In Lethbridge, when we’re not mining for coal or wrestling bears, we’re usually drinking an ice-cold Pil. First brewed in Lethbridge in 1926, Old Style Pilsner is a beer that has remained strong in Western Canada since its inception.
Being half Czech, beer has played an important part of my life. In fact, it’s the national drink of the Czech Republic, much like wine is to France. And like wine, there are many varieties from different regions, each with their own recipe. “Pilsener” is a pale lager, developed in the 19th century in the Bohemian city of Plzeň.
My earliest memories of Old Style Pilsner are when I was a youngster, drinking a stubby in my crib. Those were the days when soiling your pants was the norm, not the exception. So here’s the story of my favourite beer as I know it.
Fritz Sick, whose product also fills a Lethbridge pool, founded Sicks’ Breweries Ltd. in 1901 with his son Emil. They originally brewed another beer, Alberta Pride, until prohibition forced them to cease production. When business resumed as usual, Pilsner was created as a replacement, using an old-style rice-base recipe. Thus, the House of Lethbridge brewing empire was born.
Although the brewery closed its doors many years ago, Brewery Gardens stands in its place to welcome visitors to Lethbridge. A monument to the House of Lethbridge exists as a reminder for us to “never forget.” Presently, Molson continues the production of Pilsner beer in both Edmonton and Vancouver.
The Pilsner label largely remains unchanged to this day. Fritz Sick’s daughter, Louise, designed the label to incorporate elements symbolic to Lethbridge and Western Canada – the Concord Stagecoach, the Purple Label airplane, transportation, Native life, Monks brewing beer, the House of Lethbridge and the rabbits, which no one can figure out. Attempts at modernizing the label have always led to revolt.
Pilsner is often mistaken by many to be a Saskatchewan product, due to its sponsorship of the Saskatchewan Roughriders CFL team. And indeed they have taken it as their own, giving it affectionate names such as “Saskatchewan Champagne.” This is a testament to the quality of a product that has withstood the test of time.
Pilsner has gathered a loyal following all across Western Canada. The pride of Lethbridge, it is a beer that transcends generations and classes and continues to inspire others.