A cool breeze played on our skin through the unfocused darkness. Laughing followed behind me, while voices echoed off-handedly with European familiarity. Heat irradiated from overhead. A young African in a white linen suit was introduced to us.
“Nice to meet you, Cebo Magutshwa,” I said. He was from Caffe Della Salute, an Italian restaurant in Johannesburg, South Africa. Admitting his naiveté, he said this trip signaled two firsts in his life: his first time out of Africa and his first time on an airplane. Despite his lack of worldly travels, he displayed knowledge of Pilsner Urquell and single malt scotch that was staggering.
Across the room stood handsome Lukas Svoboda from the world-renowned Restaur U Pinkasù, a traditional Czech pub near Wenceslaus Square in Prague. The room seemed to shrink as the crowd grew. The charismatic Pawel Wisniewski, of 4art Jazz Club in Gliwice, Poland joined the festivities.
These three bartenders were the finalists chosen in the Pilsner Urquell International Master Bartender of the Year competition. Hundreds of contestants throughout the Czech Republic, Poland and South Africa had endured a grueling selection process in the preliminary rounds. Written examinations tested their knowledge of the traditional development of Pilsner Urquell and the brewing practices that create this distinctive beer. Each of the contestants had been required to choose a photograph depicting the embodiment of Pilsner Urquell and to write an essay explaining their selection.
The subsequent test was to demonstrate their ability to consistently perform the “perfect pour.” Such an art requires finesse, patience, and a steady hand. Technique differs for draught and bottle pouring, but either can be a difficult task. The contestants were judged on the draught technique, since this is the greater challenge.
Top Photo: Pawel Wisniewski, Cebo Magutshwa, and Lukas Svoboda
During the weekend of October 28-29, 2006, three highly respected Judges - Vaclav Berka, third generation Senior Trade Brewmaster at Pizeòský Prazdroj in the Czech Republic; Michael Jackson of the United Kingdom, the leading author and world authority on beer and whiskey; and Ryan Noel Johnson, United States Trade Brewer for Miller International Brands - would scrutinize presentations from these contestants, conduct personal interviews with each, and make their final selection for the International Pilsner Urquell Master Bartender of the Year Award 2006.
Photo: Judge Vaclav Berka of Pizeòský Prazdroj
In this final round, the Judges would identify the bartender who most exemplified the passion and dedication that Josef Groll traditionalized as Master Brewer of Mestansky Pivovar, the brewery designed and built by Martin Stelzer in 1839, on the banks of the Radbuza River in what is now the Czech Republic. On October 5th, 1842, Groll would brew the world’s first brilliantly golden beer, one that sharply contrasted the dark, hazy beer that was a common sight in European brewing practices of the day. Josef Groll’s original pilsner was to become the most influential design over the next 150 years.
Photo: Judge Michael Jackson, Beer Authority
The Award Ceremony
In the classic style of a black tie affair, the first International Pilsner Urquell Master Bartender of the Year Award 2006 kicked-off on Monday, October 30, 2006 at the Langworthy Lounge on the top floor of the American Airlines Theatre in New York City, New York, USA.
The air was thick with anticipation as Vaclav Berka spoke. The judges presented a broadly smiling Cebo Magatuswa with the coveted trophy as Pilsner Urquell Master Bartender of the Year 2006. Honorary certificates were awarded to Lukas Svoboda and Pawel Wisniewski. As applause and cheers thundered through the room, cameras sealed the moment that will become a part of Pilsner Urquell history in an archive of tradition.
Photo, above right: Master of Ceremonies, Pilsner Urquell, Nigel Chenery and Judge Ryan Johnson
The Perfect Pour for Pilsner Urquell
Lest you be ignorant of the fine details of the draught pour, here is the technique:
Using a clean, cool glass, rinse the glass with cold water to ensure the beer will be kept at 45° F/ 7°C. Holding the glass at a 45° angle, position the tap “whisper-close” to the inside edge of the glass. Fully open the tap, allowing the beer to slither along the crystalline wall. Ensure that the beer is poured in one motion. If the pour is interrupted, the beer may exhibit a premature “bald spot” (flat beer), or “cauliflower” foam character (lumpiness).
You must straighten the glass as soon as the reflective, gold body reaches the lip of the glass. Pushing back on the tap handle will activate the creamer. You want to create a perfect 35mm head, measured from the brim to the body. The foam should be dense and wet, rising slightly above the rim of the glass. Bubbles should not be visible. The tap should be just above the surface of the beer to drive the wet foam underneath the dry. This will seal the surface, locking in the flowery aroma and creating a thick head that will last to the final mouthful. The head will look like softly beaten egg whites, and will leave rings of lace after every taste. As you raise it to toast your friends, you will observe the golden clarity and characteristic sparkle.
The traditional toast, “Na zdravi!” symbolizes the Bohemian roots from which Pilsner Urquell springs, and extends heartfelt wishes for good health to those being honored.