Flair Bartending Lesson 13 Homework
Here's the short version:
Crazy things happened. New flair bartending website is up and running. Tons of new videos, much better quality. Subscribe to the Flair Bartending TV YouTube channel, friend FBTV on Facebook, tweet it up on the ol' Twitter-ma-jig.
The internet is littered with blogs that have been abandoned over the years, with authors who make excuses as to why they've been too busy. You'll never believe my story for the last two years. And normally I'd tell you not to believe everything a bartender tells you but I swear every word is true. It's been a bizarre two years.
Here's the long version:
Get comfortable. It’s a long one.
It’s been so long since my last post that I’ve actually had a few readers email me to ask if I was okay. One YouTube viewer said he held a mock funeral for me (thank you, btw.) Where did I go? What the heck have I been doing? Did I forget about you, my wonderful readers and video-watchers? Not a chance. But I completely let you down. Let me explain the two inconceivable things that have happened since August of 2010.
First of all, something kind of shocking started happening in early 2010: people started watching my videos. I know that tends to be the whole point of writing a blog and people should be so lucky to have someone actually read what they write and watch what they upload. But it kinda freaked me out. For a guy who started blogging in 2007 simply as a way to pass the time while I waited for a friend to finish coding a project we took two years to never finish (BarSpecials.com – the domain is still up for sale!) – I didn’t expect anyone other than a couple friends to see my site. Hell, that’s why I put up filthy bar jokes, so I could entertain my friends. Then one day I was teaching a small flair bartending class in the basement of my bar and as I was handing out the syllabus it occurred to me that these students, smart though they were, might not remember exactly what a “Shadow Pass” is, or the “Push Down Pop Up.” So later that week I stood in the spare room of that god-awful apartment I lived in with that god-awful roommate at the time, flipped open my laptop, and hit record on the built-in camera. I figured if my students had questions throughout the week while they were practicing on their own, they deserved to be able to watch a video of me reviewing the flair move. They were paying me $20 for each two-hour lesson. I figured I owed it to them.
About two weeks after posting my first flair video on YouTube I got a comment from someone in Sweden saying “thanks for the video.” I kept on uploading videos for my students and started getting comments from people in the Philippines in really wonderful broken English saying “Flair you Good! Teach well! Thanks much! I learn!” (Trust me, their English was still light-years better than my Filipino.) I thought it was pretty cool to be able to teach something to someone I’d probably never meet in another country on the other side of the planet, so I kept adding the videos even after my flair class in the basement had concluded. Eventually my first YouTube video hit 1000 views! One day I saw I had 100 subscribers. Later, I decided to use a digital camera so the videos would have a little better video quality (have you seen those first few videos – they’re terrible!).
Realizing I had people from all corners of the world watching my videos, I started to get really picky about their quality. Like, weirdly picky. I wanted the audio/video quality to be top notch so I invested in an HD camera and a wireless microphone - only to discover the wireless mic didn’t plug in to my camera. Seriously. So I bought another camera. I spent 8 hours filming new tutorials at the bar on my day off – only to discover that the batteries in my microphone were dead, so all my footage turned out to be a silent movie. That actually happened twice, believe it or not. And I still didn’t give up hope, though I really wanted to make quality flair bartending tutorials available online. I “let perfect be the enemy of good enough” as a friend of mine once put it. I really wanted my tutorials to be just as good as any DVD you would spend money on, even if they were free on YouTube. This circus sideshow of a production went on through much of spring and summer 2010.
Finally, one day in August 2010, I filmed a few hours of content just days before a planned vacation to visit some friends in Panama for a couple weeks. I really thought I’d spend part of my vacation editing those videos and putting up some awesome new content on my website. And I truly think I would have if something else had not happened…
Part Two: Here’s where it gets weird.
Before I left for my Panama vacation, I happened to be at the bar while there was a Stella Artois promotion going on. It had to do with the Stella Artois 9 Step Pouring Ritual, which I had never heard of and just assumed to be part of the wild world of beer marketing. I managed to take 1st place in that competition, which won me a place in the regional competition a few weeks later.
I’m not a competitive person, generally, but I discovered that the winner of this regional competition would win a trip to New York City. I’ve got a few friends in New York I hadn’t seen in a while so I buckled down and decided to do my homework: I wanted to win this competition, I wanted to see my old friends, I wanted the trip to New York.
As fate would have it, I not only won the trip to New York, but I won the New York competition, which earned me a trip to the US finals in Boston. It seemed a little surreal to me but I was now a competitor in the US Stella Artois Draught Master Competition. It was close, but when the dust settled I won the competition, the title of Stella Artois US Draught Master, and a trip for two to London to compete in the 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Master competition. The chance to compete against 30 other countries in a beer pouring competition, to represent my country – like the Olympics – was all a bit surreal. Seriously surreal.
The kind folks from Stella Artois sent my friend Jesse and I to Belgium for a week before heading onto London for the competition. Making him my +1 was the least I could do to thank him for letting me crash at his pad in Panama for 2 months (if you travel at all, check out his Hotel Comparison site.) My first time across the pond was an absolute blast discovering Belgium, Belgium beer culture, delicious food, and friendly people.
It was also a huge realization to discover that the Stella Artois 9 Step Pouring Ritual wasn’t just a gimmick like I had originally suspected. Turns out, it’s simply how they pour beer in Belgium. The Belgians have a special reverence for beer – it has a central role in Belgian culture – and they have a method for serving it that was new to me. Was totally worthwhile to see that the 9 Step Pouring Ritual was Stella Artois’s way of codifying a Belgian tradition.
Then came four days in London for the competition. The 2010 Stella Artois World Draught Master Competition brought 30 competitors from 30 countries together, to meet, to celebrate, and to compete for the world title. Meeting bartenders from Chile, China, Australia, Ukraine and everywhere in between was an experience I never would’ve imagined being a part of, truly. This was a big deal, so big two of my brothers flew over to London to cheer me on. It must have helped because as fate would have it, on October 26, 2010, I beat all the other countries and won the title of the Stella Artois World Draught Master.
Needless to say, the following year was a bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t forget about this website and all the improvements I wanted to make, I just didn’t want to step on any toes at Stella Artois. They had selected me to be the Stella Artois World Draught Master and I dedicated myself fully to it. I put ChrisTheBartender.com on the backburner, knowing that I would improve it when the time was right.
In the meantime, I got to travel the world, teaching people about Stella Artois and coaching bartenders in the 9 Step Pouring Ritual. In 3 months time, I visited 12 countries across 5 continents, from Australia to Argentina, from China to Canada, Ukraine to New Zealand. It. Was. Insane. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Ultimately, my year wrapped up at the 2011 Stella Artois World Draught Master competition in Buenos Aires where I passed on my title to the next winner. You can read my journal during from world tour, but I’ll post my favorite entry – the last one:
TODAY IS THE DAY
"The day I pass the crown onto the next Stella Artois World Draught Master. It was 364 days ago in London that I had the most incredible surprise of my life, competing against 30 other countries and winning the title of Stella Artois World Draught Master. If someone would have told me 365 days ago, the surreal experiences that I would have, I would never have believed it in a million years. In the last year I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower, shared Stella Artois with Ambassadors and Mayors, seen Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, explored islands in New Zealand and 1000 year-old monasteries in Ukraine, seen the home of the world’s best brewery in Leuven, Belgium, danced the Tango in Argentina, and lived like a King. It has been, in a word, spectacular. Wow. Simply, wow.
Today, as bittersweet as it might be, it is with the utmost pleasure and excitement that I wish all of the contestants of the 15th Annual Stella Artois World Draught Master Competition the best of luck, and I look forward to crowning my successor, whomever he or she may be. I recall fondly the excitement of last year’s competition in London and the incredible joy of standing on the podium, the winning trophy held high above my head. I look forward immensely to seeing the same excitement and emotion in this year’s winner. May you have the most exceptional year and continue the proud tradition of Stella Artois Draught Masters. Stella Artois: she has been, and will continue to be, a thing of beauty. Take good care of her."
However, fate didn’t end there. After my whirlwind year I went back to bartending but not for long. I was offered a job with the F&B Partnership as a beer consultant, which I happily accepted. That once-in-a-lifetime experience has been extended via F&B; now I get to travel North America and Europe, teaching people about beer and focusing on beer and food pairings.
The best part about my job – other than getting to travel around teaching people about beer (!) – is that it leaves me time to dedicate to teaching flair bartending. So, finally, in the summer of 2012 I got back to filming new flair bartending tutorials – this time in a studio with proper sound, lighting, editing, the whole bit. Rather than add to ChrisTheBartender.com, I spent some time building a new website and launched FlairBartending.TV in December 2012. If you’re looking for flair bartending lessons, I’ve got over 50 new videos up on FBTV’s YouTube channel, with new ones added every week. We’re just about to move into exhibition flair and get a little crazy. Be sure to subscribe!
So that’s what I’ve been doing. If you made it this far, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what you think, what you’ve been doing, how your flair is going, and anything you want to share. I promise to respond to any and every email I get. I’m turning over a new leaf. We are going to flip some bottles.
A few weeks back, Stella Artois hosted a promotional competition at my bar, inviting patrons to pour the perfect Stella Artois using their 9-Step Pouring Ritual. In reality, most bartenders in most bars in the US don’t go through such pomp and circumstance when they pour a beer from the tap. Some bars don't have the proper dish sink system, but more importantly most American drinkers aren't familiar with the process. Many American drinkers might get antsy watching the process as they tend to value a rapidly poured beer more than a properly poured one. However, Belgians are world renown for the incredible focus on detail and ritual with which they regard their beer. Stella Artois is a classic Belgian beer; hence, their 9-Step Pouring Ritual.
Turns out the event I competed in was the first round in what is actually the 14th Annual Stella Artois World Draught Master Competition. Anyway, I took part in the competition at my bar mostly because I just happened to be there. Due in part to the fact that most of the other competitors were just regular bar patrons - and possibly had never poured a tap beer in their lives - somehow I won. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m not particularly competitive. However, when I heard that the winner of that competition would win a trip to New York to compete in the next level of the Stella Artois World Draught Master Competition, I got even more serious and did my homework. The regional competition brought together some decent bartenders from the Madison area, but with some practice and a little luck I ended up taking first place.
So, as much as I can still barely believe it, Stella Artois and Wisconsin Distributors are sending me tomorrow to New York City to compete Wednesday night against 12 other bartenders from the eastern seaboard. Keep in mind I’m still in Panama right now. So tomorrow I’m flying 2000 miles to pour a beer. And I can’t wait. Apparently, if I take 1st or 2nd place in this competition, there is one more competition in Boston next week before the ultimate final in London in October.
You can read more about the competition here and you can check out their interactive game where you try online to pour the perfect Stella Artois using the 9-Part Pouring Ritual. I’ll warn you: if you’re at all competitive, it’s insanely addictive. Apparently they are taking the highest score from online game to be the wild card at the upcoming competitions in Boston, so give it a shot.