Beer Culture

The Prague Post

Bartending contest draws competitors from across the globe, produces hometown winner

It all came down to the quest for the perfect pour at the International Master Bartender Awards 2010 in Prague Oct. 14-15, and perhaps a little home-field advantage.

Dexterous bartenders from 17 countries landed in the city, toured the famous brewery of Pilsner Urquell – the event’s sponsor – in Plzeň and competed. Now in its fifth year, the event included 4,000 bartenders competing in their home countries with the national champions moving on to the big showdown in Prague.

“The brewery tour was excellent. I felt like Alice in Wonderland in all those tunnels,” said Kristian Wickstrom from Finland. Wickstrom competed in the Finnish finals against two other bartenders from his own bar in Helsinki.

“I’m interested in beers; I’ve sold them for 10 years,” he said. “I’m not keen on nightclubs; it’s my thing to talk to the customers, meet them.”

And conversational skills were indeed a key part of the competition. For the finals, each bartender had to go through interviews with the judges, take a written exam, identify a glass of Pilsner out of a selection of four beers and, of course, demonstrate their pouring technique.

“I showed people in Poland that I’m a good bartender, and what is more important, I have a huge passion for this job,” said Edyta Baranowska, one of only two women in this year’s contest. “Because for me, it’s not only a job, it’s a part of my life.”

The Czech representative in the competition was Lukáš Svoboda, the owner of Konvikt in Prague 1. It wasn’t his first go at the title; he won silver in the 2006 competition.

“For me it’s the challenge. I’ve been a bartender for six years, and it’s a very special hobby for me, not just a job,” he said.

In the previous four competitions, a Czech never won. Last year’s winner was from Denmark, Rasmus Kobbersmed. He joined the panel of judges this year.

Pilsner Urquell brewmaster and fellow judge Václav Berka said he was amazed “at how hungry and thirsty [the competitors] were for knowledge about brewing beer.”

Most of the bartenders said people like Pilsner in their home countries. Paris Marinos, a bartender in Athens, said Pilsner has a lot of fans in Greece.

“I’ve been a bartender for 12 years; I love my job, and I wanted to be a part of a great competition that involved beer,” he said.

Others were slightly less enthusiastic. Eduardo Cros, who works at a bar in Barcelona, registered for the competition “because my boss made me.”

But finally, after all the testing, the tours, the photos and the drinking, it came down to announcing the winner. Trumpeted fanfare preceded the announcement, and standing ovations erupted as each podium spot was announced: the studious-looking Efraeim De Paepe from Belgium came in third, and the cheerful Steffen Zimmermann from Germany claimed the silver.

Then came time to reveal the winner: Svoboda.

“I can’t begin to express how amazing winning this title is for me,” he said. “All the bartenders here have so much passion and have worked so hard to get here. I can’t wait to spread the inspiring legends of Pilsner Urquell across the globe.”