Last night, the IndigO2 theatre in London held the Stella Atrois World Draught Master Final for the United Kingdom, where 28 bartenders battled it out for a place in the Global Final set to take place in Buenos Aires on October 26th. Stella Artois are a brand desperate to empahsise the importance in pouring the ‘perfect Stella Artois’, and their Quality Draught Masters programme was set up to ensure a superior customer experience through the art of pouring lager. In a stylish and sophisticated theatre inside the O2, guests arrived to this ‘smart and 60s chic’ dress-coded event to watch these bartenders compete with one another to represent the United Kingdom at the World Draught Master Global Finals.
Mark Dolan presented the evening to a crowd made up of friends and family of each bartenders, as well as some of biggest names in Stella Artois. Alongside Dolan, ‘Master Beer Sommelier’ Marc Stroobandt talked the audience though the ritual of pouring the perfect Stella Artois, and explained just what these bartenders had been training to achieve. Bartenders from over 600 pubs across the UK had registered with the programme, and attended exclusive masterclasses throughout April, May and June with Stroobrandt, where they were taught not only the ritual behind pouring the perfect pint, but how to appreciate different beets, which food pairings work with Stella Artois, as well as improved serving standards.
These 28 finalists were the crème de le crème of the UK, the “best of the best” according to Stroobandt, and would compete in pairs over 14 rounds where a panel of judges including the 2010 World Draught Master Chris Myers, Stella Artois marketing manager Alexander Lambrecht, and brewmaster Paul Van de Walle would decide their fate. The contestants had just two minutes to perfect the ritual and serve the perfect Stella Artois to the judges in the first round, and only 7 of the 28 would make it through to the next round. The nine-step ritual that these bartenders must follow is one of such intricate detail and skill, that those thinking there can be no ‘art’ or ‘beauty’ in pouring a pint of Stella Artois will surely think twice in making such assumptions. The contestants are given a mark between 1 and 10 for each step of the ritual, which is broken down as follows.
1. ‘The Purification’ – the glass must be perfectly clean and rinsed, held by the stem at all times, and with the Stella Artois logo facing forward throughout.
2. ‘The Sacrifice’ – the tap is opened in one quick action, with the first drops of beer allowed to flow away; “sacrificed”.
3. ‘The Liquid Alchemy Begins’ – the glass is held at a 45° angle just under the tap but must not touch at any point.
4. ‘The Crown’ – the glass is lowered to allow the natural formation of the foam head, a ‘two finger’ head is necessary with a slight overflow to be removed.
5. ‘The Removal’ – the tap is closed quickly and the glass removed so that beer does not drip into the head.
6. ‘The Skim’ – while the head overflows slightly, it is smoothed over gently with a ‘head cutter’ at a 45° angle “with the flow of the bubbles.”
7. ‘The Cleansing’ – both the bottom and sides of the glass are cleaned and dabbed dry, and a drip catcher is placed on the stem of the chalice glass.
8. ‘The Two Finger Rule’ – the right amount of foam is usually about two fingers, and the head should be “rounded and without big bubbles.”
9. ‘The Bestowal’ – the beer is presented to the consumer on a clean coaster with the logo again facing forward at all times.
Alongside the nine-step ritual, contestants are judged on their preparation, attention to detail, and for their personality in engaging with both the audience and the judges.
After 14 rounds, the judges had narrowed the 28 bartenders down to just seven. In the next round the remaining contestants would again perform the ritual, but this time on their own, and would be asked a question by the panel of judges as to why they deserved to be in the Global Final. After much deliberation and discussion among the judging panel, the evening came to a close when Alexander Lambrecht announced this years winner was Mark Simmonite of Henry’s in Sheffield.
Speaking after the UK finals, Simmonite was overjoyed not only with the result, but with the opportunites that Stella Artois were giving himself and others. “The commitment, passion, and drive from the team at Stella is fantastic” he told us, and the UK champion shared the belief that the “perfect pouring ritual can only improve business” for pubs and bars across the country. Simmonite claims that “Pubs are in competition with Facebook”, and they “need to give people a reason to leave their home, because anyone can pour a bottle of beer.” The UK Champion seems adamant that the Draught Masters programme will certainly make a difference to pubs, and believes it already has in some places.
On stage, Simmonite was presented to the audience for having the best shoes out of all the contestants, and he told us he had been “up all night” polishing them to impress the judges. Until October, where he will now represent the UK in the World Global Finals, Simmonite plans on making a microbrewery with his brother in Sheffield, so that he can continue to offer people “something better than sitting at home” He described his experience so far to have been “mind-blowing, awesome, and crazy”, and expressed his relief to being on the other side of the panel next year. Before then, Simmonite will prepare to tavel to Buenos Aires, where he will compete with the best bartenders from around the world for the Stella Artois World Draught Master 2011 title – and we wish him the best of luck from all here at FFC.