Keeping it real … Real Ale
So you want to be a tapster? You want to pour the perfect Pint? Unlike some of the bartenders of the UK, Czech tapsters are held at celebrity status, in the eyes of Pilsner Urquell they are as important as the brewery. “Breweries have lost connection with the tapster, but now Pilsner Urquell are pushing them back to the level they should be. We will push the bartenders back to the craft level because they are representing the beer”, says Robert Lobovsky, Pilsner Urquell’s Beer Master. The beer scene is different one from the one on our shores, and the people of the Czech Republic drinks more beer per head than any other country. Sessionability is important and they want that beer to be perfect each and every time.
One of the best ways to think of a tapster is to compare them to a barrister in a decent coffee place, it is down to the tapster to keep the pouring equipment up to perfect levels. They clean and maintain the bar equipment with every use. They do not serve people at the bar or take orders, they are there to pour perfect pint after perfect pint, making sure that beer is a spot on representation of the beer as the brewery intends it to be.
Seeing a pint glass that is 95% head of foam will shock most, I myself questioned it when I first saw it but as Pilsner Urquell explained to us there is a difference between the foamy head of the beer depending on how it is poured. There is the foam we are used to seeing on pints of lager here in the UK where the beer pint glass is held below the taps and there is wet head without added oxygen, as Pilsner Urquell has when poured correctly. Pouring a beer lower than the tap allows oxygen to get in the beer, this creates the fluffy bubbling foam head we are familiar with, however, Pilsner Urquell when poured correctly by one of their tapsters is poured touching the glass, stopping the oxygen from entering the beer and giving it a wet foam which protects the freshness of the beer. Because Czech beer is all about the sessionability of their beers they don’t want it to be gassy or to make us bloat, which is what happens with beers poured in a way that oxygen can enter the beer. When poured correctly the beer is smooth, not gassy and slips down perfectly, not being bloated allows us to drink more, just how the Czech people like it!
There are four different pours in the Czech Republic, the Šnyt, Na Dvakrat, Hladinka and Mliko. The Šnyt, is for the tapsters only and doesn’t get served to the public, this is the beer they pour at the start of their shift to make sure everything is running smoothly. The Mliko (Milk) is the most unlike any British poured pint you will see, the glass is mostly all foam, poured to drink quickly, in the Czech Republic you should never let the head run out. The Mliko is sweet (hence the name Milk) but really brings the flavours of the Saaz hop forward, I really enjoyed it. The Hladinka (smooth) is closer to half foam half beer and seen more regularly in the bars of Prague. It keeps the beer crisp and fresh and is perfect for getting on a real session. The Na Dvakrat (crisp), the classic Czech pour, is closer to the pour we are used to seeing in the UK, still enough foamy head to protect the beer from oxygenation but unless drunk at some speed will most likely reach the beer before finishing.
To make sure that the tradition of the tapster is continued and held in such high regards Pilsner Urquell have a training program. This program has been extended to those working in the Draft Houses in the UK, the bartenders of Draft House are flown over to the Czech Republic to see first-hand what it is all about to be a tapster.
The tapster training is over a 5 day period, a member from each of the Draft House venues is sent to Pilsen to learn first-hand the importance and role of the tapster. The first day they are all taught the brewing process, they discuss the ingredients that are used to brew Pilsner Urquell. They are shown the enemies of beer and even drink beers that have been effected with each of those enemies so they get the experience and understanding of how beer should taste. The first day is all about getting the trainee tapsters to appreciate the beer, the second is about them understanding the role of a tapster. Throughout the day they practise all the techniques required to be a tapster and then in the evening time they jump straight into the deep end as they go into Pilsen and work from 5pm till 11pm in some of Pilsner Urquells oldest bars. The third day confidence is usually high after their first shift, so the day time is used to take a step back as they are given a history lesson on Pilsen , the home of Pilsner Urquell. Before returning for another 5 till 11 shift they take part in a walking tour of Pilsen . The fourth day consists of a morning of rest before they work a 12 hour shift to perfect their skills. The final day is exam day, in the morning they take a practical and theory exam on everything they have learnt over the past few days, needing a 70% pass rate to officially make them Pilsner Urquell Tapsters. In the afternoon, after a lunch with Head Brewmaster Vaclav Berka, the trainee Tapsters become full Pilsner Urquell Tapsters as they are presented with a certificate and a bag full of everything they need to be a Pilsner Urquell Tapster back home in their respective Draft House venues.
You can try the three different perfect Pilsner Urquell pours across all the 10 Draft House venues. The Draft Houses are fitted with Tankova Pilsner Urquell just like the bars in Prague where I tried them. Pop down and get yourself an authentic Czech pour.
Disclaimer – Pilsner Urquell invited me over to see the tapster program in action and to also experience Czech Republic beer made at the brewery. It was an all paid for trip but I don’t think this effected my opinions on the tapster program or Pilsner Urquell.