Old Style Pilsner: The Pride of Lethbridge

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.

  • hey!! nick kuhl made that video!

  • hey!! nick kuhl made that video!

  • Yes! I was talking to Rod about this article and he made me load the video on my iPhone straight away!

    Is it a coincidence that I’m drinking a Pilsner right now? Probably not…I’m always drinking.

  • Yes! I was talking to Rod about this article and he made me load the video on my iPhone straight away!

    Is it a coincidence that I’m drinking a Pilsner right now? Probably not…I’m always drinking.

  • Great post!
    I grew up in Lethbridge and my dad was an engineer at the old Pilsner plant until it shut down. He moved to Edmonton and worked at Molson’s for another 20 years.
    To say I spent my childhood growing up in beer houses is an understatement. Spending hours upon hours in the hot rooms where the kettles brewed our golden nectar… well, that is a memory I hold dear.

  • Great post!
    I grew up in Lethbridge and my dad was an engineer at the old Pilsner plant until it shut down. He moved to Edmonton and worked at Molson’s for another 20 years.
    To say I spent my childhood growing up in beer houses is an understatement. Spending hours upon hours in the hot rooms where the kettles brewed our golden nectar… well, that is a memory I hold dear.

  • Thanks Candra! Your blog looks great – I’ll definitely be subscribing to it! But first *crack*…ahhhh.

  • Thanks Candra! Your blog looks great – I’ll definitely be subscribing to it! But first *crack*…ahhhh.

  • Zed

    I’d have to correct you Jonny on the date of the origin of Pilsner Urquell beer, if I knew exactly when it was, but it certainly wasn’t in the nineteenth century, it would have been more like the 15th or 16th.

  • Zed

    I’d have to correct you Jonny on the date of the origin of Pilsner Urquell beer, if I knew exactly when it was, but it certainly wasn’t in the nineteenth century, it would have been more like the 15th or 16th.

  • Wes Lowe

    When exactly did the brewery close? I remember a Lethbridge beer (or at least the bottlecaps) in the 70’s when I visited from Texas.

  • Wes Lowe

    When exactly did the brewery close? I remember a Lethbridge beer (or at least the bottlecaps) in the 70’s when I visited from Texas.

  • curtis

    Hi there I moved to Alberta from Ontario when I was fresh out of high school,to work on the oil rigs,and now that I moved back to Ontario I like to reflect on the good times with my friends and family.I was just telling some people about pils brewed in lethbridge and no one here had ever heard of it.I went on a mission to find it and discovered none of the beer stores around here have heard of it and obviously don’t carry it.I think this is a crying shame as this pilsner was my absolute favorite drink the entire time I was in alberta and b.c. as it was enjoyed warm,luke ,cold and ice cold,it was always a tasty lil pil…..

  • curtis

    Hi there I moved to Alberta from Ontario when I was fresh out of high school,to work on the oil rigs,and now that I moved back to Ontario I like to reflect on the good times with my friends and family.I was just telling some people about pils brewed in lethbridge and no one here had ever heard of it.I went on a mission to find it and discovered none of the beer stores around here have heard of it and obviously don’t carry it.I think this is a crying shame as this pilsner was my absolute favorite drink the entire time I was in alberta and b.c. as it was enjoyed warm,luke ,cold and ice cold,it was always a tasty lil pil…..

  • Hi, check out the old style label on our flickr The Commons photo site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/galt-museum/340022… and stop in to the Galt to have your photo taken with our giant beer bottle! http://www.galtmuseum.com/exhibits.htm

  • Although I already knew about it, I'll definitely have to check it out one of these days!
    http://www.lethbianlove.ca/2009/03/06/how-could

    Do you folks know how many rabbits there are on the label? They seem to be in decline these days.

  • Hi, check out the old style label on our flickr The Commons photo site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/galt-museum/340022… and stop in to the Galt to have your photo taken with our giant beer bottle! http://www.galtmuseum.com/exhibits.htm

  • Although I already knew about it, I'll definitely have to check it out one of these days!
    http://www.lethbianlove.ca/2009/03/06/how-could

    Do you folks know how many rabbits there are on the label? They seem to be in decline these days.

  • Empirevs

    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.

    Hi there,

    I grew up thinking that my grandfather designed (perhaps with Louise) and then drew the label for this beer (he did lithograph work). The “rabbits” were part of a game with the grandchildren.

    Cheers!
    V.

  • Lyn

    I was wondering if the Lethbridge Brewery ever brewed and bottled Molson’s Canadian at the Lethbridge plant.
    Lyn

  • Patmoetighe

    I REMEMBER A LABEL WITH A DIESEL ENGINE, A DC 8 PASSENGER PLANE AND A 1959 CHEVROLET AS THE AUTO GOING UP THE HILL,DONT REMEMBER IF IT WAS A STUBY OR LONG NECK OR AM I DREAMING !
    patmoetighe@aol.com

  • Dave

    Awesome! Being new to Winnipeg (from ontario) i spotted the unfamiliar brew at a local beer vendor. One look at the masterpiece artwork gracing the packaging and i had to grab a case. Didn’t expected to taste so good. Now I’m a fan 🙂

  • Nola McGill

    Can you tell me where I can purchase a set of Pilsner Beer Glasses. The ones with the White Rabbit on the bottom of the glass

  • I wish I knew…they’re pretty cool. Maybe ask at the pub you’ve seen them at?

  • history beer dude

    the one thing molson did do was demolish a landmark ,so no other people could open another brewery.

  • I’ve heard talk that this beer is Gluten Free due to it’s rice-based recipe….can anyone confirm this?

  • Coreen

    I have an old (full) bottle of Lethbridge beer. I can find nothing about it anywhere on the net. It has to come from Sicks as I beleive it was the only brewery. Can send a photo if anyone can help.

  • A Lethbridge Historian

    Contact Kevin Maclean at the Galt Museum & Archives in Lethbridge (kevin.maclean@galtmuseum.com). He should be able to help with your question.
    And, yes, send him a photo.

  • Michelle Johnson

    ah yes, most of my popson family worked there…my dad,Stan Popson was a millwright and pres. of the union…he passed away this year and his fondest memories were from the brewery. A Czech family that drank the best beer ever…it was sad to see the brewery taken down.