At the Stella Artois Mondial Maitres Serveurs (aka, the World Draught Master Global Finals), the brand’s world beer pouring championship, twenty-one acclaimed pourers from around the world (visa issues cut that number down from 26) gathered in Montreal last week at the Chalet du Mont-Royal to determine who could make the perfect pour.
Stella Artois, the Leuven, Belgium based brand that was founded in 1366, has developed an art to their pour, which has been refined over centuries. With their own glass (they call it a chalice) perfect for their lager, they have broken the process down into nine steps that both promote the brand and make the beer taste exactly as it should. Many of the steps are rooted in traditional Belgian pouring.
The 9-Step Stella Artois Pouring Ritual, the heart of the World Draught Master competition, goes as follows:
- The Purification: The Chalice must be cleaned and rinsed.
- The Sacrifice: The tap is opened in a single swift motion and the first drops of beer are poured.
- The Liquid Alchemy: The Chalice must be held at a 45° angle, just under the tap.
- The Crown: Lowering the Chalice permits the natural formation of the foam head.
- The Removal: The tap is closed quickly and the Chalice removed. No drips permitted.
- The Beheading: While the head foams up and threatens to overflow, a head cutter is deployed to smooth it gently.
- The Judgement: The perfect amount of foam equals two fingers.
- The Cleansing: The bottom and sides of the Chalice are to be cleaned.
- The Bestowal: The beer should be presented on a clean coaster, with the logo facing outward.
In Montreal the competitors faced off one against the other until one top pourer was crowned. Judges critiqued the amount of head, the taste, the angle of the pour, the amount of drip, and the position of logos. The winner, Allaine Schaiko, who hailed from Belgium, became the 16th world draught master in the end, beating out competitors form New Jersey, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia. See more scenes from the competition here.
After admiring this over the top competition and having a pint in a local pub in Brooklyn, I noticed just how little attention most bartenders actually pay to pouring a beer. While Schaiko will become the brand’s global ambassador for the next year and goes on a world tour to teach the perfect pour skill to bartenders and consumers, he cannot hit every bar, let alone teach pouring for every beer. It makes you wonder just how your favorite beers are supposed to taste? Can it taste better? Perhaps you can adjust the pour for personal taste?
I was pleased discover that the newish, Central European themed beer bar Hospoda on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, on the ground floor of the Bohemian National Hall, has designed their own bar system (the only one in the country) that can pour Pilsner Urquell in four different ways from the same keg, where each provides a unique flavor and style:
- Crème Urquell: the classic pour with a thick creamy head and a full balanced flavor.
- The Slice: poured with a four-finger foam to impart the beer with a refined bitterness.
- The Sweet: an all-foam glass with incredible sweetness.
- The Neat: a headless pour with sharp bitterness that pairs well with hearty foods.
So much ritual and thought goes behind serving wine. Why can’t we do the same with beer? I appreciate that proper glassware is being used more and more in American bars, but in terms of improving the pour we still have a ways to go.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.