Up close & personal with Pilsner Urquell

PU-The-Open - WHERE LEGENDS MEET

Almost two days after getting home, my stomach is STILL full. Full to bursting in fact. Because I’ve just got back from the most extraordinary weekend in London and Kent. The weekend involved copious helpings of delicious food, some terrific golf, amazing company and  – above all – unlimited amounts of the fabulous Pilsner Urquell beer with a fascinating and very exclusive insight into why it’s the official beer at The Open, and how the team behind the brand manage supplies for the event. 

I was thrilled to bits to receive an invite to this weekend’s trip, it was out of the blue. It was an added joy because Pilsner Urquell sponsored dinner at the Beer Bloggers Conference in London in May which I bowed out of because I was at a very close friend’s wedding. So, my Saturday and Sunday involved having dinner at Simpson’s on The Strand around the corner from The Savoy on Saturday night (where we had a very special surprise with dinner. More on that later) Then we were up early the next day and out to The Open Golf Championships at the  Royal St. George’s Course in Sandwich in Kent – all onboard the Pilsner Urquell Express.

pic courtesy of the www.twitter.com/pilsner_urquell

Passes to The Open golf!

 

I can’t remember the last time I visited a sporting event, let alone golf, so the whole shebang was an experience, to say the least. It was also quite a tear-jerking affair to witness Darren Clarke’s winning putt and him collect the Claret Jug.

And the winner is....Darren Clarke

As you know, I like to learn more about beers as much as I can (there’s more to beer than just chucking it down your neck!), so I love my brewery visits and insight trips. This expedition was no exception. There was ample opportunity to quiz the PU Brand team about why they wanted to get involved with The Open and become its Official Beer. This year is the third year out of a five year partnership deal for the brand. The Open is the oldest of the four major championships played by professional golfers (the other 3 are the The Masters, The U.S. Open and PGA Championship). A pretty big deal, I realise. The PU brand team really feel that the values of tradition, innovation, authenticity and originality are shared between the beer and The Open’s heritage. Hence the strapline…’WHERE LEGENDS MEET’.

The Open as a competition in itself is legendary: the first Open game was played back in 1860 in Prestwick in Ayrshire up in Scotland and was born out of the growing enthusiasm for golf in the area. 8 professional players competed for the prize of a red Morocco leather belt with silver clasps and an ornamental silver buckle, which cost £25 and was paid for by the club’s members. The winner was Willie Park of Musselburgh. For the golf fans reading: Willie’s score of 174 for 36 holes (three rounds of 12 holes) bettered that of Tom Morris Senior, representing Prestwick, by two strokes. The Open is the only golf major played outside of America and it’s gone on to have a world famous reputation for featuring some of the world’s most amazing golfers. Check out Willie’s swagger…

Willie Park 1st winner of The Open

Pilsner Urquell was first brewed in Pilsen by German man, Joseph Groll in 1842. He was something of a visionary and decided he was sick of drinking the usual dark-coloured beer that was de rigeur at the time. He created the world’s first clear and golden beer, using the soft waters from the surrounding areas, some Bohemian and Moravian barley, and hops from the Saaz region to make the brew. The Saaz hop gives the beer the characteristic earthy, spicy, herbal-like taste. The recipe hasn’t been changed for decades and it’s brewed at the same place. Brewers around the world have copied the style – hence the myriad of pilsners  that you find in pubs  and on supermarket shelves you see today.

The brewery!

Pilsner Urquell is low strength beer at 4.4% ABV. It smells citrussy and caramel-like, which translate into the flavour and then ends with a sharp bitterness. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you go out and try some for yourself. Over the weekend I had 3 different versions of the beer. 2 versions are freely available: either on draught at a pub or bar, or a chilled bottle of the stuff. I’ll tell you about the third version of the beer I had a bit later…

When you do go and try it, let me know what you think! But just remember, there are many beers out there brewed in the pilsner style, but Pilsner Urquell is the only one that can claim to be the original pilsner.

Check out this animation which sums up the essense of Pilsner Urquell and continues the LEGENDS theme. It explains the history of the beer, how it’s brewed and how the legend lives on today. Totally coincidentally I only discovered this on You Tube the day before I left for The Open weekend. It’s been made by a wonderfully, talented acquaintance of mine from my home town of Birmingham: Chris Randall and his team at Second Home Studios who make the most mind-blowing animations I’ve seen in eons.

So mahoosive quantities of draught Pilsner Urquell were supplied at the four public bars  & the VIP bars around the golf course over the four days of the tournament (Thu-Sunday last week). The main, huge beer tent, had a couple of Pilsner Urquell only queues and other serving areas also included other drinks. Logistically it’s a tough operation organised with military precision because it’s no mean feat ensuring that amount of beer gets delivered and served as fresh as it could be from the brewery where its made in Pilsen in the Czech Republic. AND to ensure that the beer DIDN’T run out!

So here’s the ‘science bit’: a mammoth 25,000 pints were served on the hot, dry & sunny Friday (with queues of 20 people deep!). Something in the region of 14,500 pints were served on both the wet, windy &  changeable Saturday and Sunday. 100,000 pints of beer and 150,000 branded, recyclabe plastic ‘glasses’ were brought in for the whole event.  Ooooooooof!

After a terrific lunch and a special audience with British golfing legend, Sir Bernie Gallacher  – where he gave us his analysis of The Open so far and his CORRECT (of course!) prediction for the winner – myself and my merry band writers & journos I’d met on the trip (namely fellow beer writers Glynn Davis, Jeff Pickthall & Reuben Gray, Krishan the Editor of Eat Me Magazine and Tom Love from Sportpro Magazine)  – were given an insight into how they tackled the tricky task at hand.

Sadly, there was a strict ‘No Cameras or Mobile Phones’ policy within the grounds of The Open, so I can’t post you any pictures of the bar itself. But we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the largest public bar on the course by Colin from SAB Miller (the firm that distributes PU beer in the UK). We poked our noses around the tanker that brings the 50 litre (88 pint) kegs over at 4 deg C, we stepped into the storage area for the kegs (which are kept at between 5-8 deg C), we peered at the tubes from the barrels behind the bar that link through to the serving area (which had 64 beer taps) and then watched how beer was dispensed (at around 6 deg C) with remarkable speed. I say ‘remarkable’ because I have never seen a bar that serves like that before. I’ve never been to an outdoor sports event or music festival that does it like this, so it was an eye-opener. All of the 200 serving staff had additional training so they could maintain the quality and consistency of the beer and correctly use the metered dispense system, which meant that 12 pints could be served simultaneously in 15 seconds with 2 clicks of a button! The first click dispensing half a pint, then the second click topping up with the second half pint leaving a 15ml head and NO OVERSPILL. Yikes! All that meant that those queues of thirsty customers – that we all hate standing in for too long at events like these – were kept to a minimum. I’ll post some pics of that system soon hopefully.

As well as this access-all-areas nosey around, we had some other incredible treats along the way, including that THIRD version of the beer. With dinner on Friday night we were served Pilsner Urquell from a keg..for me it was the triumph of the weekend in terms of taste. Robert from the PU team said it was unpasteurised and unfiltered. Some brewers like to do this before they bottle their beer. So  – for me – the keg version tasted fruitier, much more caramelly (!) and less bitter on the finish.  Needless to say I made the most of what was on offer. It was delicious and I hope one day you’ll be able to find kegged PU and enjoy it as much as I did :-)

Cask Pilsner Urquell with dinner at Simpons on The Strand

Sir Bernie was one helluva surprise! And there was more to come, including my complimentary spa treatment at the hotel, relaxing in The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar on Friday night after dinner watching a Jazz singer, laughing and joking with the brilliant staff on the Pilsner Urquell Express, The Flying Scot: our carriage to and from Royal St. Georges, (their service was exemplary); the friendly guys & gals in the PU VIP hospitality chalet who served us lunch and topped us up with beer all Sunday afternoon when the heavens opened. Phew! Fantabulous!

HEALTH WARNING: Gratuitous pictures of my weekend now follow….(hang on, I’ll fetch you that sick bag marked ‘Envy’!)

My hotel room

 

My bathroom

 

Goodies on the PU Express train: available to enjoy with breakfast, lunch and/or dinner!

 

A final few words before I sign off: Some people tried to take issue with me about going on the trip believing there’d be some conflict of interest for me as a journalist. I’m most definitely self-employed and no-one pays me to write my blog, I just do it for the sheer fun of it.  Going on the trip doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll only ever drink PU form now til the day I die, but what it DOES mean is that I have a better understanding of the brand, I can talk about it knowledgeably, I feel happier and more confident to recommend it to someone if they ask me what I know about the beer. It also means I appreciate the people behind that beer more, because they’ve bothered to go that extra mile; to want to explain what it is they do to bring a wonderful experience to their existing drinkers and fans of the beer, as well as potential future customers. I was a pilsner drinker before the trip, but hadn’t drunk much of PU. Now I know much more about it, I’ll be a happier drinker of it.

So all that remains for me to say is a massive thank-you to all the Pilsner Urquell team I met on the trip. Cheers for inviting me and spending the time to take care of me and everyone else on our golfing adventure!

Next stop for me is making sure I can get over to the brewery in Pilsen some time soon :-)

3 Responses to Up close & personal with Pilsner Urquell

  1. ella says:

    What a cool weekend! especially if you like golf! lol! Sounds really fun, and a great write up! thanks Beer Beauty!

  2. Reuben Gray says:

    Hey Marv, sorry about this, I know did it all weekend (as you missed BBC11) but I hate to burst your bubble a little. The unfiltered, unpasteurised PU was not the cask (picture in link) version, it was kegged. A lovely version all the same. Believe it or not, the wooden cask version is even better.

    http://www.taleofale.com/2011/05/beer-bloggers-conference-day1-part-2.html

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      It’s alright, Reuben! Correcting me isn’t bursting a bubble of any kind. Cheers for the nod xx

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