of suchbeverages in private hands, producers were forced to sell their productsto the state. The production of clear vodkas was reserved for the PMSmanagement, while private businesses were allowed to produce onlyflavoured vodkas, fruit spirits, liqueurs, brandies and others.“Potatoes were the main raw ingredient, accounting for 90% of the spiritproduced in Poland; only in years with poor harvests were they replaced bycereals. Most of the spirit was processed for clear vodkas, and significantlyless of it (20% at the most) for flavoured vodkas. (…) The monopoly law of1924 was also aimed at combatting alcoholism: 1% of the sector’s profitswere allocated to tackling alcoholism, for the hospitals, and for alcoholics.”
As a result of the law’s provisions coming into effect – which seems to havetaken up until 1927 – the Baczewskis’ company and all other producers wereforced to focus on the production of flavoured vodkas: “(…) constitutinga water-based solution of ethyl alcohol with the addition of a fruit, grassor spice infusion, or the addition of distillates and derivatives as well as sugarand aromatic essences. Liqueurs, vodkas distilled from fruit, rums, arracks,brandies and the like are also embraced by the name flavoured vodkas.”With such imposed legislation, the situation in which the spirits industryfound itself did not bode well. An issue ot the Gazeta Handlowa in 1928featured an article entitled: ‘Vodka exports should be supported’, in whichthe author wrote, among other things: “Since the introduction of the totalmonopoly, the private vodka industry has experienced a significant slump.Many respectable plants have been shut down entirely, others continue toexist but only operate for 2 or 3 days each week. At the same time theconsumption of better vodka varieties has fallen sharply. (…) According topersons well-versed in the issues of the vodka industry, the only way out ofthe current tough situation may be exports. To date this industry has not beenexporting its wares, with the exception only of the company Baczewski inLviv, which has been sending shipments, though not that significant, abroad”.However, it so happened that despite the approaching unfavourable businessclimate the company’s board had actually managed in advance to take careof its future and adjust its product range to the requirements of the changingmarket; exports were growing slowly, but steadily. The results at the LondonSpirits Competition in 1925 proved that the right measures had been taken:the company’s wares garnered all possible awards at the event, as wasreported in the European press. This really was a triumphant success, andled to trade deals with importers of liqueurs and flavoured vodkas in nearlyevery country in Europe, as well as Canada, South America and Australia.Besides, the Baczewskis’ products remained highly popular in Poland;suffice to recall but the highest distinction awarded in 1927 at the RestaurantIndustry Exhibition in Poznań and the Sports Exhibition (it would beinteresting to know in what category!) in Lviv.
Wkrótce po odzyskaniu przez Polskę niepodległości,rozpoczął się nowy rozdział w historii firmy.W 1920 roku zarząd fabryki przejęli: Stefan, synLeopolda, który otrzymał staranne wykształceniew gimnazjach lwowskim i wiedeńskim KollegiumKalksburg, a w roku 1916 ukończył studia prawniczeoraz jego stryjeczny brat Adam, syn Henryka.Obaj, z wielkim zapałem, zabrali się do rozbudowyrodzinnej firmy, która już w realiach II Rzeczypospolitej,została po raz kolejny, zmodernizowana i wyposażonaw najnowocześniejsze urządzenia.W tym samym roku – po odejściu ze stanowiska24 grudnia 1923 roku austriackiego konsula Wildnera,dekretem z dnia 4 stycznia 1924 roku, Stefan Baczewskizostał honorowym konsulem Republiki Austrii weLwowie (biuro mieściło się przy ul. Pełczyńskiej 35).Kontakty z Wiedniem okażą się niezwykle istotnedla powojennych losów firmy.The view of the Baczewski factory from Lion Hill, 1925Z jego osobą związana jest dość tajemnicza historia,która przedstawia się następująco.W wielu tekstach, traktujących o historii wódki, od latpojawia się informacja o niezwykłej kooperacji StefanaBaczewskiego i Piotra Smirnowa – biznesowychkonkurentów, ale prywatnie serdecznych przyjaciół.Dwóch najbardziej znanych producentów alkoholu staćbyło na niezwykłe, nawet w naszych czasach, poczuciehumoru. Gdy na etykietach produktów Baczewskiegopojawił się tekst: „Jedyną wódką dorównującąBaczewskiemu jest rosyjska wódka Piotra Smirnowaz Moskwy”, ten nie pozostał dłużny i odwzajemnił sięumieszczając na swoich flaszkach stosowną, równiesympatyczną sentencję.
At this point in time the company was actually at the peak of its fame.A leaflet published in the mid-1920s reveals that: “The factory possess two125 HP steam machines, fourteen drive motors with a combined HP of 70,five generators of combined power of 500 amperes, a steam turbineconnected to a generator providing power of 200 amperes, and an entirerange of steam pumps and other pieces of equipment essential for funningthe factory. The refinery’s fittings comprise three fractional distillation stills,a Barbet, Pampe and Savalle system with overall capacity of 336 hectolitresa day. Apart from this, the factory has five distillation stills for distilling herbsand other ingredients, as well as numerous hydraulic presses. Technicalstaff number 20, administrational 30, and the factory employs almost 300labourers”. You have to admit that the description of the plant’s fittings isimpressive; thanks to all this equipment, the factory’s daily production ofready-to-drink spirits – i.e. flavoured vodkas, liqueurs and rosoglios – filledalmost five railway wagons.In the year 1924 the Baczewskis conducted one of the first professionaladvertising campaigns in independent Poland – ordering several dozenillustrations, which were published in a variety of journals, from a Lvivartist who signed his works Lu-Can (yet sadly we know not who used thissignature). The attractive aesthetics and diversity of the content resulted inmany collecting these works, but to put together a whole set one wouldprobably have had to down a sea of vodka while poring over the dailies andcolourful weeklies. Fortunately, J.A. BACZEWSKI helped the collectors,publishing in the form of a booklet the entire set of illustrations, accompaniedby amusing verse and supplemented with a Baczewski alphabet pluselemental information regarding the company.
Eastern Fairs, Lviv, 1926
And one more point of interest, this time from London. According to the press:“(…) an unusual distinction was granted to the company J.A. Baczewski,whose liqueurs were ordered for the banquet held on 18 December [1929– author] for the founding of the King George hospital. (…) it was held inLondon’s Town Hall and hosted personally by the Prince of Wales. (…).The recognition that the company J.A. BACZEWSKI is gaining on foreignmarkets testifies to the exceptional quality of its wares, as well as theindustrious export activities of this outstanding establishment of Polishindustry.”Further measures were forced by the market situation. In order to increasesales, in the mid-1930s the distillery signed contracts for its spirits to betransported on two Polish transatlantic liners, the SS Polonia and MS Piłsudski.The former of the two, launched in 1910, operated (initially as the Kursk)under the Russian flag from the Baltic ports to America. In 1917-1919the liner passed into British management, when it transported soldiers,prisoners and the wounded, and in 1920 it was handed over to the BalticAmerican Line, a Danish shipowner, and as the SS Polonia shipped largenumbers of Polish emigrants from Gdańsk and Liepaja to New York.The Polish Transatlantic Shipping Society, established in 1930, took overthe ship while retaining its name, and organised excursions from Gdyniato the Baltic ports. In 1933 the liner began serving the so-called Palestineroute – and for the next six years, until it was retired from service, itspassengers included Jews emigrating from Poland to Palestine.
Adam Baczewski, 1929
As for the MS Piłsudski, it was a modern oceangoing liner built at theMonfalcone shipyards in Trieste in 1934-35 for the Gdynia-America Line,while a year later its sister ship the MS Batory was completed – a shipwell-known to all Poles, and plying the seas through to 1969. On its maidenvoyage the MS Piłsudski left for New York in September 1935, with allpassenger places taken. It was given an enthusiastic welcome at itsdestination by the Polish diaspora of America. Apart from its scheduledvoyages, the MS Piłsudski was also used for cruises to the Norwegianfjords and the ‘hot’ countries, i.e. to ports in the Caribbean.Geographical bounds had little effect on the popularity of the Baczewskispirits. In those days ocean voyages were rather popular in certain circles,while the passengers would enjoy their time aboard feasting and socialising.Such occasions were usually accompanied by a glass of Baczewski liqueur;apart from the company’s Souverain, this could have been the famousBernardine Imperiale or Old Cherry Liqueur.1926Wares bearing the mark of J.A. BACZEWSKI were to be seen not only on landand at sea; in 1930 the company was one of the first producers of alcoholicbeverages to begin making regular use of air transport. This move wasessential, as the demand abroad for Polish vodkas and liqueurs was steadilygrowing, as confirmed by the opening of company subsidiaries in Paris,Prague and Vienna. At the same time the Baczewskis had not forgotten aboutWarsaw, the rapidly expanding capital of the 2 nd Polish Republic. The distillerywas represented from 1926 to 1939 by a certain Mieczysław Chrzanowski,who ran a store on ul. Hoża 39.
Before the outbreak of war, the company had reinforced its position as aleading Polish producer of exquisite spirits, and it would be no exaggerationat all to say that it had become a worldwide brand. Its flavoured vodkas andliqueurs embellished practically every event; countless bottles were drunk atreceptions and banquets, and their refined quality was enjoyed at officialsittings, during gatherings among friends, at birthday celebrations, weddingreceptions and at funeral banquets. A glass of delicious liqueur was also aninseparable part of Sunday dinner in many a home.Café Royal Cocktail Book, Coronation Edition, 1937
At this point we must mention an extraordinary spot on the restaurant mapof Lviv between the wars. Situated at no. 45 on the city’s Market Square wasthe Atlas inn, frequented by writers and artists and run by Edward Tarlerski.The menu boasted “royal cuisine and exquisite liquors”, the latter of courseby Baczewski. All one had to do was call and reserve a table – for thoseinterested, the direct telephone number: Lviv 242-05.As Jerzy Janicki wrote: “The entire literary and artistic community in Lvivhad their Parnassus there, while Lviv’s first poet Henryk Zbierzchowski wasits Apollo”. The last of the Young Poland movement, awarded the city ofLviv’s literary prize back in 1928, he was an outstanding journalist, writerof prose, playwright and bard. Just like the distillery in Zniesienie, he earneda lasting place in the city’s history, and bonds of friendship tied him closelyto the Baczewskis.
The Baczewski Factory, 1924
Hard to believe that this beautiful world was to disappear forever in late 1939.The German army attacked Poland at dawn on 1 September, and on12 September Col. Schoerner’s reconnaissance units appeared at theGródecka turnpike from the direction of Zimna Woda. From the very firstday of the war, aircraft of the Luftwaffe carried out regular raids over Lviv,the buildings destroyed including the Greek Orthodox Church of the HolySpirit, part of the Main Station, and a number of buildings on Gródeckaand Janowska streets. Two days later and the city was still suffering fromcontinuous bombardment, both from the air and the fast-approachingartillery. The waterworks and power station were damaged, and numerousfires broke out.It was most probably on that particular day that the Baczewskis’ factory,together with enormous warehouses in Zamarstynow lay in ruins. In his book‘Tamten Lwów’ [Lviv Back Then], Witold Szolginia thus recalled the eventsof September: “From upper Łyczaków one could clearly see how the oldBaczewski perished, hit by bombs. During the day, above the hills ofKajzerwald so close to us, an enormous mushroom of smoke rose fromZniesienie, transforming in the evening and at night into some kind ofmonstrous, flapping, fiery geyser. (...) I recall (...) well how then, in thattorched September, all the men in Łyczaków (and undoubtedly in otherdistricts of Lviv as well…) mourned terribly the continuously and ferociouslyburning Baczewski: so much alcohol in its stores, so much goodness goingto waste, so much goodness… They recalled with fondness and huge regretthe various kinds of vodka and liqueur by the excellent company.” Yet thiswas not the end of the misfortunes to fall upon the family business.
Following the Red Army’s invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939,Lviv found itself in a critical situation, while the city’s garrison prepared forperimeter defence. A day later, a German officer-parliamentarian was to turnup twice at the Gródecka turnpike with the proposition of a meeting andnegotiations for the city’s surrender. According to the account of Lieut.Witold Lis-Olszewski, a Polish member of parliament, the Germanrepresentatives claimed that if Lviv surrendered to the Germans, it wouldremain in Europe – and that if it chose the Bolsheviks it would find itselfin Asia. These words were to prove prophetic, and before long theWehrmacht and Luftwaffe units withdrew to the west.On 21 September 1939, during the evening briefing, the District Commanderof the Defence of Lviv, gen. Władysław Langner, presented the city’s situationand declared thus: “Reluctant to expose further the city’s residents to deathand the city itself to destruction, I have decided to negotiate the termsof capitulation with the Bolsheviks”. The next day, in Winniki, Red Armyrepresentatives accepted the protocol for the surrender of the city, and theSoviet occupation began that afternoon. The front-line troops entered thecity together with NKVD units, which then commenced the large-scaleextermination of Polish officers and the intelligentsia.The ‘Chronicles of 2350 days of war and the occupation of Lviv’ recountsthat Adam and Stefan Baczewski were arrested on 25 September 1939.Following a decision taken by the Politburo of the Communist Party of theSoviet Union on 5 March 1940, as proposed by Lavrentiy Beria (the executionof the provisions of this document led directly to the Katyn massacre), StefanBaczewski was executed in April 1940. Another 3435 people were murderedalong with him, including many other well-known residents of Lviv. AdamBaczewski probably died at the hands of the Soviets at the same time,though in a different place.And thus ended the company’s golden years; the business ceased to exist,while representatives of the new authorities removed fancy bottles full ofliqueurs and vodkas from the ruined warehouses, transporting them bythe wagonload to Moscow.
After taking Lviv, the Soviets set up a liqueur and vodka operation in thesurviving buildings, and continued the production of spirits. Of course therewas no longer any mention of Baczewski – and instead of the distillerynames, only plant numbers were to be seen. The Germans – who capturedLviv from the Soviets in 1941 – were clearly much more aware of the valueof a legendary brand. They placed labels modelled on the pre-war designsof the company J.A. BACZEWSKI on the goods produced by the GDM, theProvince’s Vodka and Tobacco Monopoly. These were most probably thelast products from the family distillery in Zniesienie to bear the surnameof its tragically murdered owners.When the war was over, a factory manufacturing abrasive tools andglass-cutting equipment moved into the company’s premises. Although thegate today bears the name ALMAZ INSTRUMENT, behind it – at the top ofthe façade – one can still see traces of the company sign (1782). Someconsumers considered this date one of the most important in Poland’shistory, not counting the victory at Grunwald in 1410.
Press Ball, Kraków, 1935
1945-1956THE COLD WAR INSTEADOF CHILLED VODKA
The years of the 2nd World War and the few years to follow constituteda dark chapter in the company’s history; little information and fewdocuments have survived regarding the fate and fortunes of membersof the Baczewski family.The liberation of Poland, though under Soviet wings, became fact on 8 May1945. But the factory in Lviv was then situated within the Ukrainian SovietSocialist Republic, and for many a decade there was but a poor substitutefor the most exquisite of vodkas: moonshine, distilled on a huge scale. Inorder to ensure the story’s continuity, we now have to leave Lviv for Vienna,where – long before the outbreak of war – the Baczewski family hadnumerous business dealings.Few now recall that the allied occupation of Austria – by the USA, GreatBritain, France and the Soviet Union – formally came to an end on 15 May1955 with the signing of the Austrian State Treaty. Yet it was only on19 October that year when the last Red Army soldier left Austrian soil,and a week later the country declared perpetual neutrality and set aboutits post-war restoration.And so such was the situation in which the surviving descendants and heirsof the Baczewski and Gessler families found themselves; from then on, theirfortunes were to be inseparably intertwined. A key role in the consolidationprocess for family liquor businesses not located in countries of the so-calledPeople’s Democracy was played by the company ALTVATER-GESSLER,well-known not only among the people of Austria. And as such, we shallnow devote a few words to its history.
As in the case of the Baczewski family business, its beginnings reach backto the 18th century – to the Geiger Brothers’ Vodka and Rosoglio Distilleryoperating in Bydgoszcz (Geiger-Brueder, Spirituosen-und RosoglioHerstellung). After the incorporation of the Bukovina lands into the AustrianEmpire, the company’s first branch was opened in the region’s capitalChernivtsi (Cernăuţi) on the Prut River, a city currently in south-westernUkraine. The year was 1777, officially recognised as the date when theGesslers’ distillery was founded.Yet the true story of the company and Altvater liqueur began only in 1886,when Siegfried (Zygfryd) Gessler (1854-1890) registered the trademark forJägerndorfer Altvater-Krnovský Praděd liqueur; this was when the distinctiveimage of a bearded man in a hat appeared for the first time on the label. Thisliquor, said to have medicinal qualities, enjoyed excellent sales in Europe andaround the world. Four years later, and the distillery – which just like theBaczewskis’ firm could also boast the title of Purveyor to the Imperial andRoyal Court (K.u.K. Hoflieferant) – moved its headquarters to the city ofKarniów (Krnov/Jaegerndorf) in Opavian Silesia, currently just across thePolish border. At the turn of the 20th century Gesslers’ products, just likethose of the Baczewskis, won numerous awards and distinctions thatcontributed to its well-established position on world markets. Its slogan,‘3 WORDS: ALTVATER-GESSLER-JAEGERNDORF’, thanks to a broad-scaleadvertising campaign, became a sign by which the brand was recognised.Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the company’sKrnov headquarters were then located in Czechoslovakia, which forced thebusiness to undergo thorough reorganisation. Independent branches wereopened in countries that regained independence as a result of the provisionsof the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919), and thanks to licences spiritsunder the name ALTVATER-GESSLER continued to be produced in Budapest,Chernivtsi and Bielsk (ul. Batorego 5, tel. 1098), as well as in Vienna (from1920) and Zagreb (Agram). After the occupation of Czechoslovakia byGerman forces in 1938, the Gesslers were forced to sell the business,and during the occupation the founder’s descendants died tragically. In theresultant situation, in Budapest on 16 October 1943, Eduard (Edward)Gessler was acknowledged the only heir and owner of the rights to theALTVATER-GESSLER trademark. Living in Bielsk until 1938, then escapingfrom the Germans to Lviv, he managed by some miracle – and at no smalldanger to his life – to salvage handwritten and coded recipes of famousvodkas and liqueurs.
Vienna fairs, 1958Vienna fairs, 1957
History likes to repeat itself. If the 1st World War changed the face of Europe– including in the liquor business – then the consequences of the next warand the Yalta Conference turned the world upside down.Fortunately, despite the turmoil in politics and business, the Viennese branchof the Gesslers’ enterprise found itself on the western side of the IronCurtain, and remained totally independent. Thanks to kinship and previousbusiness contacts with the Baczewski family, a shared rebirth was possiblein new circumstances, and in a new form.At this time the populace of the Polish People’s Republic had but memoriesof the excellent pre-war spirits, although bottles of original flavoured vodkasand liqueurs bearing the J.A. BACZEWSKI mark were to be found (andprobably tried) in certain surviving cupboards, sideboards and cellarslong after the war was over. Besides, why don’t you rummage aroundfor yourselves? Who knows, perhaps you too will manage to makea fabulously tasty discovery.Vienna business register, 193895
Hogmanay Ball, Warsaw, mid-1930s
1956-2011YESTERYEARTASTE OF VODKA
After the end of the war the rights to the J.A. BACZEWSKI trademarkpassed into the hands of Jacek Aleksander Baczewski, one of few survivingdescendants of the famous family (perhaps he was a solider with the PolishAir Forces in the West, born on 4 April 1923, who settled in England in1951). In 1956, shortly after the Austrian Republic was founded and togetherwith his relatives Elisabeth and Eduard Gessler (1896-1979), who ultimatelybecame the brand’s owner, he formed the company ALTVATER GESSLER- J.A. BACZEWSKI in Vienna.The distillery soon renewed production and began recovering its position asone of the best-known and most highly valued spirits producers. It is EduardGessler we have to thank for reproducing the recipe for and launchingMONOPOLOWA VODKA – a top quality liquor manufactured according tothe traditional pre-war recipe, using triple-distilled potato spirit. The vodkafeatured a superb taste and aroma, and as such quickly gained a reputationin Austria and throughout Europe, while before long – in 1958 – Baczewskispirits were on their way to conquer the United States, which became thebiggest customer for the company’s flagship product. The pre-war flavoursceased to be only the stuff of legend, and were once again a part of real life.Although this was only true for North America, thanks to Polish immigrantswho had settled in the USA one or two also enjoyed a drink bearing theJ.A. BACZEWSKI mark back in communist Poland. In the 60s and 70sBaczewski vodkas and liqueurs were to be found in more and more countriesin Europe, as well as in South America, Africa and Australia. In many casesthe products were returning to markets on which they had already beenwell-known between the wars.Elek Gessler (22.2.1928 to 09.5.2008) played an important part in thecompany’s history. In 1980, following his father Eduard’s death, he formallyconnected the sister brands – and this resulted in the birth of the companyALTVATER GESSLER - J.A. BACZEWSKI Likorerzeugnung GmbH, basedin Vienna. Four years later the company ALTVATER GESSLER - J.A.BACZEWSKI INTERNATIONAL (USA) INC., representing its interests anddistributing its liquors in North America, was established.History carries on, and the company board is still in hands related to theBaczewskis, the Gessler family. Following Elek Gessler’s death, RasielGessler was appointed the company’s head, and together with his brotherTom he continues their predecessors’ work. He recalls the company’spost-war history thus: “We wanted very much to produce vodka in Poland,but for historical reasons it was simply impossible.
Vienna fairs, 1965
A spirits monopoly was introduced in post-war Poland, while the pre-warproducers were shut away in prison or exiled to Siberia. My grandfather(Eduard Gessler – author) did not even have anything to return to Bielsk for,it would have been pure madness. It was only by some miracle that hemanaged to survive the war and recover the Vienna plant after it, beforerenewing production there in 1956. We survived all those years preciselythanks to the pre-war services of our Polish great-grandfathers, who built upthe reputation of the J.A. BACZEWSKI brand in the United States, Australia,Latin America and in Western Europe. Those pre-war markets have allowedus to survive as a family company to this day, because in our past homelandwe could no longer either produce or sell the wares; after all, the NationalSpirit Monopoly was in force there. Add to that the fact that Lviv, after thewar, was no longer even a part of Poland!”1975One would search in vain throughout the entire period of the Polish People’sRepublic for information about one of the largest and best-known producersof alcoholic beverages in Europe between the wars. There are only occasionalmentions of the Baczewskis and their company in articles dealing with thehistory of alcoholic beverages or in written memoirs. This is presumably dueto the censorship, after all Lviv was then already in another country, whileprivate businesspeople were not particularly welcome, particularly in this sector.In 1989 the Iron Curtain, by then riddled with rust, came crashing downand Poland finally became a fully sovereign country. Despite the passage ofover 50 years, the company J.A. BACZEWSKI, or the taste of its vodkas andliqueurs, had not been forgotten. The 1990s brought major changes, and atlast the real history of the capital of Galicia, and all the more so that of theBaczewski family, could be talked about officially and in public. Just for therecord, let’s recall that an attempt was made – one that proved unsuccessful– to reactivate the brand in 1992. For a real return of the famous company’swares to Poland we had to wait to the turn of the second decade in the21st century.
Polish Film Ball, Warsaw, 1939
2011-THERE IS ONLY ONEBACZEWSKI
There are few companies to have emerged in Poland’s historical territory thatcan boast over 230 years of uninterrupted existence. Although as a result ofthe post-war divisions of Europe and the complicated fates of the survivingfamily members, Baczewski vodkas and liqueurs are produced in Vienna,ALTVATER GESSLER - J.A. BACZEWSKI has always wanted to return to itsroots and have a presence in our country.The efforts made by the company’s board, by Rasiel and Tom Gessler,ultimately brought about a happy finale. In March 2011, the spirits producedunder the brand J.A. BACZEWSKI once again became available in Poland.And so, after over 72 years, the company’s history completed the circle.Tom GesslerRasiel GesslerThe beverages produced on triple-distilled potato spirit include the legendaryMONOPOLOWA VODKA and exquisite flavoured vodkas, made exclusivelyfrom natural ingredients and based on original pre-war recipes.The wares of J.A. BACZEWSKI are now available in Poland in most shopchains and the best restaurants and bars, and – just as in the years betweenthe wars – are popular during birthday celebrations and get-togethers amongfriends, while their exquisite taste can also be enjoyed at a variety of specialevents, banquets, opening nights and festivals.
Baczewski alcoholic beverages, well-known and valued for decades inEurope and around the world, are gaining recognition not only in the eyes(or, one would like to say, in the throats) of consumers, but also amonggourmets and critics; year after year they are garnering awards anddistinctions at numerous international competitions.Below is a list of but a few of the most important:2000 San Francisco – World Spirits CompetitionDouble Gold2002 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2003 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Best Alcoholic Beverage’2006 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2007 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2008 Chicago Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2009 London – International Wine&Spirit CompetitionSilver Medal2010 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2011 Chicago – Beverage Testing InstituteGold Medal and title of ‘Exceptional’2012 London – International Wine&Spirit CompetitionSilver Medal and title of ‘Outstanding’2013 New York – International Spirits CompetitionGold MedalNew York – The Best VodkaDouble Gold MedalBad Kleinkirchheim, Austria – World Spirits AwardGold Medal2014 Klagenfurt, Austria – World Spirits AwardGold MedalNew York – The Best VodkaGold MedalChicago – Beverage Testing InstituteTastings International Review of SpiritsGold Medal
The Baczewskis always did consider themselves Poles – and such it remainsto this day. The labels on all their wares testify to their attachment to theplace and their company’s beautiful centuries of tradition; apart from thelogo – a facsimile of the great Józef Adam Baczewski’s signature – theybear the words: “Fondée 1782 Lwów”.So now it is time for one for the road. Let us drink, therefore, to the healthof this outstanding family of vodka producers – and this time let it be a glassof that exquisite Ovovit (egg liqueur), of Jeżynówka – Blackberry Liqueurwith its forest aroma, or of the delicious Pomarańczówka – Orange Liqueur.Tomasz LachowskiRudolf Mękicki designed labels and posters for the Baczewskis in the 1930s