There’s a certain ceremony to the way beer is poured in Belgium, except when there isn’t, and no two waiters have quite the same technique.
At the legendary Poechenellekelder in central Brussels, opposite the statue of the wee boy, we watched a clownishly expressive waiter turn the pouring of a beer into performative professionalism.
He popped the cap with a flourish, almost seeming to pause for applause, angled the glass, and began to pour slowly.
Assessing the development of the head, he frowned and gave the bottle a sudden jerk 30 centimetres into the air, for just the briefest moment, causing the foam to surge, but not much.
When he put the beer down on the table, smooth white sat half a centimetre above the rim of the glass, as solid as a macaron, and there wasn’t a speck of yeast in the body of the beer.
Sitting outside a cafe that seems to be called Primus Haacht with portions of blistered, gilded frites from Maison Antoine, we saw a Belgian waiter get it wrong. He poured Westmalle Tripel too vigorously and sighed with dismay as it flowed over his hand like milk, splattering on to the paving stones.
“It’s fine, we don’t mind.”
“No, no, it’s not acceptable… I’m gonna change it. I have to change it. Please, I’m sorry, wait here.”
The second attempt was over-cautious and, sure, we ended up with more beer in the glass, but it didn’t look anywhere near as good.
At Beers Banks, our local on Rue Général Leman, we marvelled at burly, efficient barmen who treated Trappist beers and alcohol free pilsner with about the same level of respect.
They upended bottles and flung the contents out as if they were emptying tins of tomatoes into cooking pots, glancing over their shoulders and talking, slamming glasses down on the bar to save seconds here and there.
But do you know what? Somehow every pour was PR photoshoot perfect.