A brief history of the Molson Pilsner: Not a Saskatchewan beer, but a Lethbridge beer

Click to play video: 'Not a Saskatchewan beer: The origin story of the Molson Pilsner' Not a Saskatchewan beer: The origin story of the Molson Pilsner
WATCH ABOVE: When a Lethbridge brewery was knocked down 30 years ago, it took with it an origin story. It’s a beer many people have probably heard of, and maybe even drank. But what you might not know is that Molson Pilsner actually started in southern Alberta. Jessica Robb reports – Mar 20, 2021

The Molson Pilsner is a beer that many know and love.

But many probably don’t know its origin story.

“Over time, it really has become associated with Saskatchewan,” said Belinda Crowson, president of the Lethbridge Historical Society. “And so there’s a need to remind people that it has a longer history than that.”

Fritz Sick, grandfather of the Molson Pilsner, moved to Lethbridge in 1901. Originally from Germany, he had a long history of working in breweries.

Undated photo of Fritz Sick
Undated photo of Fritz Sick. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

So, he started one in the province. It was called Alberta Brewing and Malting Co. One of his well-known early beers was called Alberta’s Pride.

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Crowson said that Lethbridge is actually a perfect spot for a brewery.

“You need the beer, which is grown locally, you need good, clean water, which we have here, and you need skilled people, which [Fritz] certainly was,” Crowson said.
Fritz Sick’s original brewery in Lethbridge in 1903
Fritz Sick’s original brewery in Lethbridge in 1903. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

Over the next 15 years, Sick turned the brewery into a booming business. Crowson calls him one of Lethbridge’s early entrepreneurs.

That is until prohibition hit Alberta in 1916.

Hard times hit Sick and his business. But that didn’t stop him.

Sick expanded his business and bought more breweries. He changed the name to Associated Breweries of Canada Ltd. The breweries were all named “Sick’s” and identified by where they were located.

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In 1926, two years after prohibition ended, Fritz launched what we would today call a successful marketing plan.

Undated photo of a man working in Sick’s brewery. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

“He made this big fanfare,” said Crowson. “It was this beer that he had wanted to bring around for a very long time but he couldn’t introduce it until after prohibition was over.

“He said that the other breweries just didn’t care about their customers as much as he did, and they just didn’t have as much knowledge or experience.”

Enter, the Pilsner. The original label was designed by his daughter, Louise Sick. The top left has the “House of Lethbridge,” which identifies that the beer came from the Lethbridge brewery.

Original label of the Pilsner designed by Louise Sick
Original label of the Pilsner designed by Louise Sick. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

Across the label are different things Louise thought represented southern Alberta and the brewery.

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“It represents a history of southern Alberta in many cases, but much of that you’d have to know Lethbridge history to understand,” said Crowson.

Sick’s son, Emil Sick, eventually took over the brewery business. He expanded further, even going to the United States. In 1944, Associated Breweries of Canada Ltd. changed its name to Sick’s Breweries Ltd.

Sick’s Brewery was a proud supporter of the Lethbridge community. They even had a float in a parade. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

In 1958, Sick management came to an end when Molson took control.

But the Pilsner legacy continued.

“The Molson Pilsner is the continuation,” said Crowson. “So once Molson took over, they took over the Pilsner as well.”

Molson ran the Lethbridge brewery until it was shut down in 1990. A year later, it was torn down, taking with it the history of a well-known beer.

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A Pilsner bottle on display at the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

“The brewery has been gone for 30 years. So there have been 30 years of people not recognizing a connection with that beer history. In that amount of time, a lot of people have come and gone from Lethbridge without knowing,” said Crowson.

But the impact that Sick’s brewery had in Lethbridge was huge. It started with just him and his family but eventually turned out to be one of the largest employers in Lethbridge.

“If you talk to anybody whose family is from around here, chances are that somebody has worked at the brewery back in the day,” said Crowson.

The building may be gone, but the beer lives on.

Pilsner label from Sick’s Brewery in Regina. Courtesy: Galt Museum and Archives

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