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Martin Stelzer: The Man Who Built Pilsner Urquell

When it comes to the founding of Pilsner Urquell, Martin Stelzer remains one of the most important figures, though he is also one of the most misunderstood.

Often mischaracterized as a brewer, Martin Stelzer was the most famous builder in nineteenth-century Plzen — something like the unofficial town architect. Born in 1815, Stelzer had constructed more than two hundred buildings in Plzen by the time of his death in 1894, including such important sites as Old Synagogue of 1859 and the Small Theater of 1869. 

When he was first hired to create the new town brewery in 1839, however, Stelzer was just 24 years old — and, most importantly, he had never built a brewery of any kind. (Later, he would be seen as something of an expert on the subject.) One special demand: the new brewery was supposed to be a cold-fermentation or lager brewery, something that did not exist in Plzen at the time. To familiarize himself with the requirements of the project, Stelzer traveled to Bavaria in December of 1839, visiting several breweries there.

A common rumor holds that Stelzer befriended Josef Groll, the first brewmaster of Pilsner Urquell, during this trip, or even that Stelzer brought Groll back to Plzen with him. However, no confirmation of this appears to have been published during Stelzer’s lifetime. It certainly seems possible that the two were friends, however, given the closeness of their age: the original brewmaster was less than a year and a half older than the architect. 

In addition to directing the expansion of the Burghers’ Brewery in 1849 and 1852, as well as the construction of a new fermentation room in 1856, Stelzer designed and built the brewery’s enlarged cooperage in 1870. Stelzer’s other projects included the next-door Gambrinus brewery in 1869 and the Dobřany town brewery in 1873. He remains part of everyday lore in Plzen today, having given his first name to the street Martinská in central Plzen as early as 1857.