There’s a carving of a miserable looking face that might be a dog, or perhaps a lion that’s lost its mane, at the entrance to the old water tower that sits at the centre of the Pilsner Urquell grounds. I’m currently pulling a face that’s not dissimilar to the one being worn by the figure above the door. Pilsner Urquell’s resident “Beer Master”, Robert Lobovsky, has just informed me that we’re about to climb the dark and dusty tower that stands before us. “You’ll be able to get a great photo of the brewery from the top!” He chirpily informs me. “We’ll see about that,” I think to myself.
If you’ve read the previous instalments of The Pilsner People you might already have heard me mention Robert once or twice. One of his roles at Pilsner Urquell is to serve as a guide when relatively important people come to visit the brewery. Today, I’m one of those people, which is why I have to climb this damn water tower.
We’ve already heard the story of several individuals who work at the brewery in Pilsen, but Robert’s is one of the most fascinating. He doesn’t just work here, in Pilsen, he travels all over the world, tasked with getting people inspired about the beer he loves more than any other. Robert eats, sleeps, lives and breathes Pilsner Urquell – and this is in part the reason why he’s earned his lofty title of Beer Master.
Robert was born right here in Pilsen but when aged 10 his family emigrated from the Czech Republic to Australia. Growing up, Robert’s fascination with his hometown never ceased, and once he turned 18 he would actively seek out cans of Pilsner Urquell from his local off license. Eventually, sixteen years after he left, Robert returned to Pilsen and vowed to get a job working for Pilsner Urquell.
The problem was, when he arrived in Pilsen the brewery had no jobs available. So he made a promise to himself, every Friday at 2pm he called the brewery and asked if they had any jobs. Robert repeated this process for four months until eventually the brewery called him back and finally offered to employ him. Robert has worked for the brewery since 2003, with roles in HR, export, business development, marketing before eventually becoming the Beer Master.
Under the title of Beer Master, Robert works as a global ambassador for Pilsner Urquell, popping up at media events wherever the brewery send him and also acting as its internal voice at company conferences. He is, for all intent and purpose, “Mr. Pilsner Urquell.”
"Our legacy is all about the devoted employees doing things the right way over the easy way, for 174 years." Pilsner Urquell Beer Master, Robert Lobovsky
These days, when there are more breweries than ever, the role of brand ambassador has become increasingly important. I ask Robert what being Pilsner Urquell’s Beer Master means to him. “In my role I have the opportunity to make a difference in real hands on situations. From getting bartenders to pour a perfect pint to passing on the brewery’s legacy,” he says. “This role is important to Pilsner Urquell because our legacy is all about the devoted employees doing things the right way over the easy way, for 174 years.”
Another of Robert’s projects is the Tapster program. We will learn all about the importance of the Tapster’s role in detail, in our final chapter next week. A Tapster has the crucial role of serving each and every glass of Pilsner to perfection, ensuring that the hard work the people at the brewery put into making it isn’t lost by it being poured incorrectly.
Those selected for the Tapster program, such as the staff that serve beer at Pilsner Urquell’s Tankovna, or Tank Beer bars here in the UK, are flown over to Pilsen for an intensive course on how to pour the perfect glass of Pilsner. Robert oversees this training process and then visits the newly trained Tapsters to ensure that what they’ve learned is being put in to action. A tough gig, but someone has to do it.
Later that evening, while we enjoyed a traditional Czech meal at U Salzmannu in Pilsen’s Old Town, I asked Robert what working for Pilsner Urquell means to him. “When Pilsner Urquell is cared for and served the right way then there isn’t a better beer in the world. It’s how golden lagers should taste.” He says between sips of Pilsner and mouthfuls of dumplings. “It has the power to unite all beer drinkers in our country, but it has always had the power to unite all Czech’s living abroad. It’s a true national jewel.”
Spending the day wandering the streets of Pilsen and the brewery itself with Robert was a truly rewarding experience. His enthusiasm for Pilsner Urquell and the history of the town he was born in, is only succeeded by his knowledge. My thanks go out to Robert because without his help, these stories wouldn’t have been possible.
He allowed me access to parts of the brewery that are rarely seen by those that don’t work there, pointing out nooks and crannies for photographs that I wouldn’t have noticed. He also worked as my translator, ensuring that I could conduct interviews with the various employees I met along the way. He even managed to convince Anna in the archives, from chapter three, to let me take her photo – something she wasn’t keen on when I first asked.
And yes, he made me climb the rickety stairwell inside the old water tower so I could get a photo of the whole brewery. I’m grateful to him that he did, the view was incredible, and I got that damn shot.