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'A Love Story - An evening with Stella Artois' at The Cuckoo Club, by Mary Meyer



My love affair with Stella Artois started in 2006 when I drank a pint or three whilst watching every round of Arsenal's glorious run to the Champions League final in Paris. It wasn't Thierry Henry who was responsible for victory at the Bernabeau, you see. It was me. Well, me and Stella Artois together.


Unfortunately, dearest Thierry, the over-excitable jens lehmann and a certain linesman all malfunctioned at the stade de france as The Gooners contrived to lose the match with victory just twelve minutes away. We were beaten and that was that. No trophy, no more Stella Artois and a lesson in why vicariously living through a football team is futile... though a masochist's dream.


So, it was with trepidation that I accepted the challenge of learning to love again. Stella Artois not Arsenal. The football club ensnared me at the age of six and you know what they say about luring a child before they are seven... Anyway, so Stella Artois was the scapegoat and not a drop had passed my lips for over four years but here was the chance of redemption (again for Stella Artois, my soul was lost a long time ago).


My implausibly impractical self set off to learn to pour the perfect pint of Stella Artois clinging to my belief in second chances and hoping that I would somehow not be the most incompetent pint puller there. Luckily I had back-up in my friend Celine if things got really out of hand... We rocked up at The Cuckoo Club at 18.30 last Thursday, trotted downstairs past a Stella Artois sign announcing "together we will create a thing of beauty" (tremble) and the stage was set. Bottles of Stella Artois were thrust into our hands and I began to relax . . . at least for a while.



Soon, beer sommelier extraordinaire Marc took to the stage (also known as the space behind the bar) and talked us through the science part. Incredibly, there are nine steps to heaven in the genesis of The Perfect Pint. I sought solace in the first step - checking there was no residual water in the glass by holding it upside down and tapping gently on the glass. Even I couldn't contrive to overcomplicate that. The second step, however, involved talk of angles which was a little concerning. Visions of the pages of my Maths GCSE exam which I left blank flashed before my eyes but I remained resolute. Marc's glorious medallion was a soothing sight to behold. If I was to be honoured similarly some day, I must stay alert and dedication was mandatory whether or not one desired a similar neckpiece.


Once the guidance tour was over we would all be observed and, worse, filmed whilst competing to be part of The Stella Artois Tasting Championship The World Draught Master's next month. This humilation wasn't going to be silent. I listened carefully as Marc continued to reveal the recipe for perfection. I'm not sure I agree that there is a formula for perfection outside a glass of Stella Artois but it was comforting to hear this idea muted. Perfectability as accomplishable? How radical! Sorry... I digress.


The third step was to switch on the tap (this is where I ended up showing myself up but more of that later) whilst holding the glass at a 45 degree angle. Sounds easy enough, I thought. The fourth step, though, was to "curl the glass upwards" (the tap is still running at this point) to ensure minimum and even head before - here comes number five - switching the tap off as the glass becomes upright allowing for a small overflow and step six - syphening off the head at a 45 degree angle with some kind of prong. Level seven was to wipe the glass down and then seamless steps eight and nine - inserting a doily to inhale the drips, presenting the pint on a beer mat. Simples. Right?



How very wrong I was.


The hairs on my arm were standing on end and goosepimples abounded as the queue at the bar shortened and the imposing figure of Marc loomed before me. The first contestant had poured The Perfect Pint with such consummate ease that it seemed the position at the World Draughtmasters Championship had already been decided. This was about me trying to embarass myself as little as possible. I couldn't get the comment out of my head about the tap metamorphosing into a garden hose spraying beer everywhere if used inappropriately. I imagined faffing with the tap, drenching Marc and myself, or worse all the eager beavers sitting on stools in front of the bar. And the camera-men! When my time came, I strode forward and announced my nerves to The Man who insisted they were unfounded.


Earlier in the evening, he had deliberately poured an imperfect pint to demonstrate the difference in taste. We all had to drink the pints we poured... This didn't assuage my fears. My first attempt was risible. I was so overjoyed that the tap turned on and didn't generate lager rain that I forgot to turn it off for quite some time. Before I knew what was hapenning, my hand was drenched, the bar was soggy and Marc had to reach over before a monsoon ensued. Strike Two. "I will nail it this time", I said nonchalamtly. "Oh, you are an optimist!" replied Marc. Anyone who knows me, will understand that such a comment is  more than mildly amusing. At the time I felt abandoned and alone. Even Marc had sensed my ineptitude! My face reddened with shame but I laughed it off and turned the tap on again.


This time there was more of a puddle than a lake but the head was so large that it inhabited half the glass. Third time lucky it would have to be. I noticed the cameramen had long since stopped filming. In defiance, I managed to create a glass of Stella Artois which was more than drinkable. It certainly wasn't perfect but it was pleasant. The head remained far too sizeable and the glass sticky because of the excess liquid (the doily provided simply couldn't cope) but I was satisfied. I even got a smile from Marc. The next time you think being a bar-tender is easy, think again. This science would take me some time to master.



Admittedly, Celine created a pretty fearsome glass of Stella Artois in one try but we resolved not to discuss our varying fortunes and returned to the solace of the lounge seats beyond the bar in Cuckoo to sup on our pints and enjoy the canapes - fish-and-chips and bangers-and-mash the undoubted highlights. We had gatecrashed a boy's night out and were assuming the role of ladettes with ease. Well, not entirely. One being of a particular feminine grace and quaint compsure I resolved to the leisured sip, thus ensuring a prolongued night of genteel fun.


Thankfully, having been informed that when beer doesn't "sit well" (that beery bloated gassy feeling) it is because of incompetent pouring not the content, I was relieved I only had to drink one glass of Stella Artois I had made! The taste of perfection that followed rather hit the spot.


"Beer is about functionality" boomed Marc at the beginning of the night, but that was more than a little disingenous. There is magic in the constellation of a pint as I now know only too well.


Photography (C) Jim Marks

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