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Brewery's bottling gets upgrades

When Bohemian King Premysl Otakar II founded Ceské Budejovice way back in 1265, in what is now the Czech Republic, he also started something in the picturesque town that has brought it great success down the ages. As was the tradition in those days, he endowed the town with a significant privilege: the right to brew beer.

The most famous legacy of King Otakar is Budweiser Budvar, the brewery that celebrated its centenary in 1995. Where in 1895 it brewed 35,223 hL (hectolitres), by last year some 1,317,000 hL of the famous lager was produced. Housed in the Ceské Budejovice plant are automated lines and a flexible packaging hall that can cope with most of the packaging styles needed to serve both the domestic and wide-ranging export markets. It is the Czech Republic's number-one exporter of lager in 60 countries–most importantly Germany (95,000 hL), the U.K. and Slovakia (each 70,000 hL). But, since '00, it has also exported to the U.S., where for legal tradename restrictions (see sidebar), the brand bears the name Czechvar.

Petra Prchliková of the company's marketing department explains the broad product line. The brewer produces 0.5-L and 330-mL glass returnable bottles, as well as the same sizes in nonreturnable bottles. For the U.S., it exports 350-mL bottles. Stainless-steel kegs in 50- and 30-L capacities are filled and distributed for local and primary markets in Germany and Slovakia. The brewery also produces 5-L party kegs for local sale. A small percentage leaves in transport tankers. However, there are many more permutations on the packaging front. Nonreturnable bottles are either multipacked in 4- or 6-packs or filled in cases, whilst the returnable containers leave the bottling hall via a plastic crate packer or in 6-packs. Both returnable and nonreturnable bottles account for 47.2 percent of production, whilst kegs have a 46.8 percent share.

Because Budvar has no can lines in the Czech Republic, cans are filled at, and exported from, its daughter companies in Germany and Austria–33 mL (in cases and trays) and half-litre sizes available loose, in 6-packs or Hi-Cone-fastened 4-packs. "We are currently looking at whether or not to build a canning line here in Ceské Budejovice," reveals Ing. Ales Dvorak. But many Czech brewers are understood to have spare can-filling capacity, so Budvar might take the contract filling route if cans are needed in the home market.

By far the brewery's most important brand is its Premium Lager, made to a time-honoured recipe from Saatz hops, Moravian malt and soft water drawn from the company's own wells some 300 meters deep below the brewery. This distinctive brew accounts for some 67 percent of production, but the company also bottles small quantities of a nonalcoholic beer and a Super Strong Special beer.

New designs for the brew
Last May saw new packaging graphic designs right across the range. Bottle labels, multipacks, cases and cans "have all been given a facelift to give a common look to the portfolio," announces Petra Prchliková. "Neck labels are larger, all labels include more gold, and small changes have been made to the town logo. It gives the packages an even better quality look." The graphic treatment for Budweiser Budvar and Czechvar are similar.

All of the brewery's products now sport a common graphic design, above left. A new machine on the bottling line is the labeler, above, whose speeds match that of the new filler.


Supplied by Avirunion of North Bohemia and Vetropack from Moravia, the neck-embossed, nonreturnable 0.5-L bottles are brown glass, whilst the 330-mL is green. However, the company is considering unifying the colour. The wet-glue paper labels are converted by The South Bohemian Press and in Austria by Marzek Etiketten with crowns from Peliconi and Kanogo, foil from Hueck Folien, Austria, and cartons from Mead Verpakkung in Germany. Cases are printed by Duropack, and the returnable crates are moulded by two suppliers in the Czech Republic.

It is since the Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel, which successfully brought an end to the communist state in 1989, that real investment has been made in production and the bottling plant. Some 2.5 billion CZK (Czech crowns), or US$81 million, have been spent in the last 10 years, during which time, capacity has been tripled. However, throughout all the reconstruction, emphasis was placed first and foremost on maintaining the quality of the beer and on the unmistakable character of its taste.

Updating the packaging lines
One of the first changes made was a switch from aluminum to stainless-steel kegs and the addition of a new automated keg-filling line. Cylindrical, conical tanks replaced the traditional fermenting rooms. In 1999, at a cost of 160 million CZK, (US$5.2 million) the bottling plant was modernised, and a new SIG Simonazzi filling line was purchased. New bottles and crates were purchased for an additional 100 million CZK (US$3.2 million), and the transport process was upgraded. The long bottling hall houses two lines, both capable of filling any of several bottle types. Crucially the various types of secondary packaging are handled with bottles diverted to either multipacking, case or crate packing stations at the end of the lines. This flexibility is essential in handling domestic and export market needs. During PD's visit, both production lines were running the 0.5-L returnable bottles.

On the modern 38,000-bottle/hr line, containers exit the Simonazzi washer through accumulation and are single-lined into a Krones Linatronic inspection system. "We check for neck shapes, liquid in the bottle, chips and any strange shapes at this stage," says Dvorak. Filling and capping is achieved on the Simonazzi 90-head machine. Bottles are then labelled and foil-capsuled on a Krones Topmatic, which, with a rated speed of 40,000 bottles/hr, is more than capable of matching the speed of the filler. "The whole line is exceptionally well-engineered by Simonazzi," Dvorak points out.

Pasteurising is achieved in Holstein & Kappert (KHS) equipment. Next, the bottles are ink-jet-coded with best-before dates and production information. Bottles accumulate via a series of S-bends and are then switched to either an Ocme wraparound case packer, which achieves a 535 pattern, or a Simonazzi crate packer, which places 20 bottles in each crate.

Exiting an H & K washer, bottles on the older line are also checked in a Krones Linatronic inspection system and are then filled on a SEN 80-head filler, capable of 34,000 bottles/hr. On this line, two Prontomatic labelers (also from Krones) are employed, as each is only capable of 20,000 bottles/min. A Kettner crate packer cycling at 4 crates/min packs 20 bottles to the crate. Bottles can also be diverted to a 4- or a 6-pack multipacker.

In the keg-filling room, some 460 50-L kegs an hour leave the KHS Contikeg one-head pressure filler. Following pasteurisation, they are palletised in two layers of six.

More information is available:

Filler, crate packer: SIG Simonazzi (North America), 972/422-5808. Circle No. 247.

Bottle inspection, labelers, capsuler, Kettner crate packer: Krones, Inc., 414/409-4000. Circle No. 248.

Pasteuriser, washer, keg filler, SEN filler: KHS, Inc., 262/797-7200. Circle No. 249.

Multipack attachment: ITW Hi-Cone, 630/438-5300. Circle No. 250.

Case packer: OCME (America Corp.), 717/843-6263. Circle No. 251.

What's in a brand name?
Just why is the Czech beer Budweiser Budvar branded Czechvar in the U.S.?
As the Czech brewery points out, "The ancient Romans had a wise saying: 'Duo quom idem faciunt, non est idem,' or 'When two do the same, it is not the same.'" A classic example of this is the case of two beers trademarked Budweiser but brewed on opposite sides of the world: one in Ceské Budejovice and the other in St. Louis by Anheuser-Busch. The history of how it happened is a long one. Clearly, imports of the original beer to expats who had emigrated to the U.S. from the Czech lands played a role, but readers can get the whole story from both parties by a quick look at their websites. Legal disputes between Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser Budvar (formerly the Czech Joint Stock Brewery in Ceské Budejovice) have been going on for some 80 years.

Basically, agreements made between the two companies in 1911 and then 1939, which are still valid today, limited the rights of the Czech brewery not to use the designations Bud, Budweis and Budweiser from Panama to the North and in other specified regions. The time leading up to the signing of the second agreement was a fraught one for what was then Czechoslovakia; the brewery signed up to the deal for a payment, and a week later, the country was invaded by Hitler's army and disappeared from the map of Europe.

"The problem is that the interpretation of the agreements gave both rivals a large amount of room for maneuvering, and for the use of their trademarks in all the regions not specifically mentioned in the agreements," explains the Czech company.

The strength of the Czech beer, particularly in Europe, was probably the cause of Anheuser-Busch opening negotiations for the purchase of a financial stake in the company. Consequently, from 1990 to 1994, a moratorium was agreed on all legal disputes. However, the final refusal of the proposal by the Czech side in 1996 led to a new wave of court cases. Recently, the Czech company has claimed victories in court proceedings in Korea, Australia and Denmark. Previously, Budvar had been successful in trademark disputes in Germany, Portugal, the U.K., Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Greece, Finland and the Baltic States.
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