Stella Artois: The art of the pour

When it comes to draught beer, the way you pour it is important, especially to Belgians. That’s why Stella Artois, perhaps the most famous of Belgian beers, holds an annual worldwide competition to find the best bartender at pouring draught beer to the high Belgian standards. The finals of the competition in Cayman were held on 27 August at Karoo in Camana Bay to determine who would go on to the world finals in Montreal on 25 October.  

When it comes to pouring draught beer, the Belgians are finicky; so finicky in fact that they have a nine-step ritual for pouring a draught beer. 

To highlight the Belgian beer pouring ritual, Stella Artois has held a World Draught Masters competition since 1997. Although Belgians have not surprisingly won the competition six times, residents from six other countries have also come out on top, with a New Zealander winning three times, an American twice, and people from Italy, Australia and Romania each winning once. In 2011, a resident of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was crowned the Stella Artois World Draught Master in the world finals in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  


The beer  

Stella Artois is a classic Belgian lager that has a clear, golden colour. 

It has been brewed in Leuven, Belgium, since 1926, when it was initially made as a special beer for the holidays.  

The alcohol content is typically 5.2 per cent, but lower alcohol versions are sold in the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  

As with other Belgian beers, a unique glass has been designed to highlight the brand’s flavours. For Stella Artois, the glass is called a chalice. It is designed to ensure a good foam head, which preserves aroma and keeps the beer protected from the air, helping keep it fresh. 

A crisp, refreshing beer with a spicy hops flavour, Stella Artois pairs well with intensely flavoured and spicy dishes including Thai, Asian and Indian cuisine. The bitterness imparted by the hops also helps Stella cut through cream sauces and it goes well with semi-soft cheeses like havarti and artisan cheddars. 


The pour  

The nine-step pouring ritual starts with purification of the chalice. The chalice is cleaned in soapy water and then rinsed in cold water so that the glass is close to the same temperature of the beer. The tap is then fully opened and the first burst is allowed to flow away to ensure that all the beer in the glass is fresh. This step is known as “The Sacrifice”.  

The third step involves placing the chalice at a 45 degree angle under the beer streaming from the tap so that it begins to circulate in the glass to create an optimum proportion of foam to beer. To ensure this, near the end of the pour – and the timing of this is where some of the art of the pour comes in – the chalice is straightened and lowered under the beer stream in a step called “The Crown”. The foam on top of the glass prevents the beer below from coming in contact with air, which would cause is to lose some flavour.  

The next step involves closing the tap in one smooth motion and removing the chalice from underneath the stream quickly to prevent any drops from falling into the glass. 

Step six is called “The Beheading”. While the foam head is flowing over the edge of the chalice, the bartender cuts it off with a skimmer held at a 45 degree angle. This eliminates the larger bubbles, which otherwise would burst and accelerate the dissipation of the foam head. 

The next step involves checking to ensure the foam head is two fingers – or three centimetres – thick. This thickness provides a protective foam cap for the beer that will keep it from going stale in the glass due to having the beer come in direct contact with the air. 

The bartender then dips the chalice about three-quarters up its side into cold water to rinse off the beer that flowed over the sides in a step called “The Cleansing”. The final step, called “The Bestowal” involves placing a drip catcher around the base of the stem and serving the beer to the recipient on a clean coaster.  

During the whole process, care is taken to ensure the Stella Artois logo on the chalice is presented toward the recipient, or in the case of the competition, toward the judges. 


The competition  

Cayman Distributors Sales Representative (Beer and Spirits) Mark Haring said there was an open call for contestants to bartenders and service staff from bars and restaurants on Grand Cayman. 

“I opened the contest up this year to places that don’t carry Stella in hopes of educating people about Stella and the brand,” he said. 

None of the competitors had any prior training on the nine-step pouring ritual. 

“So the playing field was level and no one had an advantage,” Haring said. 

Cayman Distributors hosted a training session for contestants at the Clubhouse Sports Bar & Grill on 6 August. In addition to learning the pouring ritual techniques, the competitors were briefed on the history of Stella Artois and its brewery. A practice session and the initial competition heats were held at the Clubhouse on 13 August and then at the Triple Crown Pub on 20 August. The six remaining competitors then participated in the Cayman Finals on 27 August at Karoo in Camana Bay. 

“Their performance of the nine-step pouring ritual was closely scrutinised by the two judges – Mike Kennedy and Pat Scarnechia – with attention to appearance and personality being part of the judging criteria,” Haring said. “The nine steps were given up to 10 points each.” 


The winner  

In the end, Bridgett Leggatt, a bartender from Ortanique, beat out Jenny Marshall of Triple Crown to earn a trophy and the Cayman Islands’ bragging rights. Beyond that, Leggatt earned a trip to Montreal, Canada, where she will represent Cayman in the Global Finals on 25 October.  

“She will be competing against people from almost 30 other countries for the grand prize of becoming the new Stella Artois Brand Ambassador for 2013,” Haring said. “This involves world travel to trade shows, events, openings, training seminars, media interviews, etc. This title and prize is worth almost $50,000 to the winner.” 

Leggatt, who is originally from the US but has lived in Cayman since 1996, will head up to Montreal on 23 October and stay for five nights. 

“My husband is going with me,” Leggatt said, adding that her husband will help keep her calm before the competition.  

Although Ortanique doesn’t sell draught beer, Leggatt said she hopes to get in some more practice sessions at another bar that sells Stella draught beer before she leaves. 

Leggatt said she’s looking forward to visiting Montreal since she’s only been to Canada once before on a visit to Ottawa. If she’s able to win the world finals, she’ll be visiting a lot of other countries. 

“I guess I’ll have to learn to like to fly,” she said, admitting that air travel makes her uneasy. 

She’ll also have to take a lot of time off from her regular job if she wins. 

“I’m sure [Ortanique owners] Delius [Shirley] and Cindy [Hutson] will be supportive and we’ll work it out,” she said. “My bosses and everyone else here have been very supportive and they even all came out and supported me the night of the [Cayman] finals.” 

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The Cayman finalists fo the Stella Artois World Draught Master competition were, from left, Orawan Darahong (Brickhouse); Steven Bingham (Karma); Dustin Norton (Stingers); Brianna Hood (Karoo); Bridgett Leggatt (Ortanique); and Jenny Marshall (Triple Crown).

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Eventual winner Bridgett Leggatt of Ortanique presents two Stella chalice glasses during practice before the finals.

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Steven Bingham of Karma works on his pouring technique during practice before the finals.