Behind the main brewing facility, tucked next door to the old water tower, sits a modestly sized building, by Pilsner Urquell standards at least, that houses one of the brewery’s most important resources – its archives. Here I'm to meet Anna Perinova, Pilsner’s Historic Collection Supervisor, or as some employees at the brewery refer to her: The Guardian of the Archives.
At Pilsner Urquell, preserving the brewery’s history is an essential part of safeguarding its future. The archives contain a record of everything that has happened at the brewery since its inception 174 years ago. This includes details of every employee, minutes from each company meeting and most importantly the Pilsner recipe: Pilsen water, two-row barley and Saaz hops both grown in the Czech Republic, plus the all-important H-yeast strain. Proof, if any was required, that Pilsner is brewed to the same recipe today that it always has been.
Anna’s enthusiasm for Pilsner Urquell’s history is obvious from the moment we’re introduced. Shortly after we’ve said our hellos she dons a pair of protective white gloves and begins to leaf through an immaculately preserved, near two hundred year old record book that details the founding of the original brewery.
“This is the first recording that says the town wants a brewery, why they need a brewery and that they will have a brewery.” She says, indicating towards the signatures of the men who signed the declaration to begin construction in 1839. The intricately bound book that holds these signatures is about the size of an A3 sheet of paper and several of the pages feature stunning imagery that indicates just how important this document is. Anna ensures that she handles each page with the lightest touch, so that it doesn’t get damaged.
The room we’re in is littered with shelves containing old books and folders full of archived information but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Anna, who joined Pilsner Urquell as a student in 2011 before taking on a full time job a year later, leads us through a door into the main portion of the archives. Here we find shelves upon shelves of records, not just of Pilsner Urquell but also of every single brewery that ever existed in Western Bohemia. Many of which no longer exist but thanks to the work done by the archivists at Pilsner Urquell they’ll never be forgotten.
I ask Anna why she feels the archives are so important. “The archives capture not just the historical events that lead to the building of the brewery and what happened ever since but they capture the mood of the time,” her enthusiasm already obvious by this point. “The people, the vision, the mission - everything that this company has accomplished in 174 years, it’s all here in the archives. And it’s these archives that the future generations learn from.”
"The people, the vision, the mission - everything that this company has accomplished in 174 years, it’s all here in the archives." Guardian of the Archives, Anna Perinova
She continues, “I feel strongly that the archives prove the point that everything has been always done the same way and that nothing has changed. Here we have physical proof that the ingredients are the same and the brewing process is the same.” And with that she selected another book from the shelf, which contains this valuable data – again taking the utmost care to ensure that no damage comes to the near 200-year-old document as she shows us the information within.
One of the most interesting books that Anna removed from the mass of shelves was one that contained every example of the branding that Pilsner Urquell have used over the decades. Many used the classic Bohemian script we’re familiar with that still appears to this day on Pilsner Urquell’s cans and bottles. But I found myself enamoured with the stark simplicity of the black and green labels that were used in the 1920’s, after the First World War.
When the Pilsner Urquell brewery was established in 1842 it meant the end for many of the regions smaller brewers that now only exist in memory thanks to these very archives. However, the craft brewing boom of the last century has seen the number of Czech breweries once again rise to the number that existed before the arrival of Urquell. I was curious to ask Anna, as a historian, what she thought of this and what it might mean for the future of beer in the Czech Republic?
“She’s a wine drinker!” Jokes Pilsner Urquell beer master Robert Lobovsky as we’re led out of the archive building. This earns him a short, sharp slap from Anna, who composes herself before answering. “I do admire this new culture of microbreweries that sell themselves on brewing beer with love and passion,” she says. “But how can they possibly be more passionate than the 2500 employees who get to put all that energy into doing what they love for a 200 year old brewery!”
Her passion for the history and provenance of Pilsner Urquell is obvious. It’s plain to see why she’s entrusted with her position, and why she has earned the prestigious title of The Guardian of the Archives.