WORDS BY LINDSAY TRIVERS – THE TASTING CLASS
Pulling a pint is child’s play, right? Just open the tap and tilt a glass under the flowing beer. Voila! Like taking candy from a baby.
Now, flash back to the first draught you ever poured. Do you remember the uncontrollable foam? Or being eye-balled by impatient, thirsty patrons? Did you accidentally fill half the glass with foam then try to tip the head off only to realise that foam floats and that you were just pouring settled beer down the drain? Have you ever panicked and scooped the foam out with a spoon? Or, have you rather sneakily held the tap handle half open for a controlled, if somewhat flat, trickle of beer?
Now, that you’ve been reminded of your humble beginning behind the bar, I’m sure you can agree that there is a certain skill required to pull a perfect pint. Stella Artois has taken a close look at this process and introduced what we now call The 9-Step Pouring Ritual, which, aside from being an entertaining spectacle for bar patrons, ensures that Stella Artois is served with consistent quality world over. To prove that Stella Artois is poured with the same unwavering flair in the UAE and beyond, as it is in its homeland of Belgium, The Stella Artois World Draught Masters competition was born.
For the past 19 years since its inception, Stella Artois has been scouring the earth in search of the most concise beer slingers on the planet. Brent Henderson led the competition’s 2016 crusade in Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, Abu Dhabi and The Northern Emirates; and as a former World Draught Master Competitor himself, he had a clear vision of the armory needed to be worthy of being crowned champion.
Brent is also the Stella Artois Brand Ambassador in The Middle East, and in this position he has already trained more than 1,250 bartenders on The Stella Artois 9-Step Pouring Ritual. As a result he has gained an industry-insider’s look at where the region’s best pint pulling talents are lurking.
Brent focused his search on 50 outlets throughout the UAE, including every Belgian Beer Café, and providing each one training on their home turf.
Alas, the search for the next Stella Draught Master reached beyond the usual buzzing nightlife hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and into Oman and Bahrain. Oman showed strong competitors from more than 20 hotels, including The Crowne Plaza Muscat, The Ibis Hotel, The Cave, Sherlock Holmes Pubs, Buffalo Bar, The Rugby Club, The Ramee Rose Hotel, The Grand Hyatt Muscat and The InterContinental Muscat to name a few; with the country’s winner, for the second year in a row, coming from On the Rocks Bar.
Bahrain’s grand finale was held at The InterContinental and reached an all-time record with 150 bartenders from more than 30 hotels attended the two day training session. After an intense few days of training, you can now confidently order a perfectly poured Stella Artois from The Rugby Club Bar, Sherlock Holmes Pub, Ramee Rose and Buffalo Bar to name a few.
Of the 350 participants from across the wider region, 16 hopefuls progressed to an intense four day training session at PATH Bar School, where they we able to practice on the purpose-built bar; the same bar that would later be moved to Industrial Avenue in China Grill for the competition final. The training allowed contenders to get fully immersed in the story of Stella Artois and to truly master The Stella Artois 9-Step Pouring Ritual, from The Purification to The Bestowal.
To assist with technique development and help prepare the contestants for their live performance in front of the judges, the 2014 UAE Draught Master Champion, was called in for the training.
Dubai sent strong contenders from The Grosvenor House, The Crowne Plaza, The Marina Byblos Hotel, Ocean View Hotel, Dubai Marine Beach Club, The Irish Village, Cargo Restaurant, Jules Bar, Maison Mathis and The Amadeus Lounge Bar. Those moving forward, who had to travel a little further, came from The Belgian Beer Café Ras Al Kamiah, The St Regis Abu Dhabi , The Kempinski Ajman and The Belgian Beer Café Abu Dhabi; all of whom would advance to the live competition.
In November the stage was officially set. More than 200 spectators gathered at China Grill’s Industrial Avenue in The Westin Dubai Marina to witness the 2016 UAE Stella Artois Draught Masters. Some of Dubai’s most ambitious bartenders gathered to vie for the title of the UAE’s best pour.
Setting the tone for the evening was a series of food challenges, designed to test the crowd’s senses while also shedding light on beer styles coming out of Belgium. The first was a pairing competition where guests were handed a voting ballot to choose their favourite beer and food combinations. Beer as a worthy accompaniment to a meal has hit the mainstream in recent times, and as people have become more aware of the different beer styles and flavour profiles, they are discovering that it can complement a meal just as well as a fine wine.
Playing a pivotal role in this beer culture evolution are the chefs who take pride in developing dishes in line with the perfect drinking accompaniment. The chefs of The Westin Mina Seyahi are part of this culinary fraternity, so paired-off on the night to create dishes complementing the region’s most sought after Belgian beers.
Spectators and competitors alike surged throughout Industrial Avenue, sampling each offering in search of their favourite. The winning team was Chefs Valentino and Chef Andy with their Korean BBQ pork ribs, cheese fondue and sous vide sweet potato skewers, all served with Leffe Brune. The filling, smoky and slightly sweet qualities of the BBQ ribs mirrored the beer’s characters beautifully. The cheese fondue was hearty enough to balance the weighty beer, the cheese’s tang and salt brought forward the dried fruit characters of Leffe Brune, and the sweet potato balanced the gentle spice and hint of sugar in the beer. Overall, it was a lovely wintery pairing.
Other catching dishes were the pork belly with cod and sweet corn paired with Stella Artois Cidre, a premium twist on the classic pork chops and apple sauce. The summery pairing of duck breast lettuce wraps and Hoegaarden was also popular while the dessert match of Black Forest Cheesecake with the refreshing cherry flavours of Belle Vue Kriek was a divine finish.
In most restaurants, though, food and beverage pairings are left for the front of house staff to master. With this in mind, The Bottle Pour Competition put the bartender’s beer and food pairing skills to the test. Participants were required to select a dish from the menu and match it to either a Stella Artois, Leffe Blond, Leffe Brune, Hoegaarden, Bell-Vue Kriek or Stella Cidre. The kicker was that they then had to present it creatively to the panel of judges. One entrant served his beer in an old cask, another penned and recited a poem about his pairing in Burns-like fashion. The victor of the night was Eric Ballard of Provocateur in The Four Seasons, Jumeirah Beach. His winning match was Leffe Brune paired with chocolate mousse, uniquely served in a chalice dusted with a chocolate and nutmeg powder. The dust reflected the naturally occurring characters of the beer and accentuated the fluffy milk chocolate mousse.
With everyone’s bellies full of food and beer, Dubai Eye Radio host and MC of the evening, Tom Uruqhart, took to the stage to introduce the main event, the UAE Stella Artois Draught Masters 2016.
Four rounds of sudden death pour-offs separated the good from the great. The purpose built bars gave new meaning to the term head-to-head competition, forcing each contestant to face off, literally, in front of the expectant crowd. Judging the evening was a panel of some of the industry’s finest – Sudeera Lakmal, 2014 UAE Stella Artois Draught Master, The Tasting Class founder, Lindsay Trivers, General Manager of Hubbing Markets Gulf Beverages Leon Ashford and Catering News Editor Michael Gordon.
The competition kicked off with bartenders being randomly paired to an opponent for a round of sudden death beer pouring. Brutally, the number of contestants was cut from 16 to 8 in the first round (don’t feel too bad for them though, their efforts earned them each a 3,000 AED mall voucher). This knock-out style competition quickly whittled the contestants down to the two finalists. Struan Moodie, formally of Rhodes W1 in Grosvenor House, looked at home on the stage and his draught technique suggested he had made the pour a thousand times over. He worked his rogue Scottish charm on the judges, and threw in a few kilted dance moves to the crowds’ delight. On the opposite side of the bar was Shanna Coetzee of the Belgian Beer Café, Ras Al Khama. This fresh faced, girl-next-door, with a high brunette pony tail was the only female representative in the competition. Uruqhart tossed her into the spotlight on multiple occasions and Shanna rose to the challenge each time with quick, thoughtful, lively responses. As engaging as she was on the microphone it was her meticulous tap etiquette that earned her passage to the final set.
The last round was anyone’s game. But when Struan fortuitously left his tap running, one could have argued that the competition was decided at that moment. That said, there isn’t a witness who would argue that Shanna didn’t earn her title after she perfectly executed The 9-Step Pouring Ritual sequence, achieving the same picture-perfect two centimeters of foam atop each glass in the final round. In fact every chalice she filled from the first round until the last was identical and without flaw. A worthy champion by any standard.
What’s next for Shanna? She’ll be off on an all-expenses paid trip to New York to enjoy the sights, sounds and refreshments of one of the global trendsetting cities. There she will attend Le Savior, an exclusive experiential event hosted by Stella Artois in New York. With the help of a celebrity chef and key influencers, Stella Artois will create an immersive multi-sensorial journey through the seasons, using the metaphor of the passage of time to inspire people to savour the moment and leave their mark on the world.