You might remember from this lovely post a couple of weeks ago that, back in February, the Pilsner Urquell team invited me to Czech out (ho ho ho) the brewery, their excellent Tapster programme and learn a little more about how PU tank beer is being consumed in the original home of pilsner beer. You’ll be hearing more about Pilsner Urquell over the coming months, as I embark on a journey of discovery, as part of the Original Collective.
But on to the good stuff. I’ve been to the Pilsner Urquell brewery before and done the tour (Plzeň is a lovely place generally, I would recommend it), but this, my friends, was a tour like no other. Not only was it led by Robert Lobovsky, PU Beer Master; we were given access to parts of the brewery off limits to the public. Readers, let me take you a little deeper into the heart of Pilsner Urquell…
The first sign that we were approaching the cooperage was the powerful smell of burning resin. I’d tell you the combination of resins in case you wanted to pop off and stir up a batch yourself, but apparently it’s top secret.
Pilsner Urquell is one of the few breweries left which still employs a team of coopers. As you might imagine this is a dying trade, but one they keep alive by maintaining an apprenticeship programme which is pretty intense, with trainees working for 5 years before they qualify.
It was fantastic watching them work and to see the range of products they create and maintain, including the 25 litre barrels to hold the unfiltered, unpasteurised PU and the smaller, more detailed promotional items. Each year they also produce two 30 hectolitre barrels to go in the cellars. Now that’s a big barrel.
I’d requested a visit to the archives after reading a post on Total Ales (also, as a fellow knihovnice, I wanted to snoop). You can imagine my delight when I found out that their archivist, Anna, didn’t usually work on a Friday, but was coming in anyway! Now that’s dedication (but seriously – thank you times a million billion).
The archives are an absolute treasure trove of PU history. Not only did we get to see the original trademark, beautiful original labels and adverts, but also the original signed declaration from 1839 that stated Plzeň’s need for a brewery.
The archives are so important; not only to preserve PU’s amazing heritage, but to continue that for future generations. I would love to see the information held in the archives digitised and available to the public – and it sounds like it’s in the pipeline.
The Malt House
You think barley isn’t exciting? Well, think again!
Long, long ago, all of the beer brewed in Plzeň was dark. This was entirely due to the way the malt was produced, leaving it dark and smokey. When the new brewery was built in Plzen, they used a malting technique discovered in Britain which resulted in a pale malt, and that pale malt created the world’s first golden lager. No pale malt, no pilsner, end of.
Pilsner Urquell has many distinct flavours; that toasty, caramel? That’s the malt.
The Water Tower
If we’re talking about flavour, we need to talk about the water tower. As you can imagine, the softness and incredibly low mineral content of the water in Plzeň is absolutely vital to the final product. And, although not technically in use, there are still pipes for the water to travel through on its way to the new brewery, so I like to think there’s a little splash of it in every pint.
It looks a bit like a lighthouse, and that’s because it’s supposed to – a Dutch lighthouse, no less! It’s also built on the highest point of the brewery, which also happened to be Plzeň’s execution hill. No longer used for executions; now they take naughty Tapsters out there when they pour a duff pint.
Of course no trip to Plzeň would be complete without heading underground to the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the brewery and trying a little unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell straight from the barrel.
What I particularly love about the cellars is that, really, they don’t need to exist. We have amazing technology now – Pilsner Urquell don’t need to continue brewing in the original way to ensure the beer produced now tastes identical to how it did in 1842, but they do it anyway. They do it because that original, distinct flavour and quality is so very important to them. And I just love that. There’s nothing quite like standing in those wonderful caves and drinking the freshest pilsner in the world.