Plzeňský Prazdroj is the only brewery in Europe which has a group of eight active coopers. They are listed as immaterial wealth of the traditional folk culture of the Czech Republic. We are pushing to have our coopers listed as global immaterial cultural UNESCO heritage and we are working on the application. Coopers have an irreplaceable role in the brewery
During the tours of the brewery, visitors can learn something about the cellarmen’s job. They supervise the correct fermentation process in oak fermentation vats and take care of the cellars.
Waggoning is not practiced any more. Despite this, Pilsen citizens may spot a horse-pulled waggon carrying a load of barrels through the city streets twice a week. Beer is supplied this way to two Pilsen pubs thanks to financial support from Plzeňský Prazdroj.
Last year, together with students, we brewed a special batch of beer on the occasion of International Students’ Day and the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. This way we contributed to the interest in the brew master’s craft.
We continue investing in historical buildings on the brewery premises. We have started the reconstruction of two buildings in which we want to breathe new life and sense with the reconstruction.
Formanka Garden Pavilion
In autumn, we started the overall reconstruction of the historical Garden Pavilion Formanka. The interior will be modernized and the façade will be repaired, including the typical half-timbered walls.
Micro-brewery in the power station
We are following a pioneer of the sustainability concept, František Spalek, the managing engineer of the Pilsen citizens’ brewery, who wanted to ensure independent external water and electricity supplies for the plant. The building of the generator was also a part of Spalek’s brilliant project. We now wish to breathe new life in this building.
Here a new experimental microbrewery is being created – the Proud microbrewery. The craft brewery is going to operate autonomously, independently of Prazdroj, and will brew specials which will head to beer bars.
Plzeňský Prazdroj actively supports the initiatives of the town of Pilsen, especially those primarily focused on the development of industrial tourism. The brewery is the place which attracts the highest number of visitors to the city, including those interested in industrial tradition.
Our breweries were visited by 980 thousand people
which represents 7.5 % more than in 2018.
Velké Popovice Brewery also saw an increase in visitor interested in the tour of the brewery/a>. In Nošovice, a new tour trail was prepared on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
Journey of a brewery craftsman
Plzeňský Prazdroj offers its visitors the opportunity to return to the beginning of the 20th century – on the brewery tour which includes a visit to the brewery cellars where they can try their hands at some of the jobs related to traditional brewing crafts such as an iceman, cooper, maltster, tapster or cellarman.
Participants on this 4-hour tour will thus see authentic spots where the world-famous beer Pilsner Urquell was created 178 years ago and where its story still continues today. In the Visitor Centre, they will learn about the history of the golden lager and at the end they will stay for a sit-down in the Shalanda Lounge where they will drink draught Pilsner Urquell right from the oak lager barrel.
Coopers preserve the tradition and pass down their experience
Last year, visitors to Plzeňský Prazdroj twice had the chance to watch the procedure of pitching the oak barrels in which Pilsner Urquell matures and conditions in the Pilsen cellars. This activity is the main task of the team of eight coopers who work right in the brewery.
Plzeňský Prazdroj is the only European brewery which has full-time coopers. They help maintain the tradition and pass on their experience – to their younger colleagues and to those who are interested from abroad. We would like to follow up on the sharing of experience with French colleagues and pass down the experience – not only to the public during presentations (of which there are several each year) but also to professionals, for instance to students from the School of Crafts in Oselce or the Secondary School of Crafts in Jaroměř.
The coopers’ job has more functions than just maintaining tradition: The beer samples are compared to the beer that matures in the modern cylindroconical tanks. That is how we can maintain the Pilsner Urquell taste just the same as it was 178 years ago.
A large lager barrel can hold up to 40 hectolitres and weigh 800 kilos. Rolling all the barrels out of the cellar, pitching them and rolling them back underground takes the coopers two weeks. Apart from taking care of the large lager barrels, their maintenance and making new ones, the coopers also make gift barrels and little tailor-made barrels.
The coopers have always been an inseparable part of the brewery. Back in the time of the first republic, namely in 1926, the then Citizens’ Brewery registered a trademark with a cooper’s barrel which is an inseparable part of the brewery symbols still today.
What does a cellarman do?
Most beer today is produced in modern metal tanks but in some parts of the cellars, you can find open oak vats and the lager section with barrels. Beer ferments here in oak vats and matures in oak lager barrels made by local coopers. The whole process in the Pilsen Brewery is supervised by two cellarmen. They measure the temperature, note down the data, examine the sensory features and taste.
Beer produced this way is essential for double-checking the quality of that produced in the modern way. Both beverages must acquire the same delicious taste.
Brew masters brew with students
We pass the craft of brewing on to further generations. A good opportunity can always be found: For instance, Plzeňský Prazdroj brew masters brewed together with students of brewing a special batch of beer on the occasion of International Students’ Day and the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Students from the Chemical-Technological University in Prague and the Secondary School of Foodstuff Technologies in Podskalská Street, Prague, were also involved.
The pale beer called Velvet Lager from the Czech hops Rubín and Harmonie was brewed in three places – in Plzeňský Prazdroj and also in the test brewhouses in both schools. Four students – aged 18 and above – from each school took part and it was an ideal form of preparing for the future profession of brew master.
This unconventional cooperation confirms that even today, the traditional Czech brew master’s craft enjoys interest.
The biggest reconstruction of Formanka has started
The historical Garden Pavilion Formanka on the Pilsen Brewery premises is going through a major reconstruction. The interior will be modernized over nine months and the façade will be repaired, including the typical half-timbered walls.
The reconstruction of Formanka will cost CZK 2M and will finish in June 2020. This is the largest reconstruction since it was built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as only minor repairs and necessary interior changes have been done.
The original Pavilion was built in the spa architecture style of that time as a summer pavilion to extend the representative part of the brewery premises in front of the Secese conference centre. Later, it was complemented by half-timbered walls thanks to which it could be used all year around.
For many years, the first brew kettle of Plzeňský Prazdroj, the most valuable historical relic, stood in front of Formanka. It was used for brewing between 1842 and 1892 and is now part of the Pilsner Urquell tour for tourist.
When the Na Spilce restaurant was opened in 1992, Formanka was used for summer sit-downs with outdoor seating, and that is when it got its current name. It became a restaurant exclusively for the brewery employees in 2002. Since 2017, it has been used not only as a place for Prazdroj employees to meet, but has been opened to the public, as well.
Spalek’s Brilliant project
At the beginning of the 20th century, the ever increasing production of the Pilsen Brewery faced difficulties with water and energy supplies. The then head electro-engineer presented a project to the administrative council of the brewery which was supposed to ensure the complete independence of the brewery from external water and energy supplies.
A river water system was established for internal service water supplies that was capable of pumping water from the Radbuza and Mže rivers in the impressive volume of 12 thousand cubic metres daily. To provide water for brewing, an 83.55-metre deep artesian well was drilled in the city part called Na Roudné and above it the waterworks were built. Up to 20 thousand hectolitres of spring water from here was pumped and run through water pipes to the brewery every 24 hours. As the water at this depth contained a high amount of iron, a deironing station had to be installed within the system which rid the water of this undesirable element with the use of a simple principle of iron oxidation with atmospheric oxygen.
Both the spring water and the river water were pumped to the water tower, also part of Spalek’s project and today it is still one of the major landmarks of the Pilsen Brewery. The water tanks of the water tower were designed in a way that keeps them above all the buildings of the plant. Thus, the water could be supplied and delivered to desired spots of the plant by gravity.
An electricity generator station was built as part of the project which enabled most of the steam engines and generators spread across the whole plant to be turned off and serve only as back-up energy sources.
The project works were started in 1901 and the last construction passed the last inspection in 1907. The whole project was, at that time, financially demanding but it fulfilled its purposes beyond expectations – for instance, the water tower served without major interventions until 2005, which is almost 100 years.
Special beer from the power station
In 2019, we started the construction of a new micro-brewery in the former power station which for some time had been unused. The name of the brewery, Proud (in English Current), is inspired by the fact that the building is the former power station, and also by the spot where it is situated. This brewery is coming into existence right at the confluence of the Mže and Radbuza rivers where the waterflow is intense, thus becoming a stronger current.
A 30-hectolitre brew house will represent the heart of the brewery and the first batch of beer should be brewed by the end of summer 2020. It will head mainly to beer bars which have a wide choice of beer specials.
The Proud Brewery will have its own employees and will operate as an autonomous subject independently of Prazdroj. It is supposed to be a place where Czech and foreign brew masters can meet, together with brewing professionals and lovers of beer specials, to discuss beer and also to inspire producers to create new beer recipes and to try out various brewing procedures.
Not only castles, but also industrial plants are our heritage
For our future, it is important to learn about the history of our country not only by visiting castles and châteaux but also industrial plants, which have the same explanatory and educational value. This point of view is held by Plzeňský Prazdroj, too, which has unique industrial sights within its premises. The choice of tours is really broad and visitors can learn about the history of the brewery buildings and the development of the whole premises.
In the area of industrial tourism, the brewery enjoys long-term cooperation with the City of Pilsen and takes part in forming the tourism concept. Even though Pilsen is not a grey industrial city any more, its industrial tradition can be seen on every corner. An event which aims to highlight the industrial legacy of the world-known trademarks Plzeňský Prazdroj and Škoda and organize open days on the industrial premises is the festival entitled Industry Open which was first held in June 2019. Plzeňský Prazdroj was one of the partners of the festival.
Plzeňský Prazdroj is also a part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, which is a tourist information network informing about places with industrial heritage across Europe. This is another reason why we take care of our historical buildings even if they do not serve their initial purpose any longer.