This past Saturday, ten contestants from all across the country, including places like Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco and San Diego, converged on Miami Beach's Shore Club for the first annual National Duvel League Finals, the brewery's country-wide beer pouring competition.
It was an evening of competitive fun and an attempt to come out on top in order to secure the prize of a trip to Belgium for a tour of some of Belgium's top breweries.
So who were these contestants? Plucked from regional wholesaler networks, they were local winners of similar competitions in their markets and now flown in to sunny Miami by Duvel.
On a most basic level, this is a marketing event, hosted by the Duvel Moortgart Brewery for its distribution partners, so that they can practice 'trickle down beerconomics' with retailers: evangelizing the Duvel brand through better product knowledge. But as we have seen in the past, the beer industry doesn't always take itself too seriously, and it's always helpful to remind everyone that at the end of the day, 'it's just beer'.
The competition was set up as a four round bracket elimination, with two pourers going head to head to determine who would advance to the next round. The pours were done with various speeds, heights, head levels, and degrees of concentration. The judges, made up of the national head of sales, the COO and CEO, gave weight to individual aspects of each pour and determined the winners of each round.
Since everyone loves a good competition, especially when free flowing Duvel is involved, as the rounds progressed, so did the Olympic-sized cheering from the gathered crowd. Huddled whispers turned to outbursts of excitement as competitors finished pouring their glasses.
The winner, after four rounds of intense scrutiny, was Brian Torres, sales representative for Brown Distributing who covers southern Palm Beach and northern Broward counties. After being inundated with Duvel-themed prizes (and opening the celebratory champagne-style 750ml bottle of Duvel), we managed to sneak him off for a few minutes to get a few words.
"As a beer geek familiar with the history of the Duvel pour, this competition was a great experience," he said. "After making it through the local rounds, I actually tweaked my technique quite a bit. Now I hold [the glass] in front of my face, and pour harder and quicker. It was hard to get enough head out of the beer on earlier rounds because the beer was too cold, but it was perfect for the final round.
"This whole experience was a lot of fun. Duvel is awesome."
As we mentioned before, some of the top brass at Duvel were in attendance, signifying that this is an important event for the company. We sat down with Simon Thorpe, CEO and President of Duvel Moortgart USA, to find out a little bit more about what place Duvel has in South Florida.
"This is the first pouring event like this, and we're looking to continue it," he told us. "To hold the premiere in Miami was just the right setting... [South Florida] has been one of our best markets in the past five years."
Thorpe said that he considers Duvel to be the quintessential luxury beer, and perfect for our early evening gorgeous sunsets.
"It's for people who appreciate a good beer, who go looking for the best."
Thorpe emphasized and mirrored Torres' excitement about the trip to Belgium: that this trip will be a life changing experience. "I've talked to people who have gone and toured, and they still remember everything about it years later. They have a craft culture and ethos like the American craft industry."
Speaking about their recent acquisition of Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing in October of 2013, Thorpe was optimistic and excited to add them to the family, saying that they look towards the future, "not just in the next 5 years, but for 10, 20, 40 years down the road."
"Duvel is more worried about quality over volume. The brewery is family owned and in its fourth generation... we're all in it for the long haul."
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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