SABMiller is close to authorizing production of its flagship brand Pilsner Urquell outside its home brewery Plzensky Prazdroj in Pilsner, in the Czech Republic.

Czech press reports today said SABMiller's Polish subsidiary will start licensed production of the Pilsner Urquell brand in the Tychy brewery in southern Poland, by the end of 2002.

However, SAB directors in Poland and the Czech Republic told just-drinks that a final decision was yet to be made on whether or not commercial production could begin outside Pilsner. But, the company did confirm that the Tychy brewery had been conducting test production of the beer.

Any move to begin the commercial production of Pilsner away from its historical home will be seen as controversial as the brand plays heavily on its heritage as the first Pilsner beer, while the Czech company has long been proud of the fact it is still brewed only in its home town. Indeed in the Czech Republic only beer brewed in Pilsner may carry the name of this famous beer town.

However, SABMiller management sees the move to licensed production in different markets as a necessary step towards building the brand into an international contender.

The final decision on the move will rest with SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay, according to company officials.

SABMiller unveiled its plans to propel Pilsner Urquell into a global brand in May this year when it announced the brand's first international advertising campaign. To be rolled out across markets in Europe and North America, it will cost US$10m and is aimed at making the brand one of the world's top ten brews.

SABMiller said it was looking to continue the current brand growth of 30%, which was achieved in both of the last two years. Phil Plowman, marketing director at Pilsner Urquell International, aims to raise beer volumes to over 5m hectolitres from the current 1.1m hectolitres in the next eight years.