Mikolasch stands as the worldʼs oldest vodka brand, boasting a profound history and heritage that spans generations. Established in 1842 by the renowned Mikolasch family, this historic vodka brand holds a significant place in the formation of vodka culture as we recognize it today. Originally one of the select prestigious vodka labels, Mikolasch diverged from the norm by placing a historical emphasis on releases tied to the concept of origin and the type of grain used, akin to the contemporary notion of «terroir». Its unique position granted access to some of the most esteemed grain-rich regions in the Lviv area.
In the present day, Mikolasch remains committed to perpetuating and broadening its legacy of innovation. The brand has evolved to offer the most extensive array of Ukrainian single grain vodka releases and intricate Cuvée (grain blends), catering to the discerning tastes of modern consumers globally.
THE BIRTH AND LIFE OF BRAND MIKOLASCH
The Mikolasch Vodka traces its roots back to 1842 when the Mikolasch family founded it. Under the leadership of Juliusz Mikolasch, the son of the founder, the brand achieved global renown.
Juliusz Mikolasch, born in the late 1830s into a prosperous family, was the heir to the renowned pharmaceutical business established by his father, Piotr Mikolasch. Piotr, a pioneering innovator in the world, had migrated to Lviv, Ukraine (then known as Lwow), in the early 1800s from Moravia, one of the five lands of Czechoslovakia founded in 1918. Piotr Mikolasch dedicated his life to innovation in distillation, initially with the hope that distilled products would have medicinal applications.
The sons, Karol Henryk Mikolasch and Juliusz Mikolasch, raised in Lviv, a region abundant in grain, developed a keen interest in agriculture and the production of high-quality spirits. Together with the family, they established the Mikolasch Vodka brand in 1842 and later in the 1850s founded «Fabrika Mikolasch», one of the largest production plants in Lviv at that time.
Following the passing of their father Piotr, Karol Henryk Mikolasch took over the pharmaceutical business, while Juliusz Mikolasch continued to expand the Mikolasch vodka brand and other liqueur products globally. The Mikolasch vodka brand gained worldwide acclaim for its innovative distillation practices and experimentation with various grain varieties. It became a favorite not only among Tsars but even earned the endorsement of Popes.
The esteemed Mikolasch family, founders of the renowned Lviv vodka brand «Mikolasch», holds the distinction of not only being the most famous vodka brand in Lviv but also the oldest in the world, established in 1842. Operating out of the Juliusz Mikolas factory since the 1840s, they have been producing a variety of spirits, including vodka, rum, and liqueurs.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the alcoholic beverage industry dominated Galiciaʼs economic landscape. This prominence can be attributed to the regionʼs strong agricultural ties, where the burgeoning industry became intricately connected to farming practices. The abundant grain resources in Galicia naturally led to the production of vodka as a means of utilizing these significant agricultural assets.
During the 18th century, Galician peasants were obligated to purchase a specific quantity of vodka annually, working off its cost if they failed to comply. This system, while fostering alcoholism on one hand, paradoxically contributed to the growth of the alcohol industry on the other.
At the heart of this legacy is Juliusz Mikolasch, a prominent entrepreneur and scion of the renowned Lviv pharmacistsʼ family of Czech origin. His father, Piotr Mikolyash, arrived in Lviv from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1820s, navigating the challenging landscape of entering the pharmaceutical business. Piotrʼs strategic marriage to the widow of pharmacist Leopold Rening paved the way for him to establish his pharmacy, known as «Pod Złotą Gwiazdą» (translated as: «Under the Golden Star»), in 1853.
In a remarkable intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship, it was within the confines of this pharmacy that Lviv residents Johann Zech, Ignatius Lukasevich, and Piotr Mikolasch invented the globally acclaimed kerosene lamp in 1853.
The success of the Mikolasch family extended beyond the realm of spirits and pharmaceuticals. In 1913, having amassed considerable wealth, they invested in the construction of the opulent «Mikolyash passage», a glass-covered shopping gallery situated between Kopernik and Krutaya streets. This passage housed exclusive fashion brands, grocery shops, restaurants, offices, and conference halls. Regrettably, this architectural gem fell victim to destruction during World War II when it was bombed, marking the unfortunate demise of the Mikolasch familyʼs beautiful creation.
-In spite of being the designated heir to his father Piotrʼs pharmacy empire, Juliusz Mikolasch found his true passion in alcohol production. In 1842, he ventured into the creation of vodka and liqueurs in Lviv. Simultaneously, his brother Karol remained devoted to the pharmaceutical trade and the crafting of medicinal wines.
The Genesis of Fabrika Mikolasch
While scant details have endured regarding the early days of Mikolasch Distilleryʼs operations in Lviv, a transformative moment occurred in the 1850s. Nestled behind Gorodotska Slingshot, the Mikolasch family erected the largest distillery plant in the region, equipped with two steam engines and a colossal distillation apparatus procured from Vienna. This state-of-the-art facility, known as «Fabrica Mikolasch», became the cityʼs largest producer, generating over 500 buckets of rectified alcohol daily. The distilled alcohol seamlessly flowed through pipes into expansive tanks within the modernized warehousing facility. The factory, even then referred to as «Fabrica Mikolasch», supplied purified alcohol to pharmacists in Galicia.
Producing well over 200,000 bottles of vodka and liqueurs annually, Fabrika Mikolasch enjoyed substantial sales in Galicia, Moravia, the Czech Republic, and Berlin. Its reach extended further to Italy and Romania until trade agreements disadvantageous to the industry closed access to these territories. Mikolasch vodka distinguished itself through experimentation with local Ukrainian grains, varied farm lands, and cropping seasons, along with the exclusion of essential oils in distillation—a popular practice among distillers at the time. This commitment to distillation excellence ensured not only local but global success, thanks to the vodkaʼs unmatched quality and exceptional purity.
Mikolasch subsequently established an additional production facility, yielding 50,000 buckets of spirit annually with a workforce of only 50 employees. The factory boasted a metalwork shop, a forge, a boiler room, and a cooperage workshop for crafting barrels, historically used to age other spirits produced by the factory. The workersʼ residences were not only functional but also well-maintained.
The zenith of Mikolasch vodkaʼs success manifested through accolades earned at numerous local and international exhibitions. Notably, the factory received recognition at the 1877 Lviv exhibition and later in Paris during the same century.
Renowned writer and public figure Agathon Hiller chronicled these achievements in memoir letters, describing the Mikolasch Factoryʼs opulent presentation in a lavish store with extravagant displays and unique bottle designs. Crystal bottles adorned with gold inscriptions housed spirits, Mikolasch vodka, liqueurs, essences, and more. Some beverages were named in homage to popular Lviv magazines like Lwowianka, Narodówka, Dziennik, and Szczutek. The superior quality of Mikolasch vodka set it apart from its foreign competitors.
How has Mikolasch become a brand so successful at the time of strong competition?
It is known that with the introduction of the new generation, under the patronage of Piotr’s son Juliusz, Fabrika Mikolasch, started to carve its niche in the spirits industry by ingeniously harnessing the distinct grain varieties from the fertile fields of the Lviv region. The founders of Mikolasch understood the significance of soil types and territories (today referred to as ʼterroirʼ) in crafting exceptional spirits, leading them to explore the rich and diverse seasonalities of grain crops (and even fruits) specific to Lviv. By selecting unique varieties, they embarked on a journey of experimentation, aiming to uncover the hidden flavours of the nutrion rich soil types and characteristics that could be extracted from the fields of this Ukrainian region. Seemingly, this led to a new type of expectation and commitment to quality and innovation elevated Mikolasch vodka to global acclaim.
The success of the Mikolasch vodka brand lay not only in its utilization of unique grain varieties but also in its ground-breaking distillation practices. The distillery embraced innovation, pushing the boundaries of traditional methods to achieve excellence.
It is understood that as the seasons changed in Lviv region, so did the offerings of Fabrika Mikolasch, reflecting a commitment to capturing the essence of each harvest. The Mikolasch brand’s approach to incorporating the diverse seasonalities of grain crops was a very smart way of marketing the product at the time, making the customer feel like they are acquiring something of a unique nature, in comparison to hundreds of other cheap products in the market. This also allowed to produce a portfolio of vodkas that showcased the unique characteristics of the region throughout the year. This harmonious blend of tradition, innovation, and a deep appreciation for the local terroir under the leadership of son Juliusz, solidified Mikolasch brand as a pioneer in the vodka industry, leaving an indelible mark on the world of spirits and establishing a legacy that continues to be celebrated globally.
This commitment to pushing the envelope attracted the attention of discerning consumers worldwide, earning Mikolasch a reputation as a trailblazer in the industry. The brandʼs dedication to experimentation and the pursuit of excellence resulted in a spirit that not only captivated the palates of Tsars but also secured the esteemed endorsement of Popes, a testament to its universal appeal and exceptional quality. With such high acclaim and unusual at the time approach to marketing by Juliusz came a lot of natural brand promotion and the quality of branding as we know it today.
The New Chapter
Between 1902 and 1903, the company underwent partial ownership changes, a process likely initiated earlier based on records. In a 1894 Mikolasch announcement, talks about the next successor for the vodka business had already begun. Jacob Sprecher emerged as the leading contender and likely acquired the factory and much of the business in 1893, with Juliusz Mikolasch retaining a portion of the shares. Following Juliusz Mikolaschʼs death in 1902, Jacob transformed the enterprise into a large joint stock company, naming it «Pierwsze Galicyjskie Towarzystwo Akcyjne Rafineryi Spirytusuwe w Lwowie».
Under new ownership, the company continued to thrive, achieving substantial growth. In 1907, it acquired two additional distilleries, expanding the core production area and increasing spirit tank capacity by 35,000 hectolitres.
The plantʼs location near the railway station became pivotal, providing significant advantages over competitors. Raw materials were easily transported by rail, and the finished products were efficiently distributed. The company boasted a sizable fleet of 36 trucks and an intricate network of pipelines for transporting and distilling alcohol and other distillates.
Before transitioning into a joint stock company, the production of vodka and liqueurs at Fabrika Mikolasch steadily rose to prominence, outshining competitors in the process.
The globally acclaimed Mikolasch brand has earned widespread recognition, securing top honours at numerous international exhibitions. Actively expanding its presence abroad, the company established representative offices wherever feasible. Applauded for its unwavering commitment to the quality of local grains and cutting-edge innovations, Mikolasch, over time, transitioned to heating with crude oil as part of its early sustainability practices, yielding favourable results for the companyʼs economy.
In 1920, responding to Polandʼs significant role as a major export market, the Polish government implemented several anti-alcohol laws. These regulations stipulated that taverns refrain from trading on holidays and fairs, and establishments selling alcoholic beverages must be situated at least 500 meters away from locations with 15 or more people working. The sale of alcohol was restricted to the hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., exclusively to individuals aged 21 and above. Violators faced severe penalties, including hefty fines, loss of trade concessions, or imprisonment for up to three years.
Between the World Wars, the Mikolasch business thrived. Following the end of Prohibition in the United States in 1933, Mikolasch products entered the lucrative U.S. market, which was the worldʼs largest premium market at the time. Renowned for innovation, Mikolasch introduced refined and elegant bottle designs, setting them apart in the industry. The production of these bottles, referred to as «vessels» at the time, could be considered a genuine art form, especially noteworthy were the miniatures, an innovative marvel deserving of a separate narrative and focus.
Innovation has been a hallmark of the Mikolasch brand throughout its history. The company has consistently been a pioneer, not only in experimenting with local grain varieties for distillation but also in adopting a diverse array of unconventional bottle designs and shapes, which were considered unusual at the time.
Similar to numerous other enterprises in Lviv, the initial Mikolasch family business concluded its «capitalist» phase during the middle of World War II, following the Bolshevik occupation of Galicia. The communist regime nationalized the spirits factories in Lviv, consolidating them into a single distillery.
The Story of Ignacy Łukasiewicz, Piotr Mikolasch and invention of kerosene lamp
Jan Boży Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz was born on 8 March 1822 in Zaduszniki near Mielec. He was a Polish pharmacist, engineer, businessman, inventor, and philanthropist. He was one of the most prominent philanthropists in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, crown land of Austria-Hungary. He was a pioneer who in 1856 built the worldʼs first modern oil refinery.
Ignacy Łukasiewicz was a famous conspirator who was planning to uprising to break out in the night of 21/22 February 1846, however Austrian authorities prevented that from happening. Like his fellows, Ignacy Łukasiewicz was arrested on 19 February 1846. Despite finding forbidden works belonging to Ignacy, the Austrians were unable to prove his involvement in the conspiracy. After he had spent almost two years in prisons in Rzeszów and Lviv, the court discharged Łukasiewicz, and on 27 December 1847 he was able to leave prison. He got, however, police curfew, and was unable to leave Lviv.
When discharged from prison, Ignacy moved in with his brother Franciszek in Lviv. He remained unemployed for almost 8 months. Finally, on 18 August 1948 he started working at ʼPod Złotą Gwiazdąʼ (Under the Golden Star) pharmacy as a pharmaceutical assistant, where he would note down formulas in an almanac called ʼThe Manuscriptʼ. With the intercession of his boss Piotr Mikolasch, on 15 September 1850, he took up studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University, which had a pharmaceutical college. Having completed a two-year study course in Cracow and Vienna, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, Master of Science in Pharmacy, came back to work at the Lviv pharmacy, where he took a pharmacist job.
There he became interested in petroleum, having some knowledge about this substance from the lectures on mineralogy in Cracow. In 1852 he was asked by the two merchants from Borysław to thicken the crude oil to improve its lubricating properties. Applying the method of fractional distillation, he observed one fraction of a clear liquid. It was kerosene, not known at this time. The merchants wondered if vodka could be extracted from this fraction. Łukasiewicz tried to used kerosene in oil lamps, but it caused an explosion. To overcome this, a tinsmith, Bratkowski, and Łukasiewicz constructed a new lamp with Piotr Mikolasch with a porous wick, a mica chimney, and air entrance from the bottom. This new lamp operated safely when filled with kerosene. The first kerosene lamp lighted in March 1853 in the window of Piotr Mikolasch’ pharmacy at the Large Street (now Kopernik Street) in Lwów. Piotr Mikolasch, Ignacy Łukasiewicz and their collaborator Jan Zeh organized a company for production of kerosene.
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