Pilsner Urquell to open brewery in Poland

The producer of one of the Czech Republic's most famous beers - Pilsner Urquell - announced on Wednesday that for the first time ever, the famous brew will be produced outside the city of Plzen. Pilsner Urquell, owned by the beer giant South African Breweries, announced that it was planning to open a satellite brewery in the Polish town of Tychy, in the heavily industrial Katovice area. Dita Asiedu has more.

Pilsner Urquell, which the brewery claims as the world's first pilsner type beer, has been brewed solely in the west Bohemian city of Plzen for the last 160 years. But that looks set to change at the end of this year, when the company opens a new satellite brewery in the Polish town of Tychy. Pilsner Urquell's parent company, South African Breweries (SAB), is competing against the Dutch-owned Heineken for market leadership in Poland, with each brewer currently controlling about one-third of the country's sales.

South African Breweries - which already owns the Tychy brewery - says it's carrying out tests at Tychy to produce an exact Polish replica of the famous Czech beer. Zatec hops and Plzen malt are being imported to Poland, to give the Polish Pilsner the same distinctive flavour as the Czech original - even the local Polish water is being treated to make it as close to Plzen water as possible.

But will the Polish version be as good? I spoke to Jan Hlavacek, director for Pilsner Urquell's international brewing, and started off by asking him why Pilsner Urquell is also to be brewed in Poland?

"The volumes are very high and the PU (Pilsner Urquell) is very popular in Poland and the transport costs and duties and other costs are too high and we would like to sell more than 200.000 hectolitres on the Polish market then it's better for us to produce it in a local brewery."

Even if you're going to be modifying the water, importing the hops and malt?

"Yes. We will use the Czech malt, the Czech hops, our own yeast and the water will be modified naturally in the same parameters as in Pilsen. It's not a big problem."

But how would that affect production here in the Czech Republic, in Pilsen.

"The sales of PU on the Czech and other export markets are growing as well and that means that we have a full capacity and it won't bring any problems to Pilsen."

What about the cost? At the moment, Pilsner Urquell is being sold as an imported beer in Poland. Once you actually brew it in Poland, it would be a local beer.

"No. Pilsner Urquell is the Super Premium brand and will always stay in the category of the top priced beers in the world. This means that in Poland, it's not about imported or local beer but about the trademark and the brand and the brand of Pilsner Urquell is the Super Premium brand and will stay in the same price level."

Would you say that the globalisation of beer is ruining the quality and taste of time-honoured brews such as Pilsner Urquell?

"With the technical revolution and the technical level of breweries - and that is not only in the breweries but in all branches - it's not a problem to produce a good brand or a good trademark in a local brewery. It's the same with cars. Japanese cars are produced in Europe and so are some American cars etc."

Once you actually do start brewing Pilsner Urquell in Poland, do you think that there is a possibility of exporting the beer from Poland to other countries?

"I don't think so. We will brew the beer only for the Polish market. There are only two possibilities how to make a global brand in the world. This means focusing on our export markets and looking to get licenses where exports are difficult and complicated."