When drinking at a bar with friends and colleagues, how many times have you blamed the beer for tasting rough or thin, for being flat, for bloating you or even dehydrating you after a few? Consumers can be quick to dismiss the production and quality of a beer when the culprit may in fact be poor service.
It’s rare for mass-produced lagers to find a regular place on taps at countless bars and pubs unless it has been developed and brewed to a finely scrutinised taste and texture profile, with an unblemished record for consistency.
So, when ordering a beer from a big international brand, familiar throughout the world, the texture and quality of the beer should consistently be spot on. Unless, however, the beer has been wrongly treated through transport, storage or service.
When such a beer is served to a drinker the most noticeable faults will be caused by the action of pouring and presenting the beer. In particular, the failure to correctly form the beer’s head will result in a flat, unbalanced or bad tasting beer.
Heineken is tackling this problem head on with a campaign to ensure the final frontier of a beer’s journey is true to the product. Their “Five Star Pour” sessions are training bar staff at participating Heineken venues how to pour their lager perfectly.
Leading the lessons is Franck Evers, who travels the world for Heineken teaching the techniques and science of pouring the prefect beer.
Australian Brews News was invited along to witness a Five Star Pour session at Platform 28 bar in Melbourne’s Docklands.
Evers introduced himself to the audience of bar workers with a story about his most recognisable claim to fame. He managed the bar Gompie in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. It was the bar responsible for adding the line “Alice, who the f**k is Alice?” to the Smokie hit song “Living Next Door to Alice” when played by DJs at the bar. The song was an international hit when covered by a Dutch novelty band that used the bar’s name, Gompie, in 1995 (the song was originally recorded by Australian band New World in 1972). His diverse resume also includes psychiatric nurse and tennis coach.
It was his time as a bar manager at several Dutch venues that lead Evers to his current role as Heineken draughtmaster. His tagline “you buy your second beer based on the quality of the first beer” came from his observations and dealings with his customers, as he sought to understand the major annoyances of drinkers, which would directly impact on their sales.
In Holland, the home of Heineken, Franck worked closely with his staff to establish a serving ritual that would ensure the beer would always perform as it should when consumed.
“If you improve the drinkability of the beer, you improve your income through greater turnover of the product,” he believes.
Franck’s ritual has now become the Heineken Five Star Pour.
The annoyances addressed by this ritual are universal – dirty or wrong glassware, lack of or broken head on the beer, incorrect temperature and poor service.
Firstly, in a noisy bar communication is 93% non-verbal, thus presentation is vital to the sensory experience of the customer. With that in mind, the Five Star Pour asks bar staff to:
- Serve the beer in a clean and correctly branded glass.
- Open the quickly tap and allow for a single, smooth pour.
- Close the tap in a quick motion and allow a Dutch Style Head of foam to form naturally through the rise of CO2 from the beer, which will retain throughout consumption and prevent the beer from becoming oxidised and flat.
- Skim the head with a wet skimmer on a angle of 450, removing any dry or broken foam and harsh bitterness. It also seals the head with a fine layer of water, retaining the head for longer.
- Present the beer on a branded coaster, with the glassware logo facing the customer, with a smile and say “Enjoy your Heineken”.
“A good pour will always taste better, no matter how many you’ve had,” Evers instructed.
He offered “semi-scientific proof” by allowing each of the session participants to taste both a correctly poured Heineken and a badly poured Heineken side by side. The results of the taste test were clear. The badly poured beer, with a broken head, felt thin and unbalanced in the mouth. The “perfect pour” was clean, crisp and much easier to drink.
Franck Evers conducted his presentation with confidence and interest. He showed a genuine concern for sharing the perfect pour gospel, despite repeating this presentation countless times before. This has been his full time job since 2005.
As a representative of Heineken, it was refreshing to hear Evers speak of beer as a whole, rather than just the heritage of the brand and product or the promotional qualities of this locally-brewed-under-licence lager. He taught the fundamental science of how beer’s components react to the human body, in terms of both enjoyment in refreshment and the downside through beer’s diuretic and hangover effects. He explained how a well-formed and retained head can mitigate these as it prevents oxygen from reacting with the hop rho iso-alpha acids, inhibiting antidiuretic hormone and altering anti-inflammatory properties.
His presentation and lessons apply truly to almost any draught beer poured at a bar. The Heineken branding is essential to his role, but Evers did not convey an evangelical preaching for the Heineken lager product. Rather, his mission is simple: “Treat beer better and people will buy more.”
Evers spoke to Australian Brews News about how these sessions were more than just a flash in the pan for the bar staff he meets.
“I make the unconscious conscious,” Franck noted as he explained that bar staff already know how to pour a beer, they just don’t know why each part of the process is important and how it impacts the beer.
“They leave here and say ‘now I know why I use a skimmer’.”
“My goal is that bar staff give the consumer a better experience. Having a ritual [when serving the beer] will activate the insights that were already there. They need to know their product like a barista or cocktail waiter knows their through each stage of service.”
“Think big, act little,” said Evers of Heineken’s Five Star Pour campaign, which is further supported by a 12 month program of secret shopper rewards. Staff at bars participating in the program will be rewarded if they serve a secret shopper using the correct Five Star Pour.
“We will visit all the bars in the program, order and drink beers, engage, explain and do some on the job training.”
The underlying message of the promotion is care for the product. If you serve the beer well, you will sell more. The brewery can control the production and distribution of the product but once the kegs arrive at the venues, the beer is in the hands of the bar staff. This is a universal message that bars should heed, whether they serve Heineken or not. That is where the connection with the consumer happens and that is when the judgement of the product occurs.
These days most major brewing companies seem to focus their extensive marking resources on new or re-worked slogans, taglines, television commercials and other imagery that has little relevance to the beer itself or its consumption.
Heineken International, which includes their joint partnership with Lion Nathan in Australia, had marketing and selling expenses €2.1 billion in 2010. They claim that there is a 20% growth rate for Heineken products under the Five Star Pour program, which is essentially a grassroots internal operation rather than consumer marketing.
Heineken’s focus is still firmly on sales, but this campaign it truly about the beer. The Five Star Pour promotion does not advocate for any dubious flavour, performance enhancing or historical qualities of the lager product. Instead, it aims to help you taste and consume Heineken the way it is designed to be, emphasising lasting freshness.
Next time you are in a bar and decide to order a Heineken, watch for a perfect pour. Maybe you will discover the quality that sends you back for a second.
View a brief version of Franck’s presentation: