Without a doubt the traditional profession of cooperage has a home in the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. This well-known brewery is the only one in the world who maintains this cultural occupation by continuing to employ coopers to this day. The skills they possess in their trade is quite unique. For this very reason, cooperage was added to the National List of Cultural Heritage in 2018. This is the first step to completing the dream goal of adding cooperage to the UNESCO World Heritage List, therefore maintaining this brewer’s tradition for further generations to come.
The coopers at the Pilsen Urquell Brewery manufacture barrels of oak wood by following the same techniques they’ve used for centuries. Of course, these methods have not been recorded in any textbooks, meaning this knowledge is passed by word of mouth from master to journeyman. Only the most high-quality oak wood is used is producing the barrels. The wood is not permitted to have any knots, and it must be dried naturally. The drying process takes a minimum of 8 years. Unlike wine barrels, beer barrels need to be repitched after each and every use. The layer created by the pitch at 200 °C keeps the beer from making contact with the wood while also disinfecting the barrel.
Currently, there are eight coopers in Pilsen, and it’s thanks to them that this relatively small part of Pilsner Urquell beer production can be done the traditional way. The beer’s quality can then be compared with that of beer which has matured in modern tanks. These brewery coopers both make and maintain large beer barrels with a total volume of more than 46 hectolitres and a weight of up to 800 kilograms. They also do the same for smaller barrels meant for transporting beer. These come with a volume of 17, 25 or 50 litres and are used to deliver unfiltered and unpasteurized beer for special occasions.
You can admire the coopers’ art at certain times throughout the year at special events held at the brewery.