By branding the date 11/09/07 into a new lager barrel, Mike Short, Plzensky Prazdroj’s Managing Director, opened a new cooper’s house in the building of the former river waterworks today. Plzensky Prazdroj is one of the last few places in Europe where this trade is kept alive and further developed. The coopers’ trade, oak lager barrels, fermentation vats and part of the cellars where beer originally matured, represent a significant part of the brewery’s presentation to the general public, proof of continuous care for the traditions and historical roots of unique Pilsner Urquell beer.
Plzensky Prazdroj trains new coopers who will one day replace the old masters and keep this magnificent old trade alive for future generations. Unlike in the past, when training of apprentices was done on the job, nowadays this process is more demanding and complex, it requires more time and concentration. Plzensky Prazdroj searches for suitable candidates for the local cooperage among experienced cabinet makers. There are nine coopers working at Plzensky Prazdroj today, of which three are fully trained coopers.
The reconstruction of the historic building, which originally served as a river waterworks, lasted from April to September 2007 and was conducted under the supervision of Mgr. Petr Marovič, Head of the Heritage Dept. of the City of Pilsen. The aim was to reconstruct the building in such a way that the original appearance would be kept to the maximum degree possible. The main supplier of the construction was the company Stafin, s.r.o. Plzen.
“The waterworks was part of the so-called Spalek project, designed and executed between 1901 and 1907. The project helped the Burghers’ Brewery become self-sufficient at that time when it came to supplies of drinking and service water, as well as electricity. We made sure that the renovation of the former waterworks building changed its appearance as little as possible,” said Jindriska Eliasková, Manager of Plzensky Prazdroj’s Tourism & Heritage Department.
Both the wet and dry coopers’ trades used to be an integral part of any brewery. At the beginning of the 20th century, some 9,000 wooden barrels and vats were used in the brewery cellars in Pilsen. The coopers’ craft developed until the mid-20th century, when it slowly started to lapse due to the ever increasing use of metal vessels both for use in the household and for industrial purposes. The large-scale production and maintenance of lager barrels and fermentation vats ceased in Plzensky Prazdroj when the company switched to cylindro-conical tanks in 1992. Thanks to a small group of coopers, who continue looking after the existing barrels and vats, the brewery can to a certain extent maintain the traditional method of producing unfiltered and non-pasteurised Pilsner Urquell beer in the brewery cellars. The beer, maturing in oak barrels, is not meant only for visitors to the brewery, but also serves the purpose of a reference and comparison of the flavour properties of Pilsner Urquell beer. Thanks to this we can now compare traditionally brewed and the industrially produced Pilsner Urquell beer. That is why these coopers are equally important for us today, at a time of cylindro-conical fermenters, KEG containers and beer cans.
History of the Coopers’ Trade in Plzensky Prazdroj
- the original cooperage built during construction of the brewery in 1842
- a new cooperage built in 1844, extension to the cooperage built in 1851
- 1892 – the cooperage numbered 150 craftsmen
- the highest number of lager barrels used in the brewery – 6,000 pcs
- 1931 – mechanical cooperage, the number of coopers remained the same
- using steel casks resulted in lower demand for the coopers’ trade
- 1975 – end of formal coopers’ training at the company’s vocational school
- Plzensky Prazdroj’s cooperage is today the last of its kind in Central Europe
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- Activities of Plzensky Prazdroj for visitors to Pilsen and the Pilsen Brewery include the Visitors’ Center in the brewery’s courtyard, a guided tour of the brewery including the new packaging hall, and also the Brewery Museum in the city center. The Na Spilce Restaurant is open to visitors on the brewery premises, with the option of eating outside on a terrace in the summertime. Visitors can visit our Souvenir Shop, the Representative Premises and conference center. For tourists the Brewery has become the centerpoint of the Pilsen region, a place where a number of cultural, educational and representative events are held.
- With total sales of more than 10.7 million hectolitres in the calendar year 2006 and exports to more than 50 countries around the world, Plzensky Prazdroj, a. s., is the leading beer producer in the region and the largest exporter of Czech beer. The main brands of Plzensky Prazdroj in the Czech Republic are Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Radegast, and Velkopopovicky Kozel.
- Plzensky Prazdroj, a. s., is a member of the global group SABMiller plc. Pilsner Urquell is the international flagship of the portfolio of SABMiller brands.