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Friday, January 23, 2009

Meet Marek Mikunda: Steam Whistle Brewmaster

Meet Marek Mikunda, brewmaster for the popular Steam Whistle Brewing Company in Toronto, ON. Mikunda is a seasoned veteran who's spent almost 24 years (to date) brewing beer in many different countries -including Pilsner Urquell, the godfather of pilsners. His brewing talent brought him to Canada where he completed stints with Labatt and Creemore before taking over the reigns at Steam Whistle. Here's Mikunda:

How did you get into brewing beer?
My father’s advice was to stick with a career that guaranteed a lifetime of employment so I chose the food & beverage industry, specifically beer. I went to a technical high school for 4 years that allowed me to graduate as a brewer and thereafter went to University, The Prague Institute of Chemical Technology where I completed my Master Brewers studies in 5 years.

How many years have you been working in the industry?
I first entered the brewing industry when I was 15 (1984) working as an apprentice during my high school studies. So, almost 24 years total.

Out of those years, how many have you served as Brewmaster?
I began fulltime work after university (1993) with Pilsner Urquell. I started in their training program and worked my way up to Brewmaster. I worked for 2 years as a Brewmaster with Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic and then held a brewing consultancy position in Russia for Pilsner Urquell for one year. I worked as a Brewmaster at a small brewery in Brazil for a time. In Canada, although I worked both at Labatt’s and Creemore for a few years before coming to Steam Whistle I didn’t work at the Brewmaster capacity. I’ve been Brewmaster at Steam Whistle since the Fall of 2005.

What was it like brewing in the Czech Republic?
I am proud to have become a Brewmaster in the birthplace of Pilsners. There is a deep respect for and rich tradition of brewing there.

What is the difference between the Canadian and Czech Republic beer culture?
In the Czech Republic there is a major focus on beer – you socialize over it and have one with every meal. Beer is very prevalent. Beer is to the Czech Republic like wine is to France and perhaps what coffee is to Canadians – very available and very widely consumed.

What is the best aspect of working in the brewing industry?
I love beer! Simple.

Tell us something about Steam Whistle that not many people would know about.
The brewery is made up of a United Nations of employees which makes for a very interesting work environment where we share experiences from all over the world.

What meal does Steam Whistle Pilsner match the best?
For me, roast pig with good rye bread.

What do you do away from the brewery to decompress?
Play with my son, Jan Viktor, now 16 months.

Name your favourite non Steam Whistle beer?
Used to be Pilsner Urquell but now probably Creemore Springs Pilsner, out of respect for Gord, my old co-worker.

What has been the highlight of your brewing career?
Commissioning Steam Whistle’s new Brewhouse which was built in Hradec Králové CZ. It was a year long project of research and equipment commissioning.. We first achieved the deadline for installation (rare with capital projects) and were on budget. Then we had a very short learning curve for me and the brewers to learn how to operate it. I’m very proud of this project completion.

Best place to drink a beer?
Wherever good friends are.

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