The muscles from Brussels

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Related tags: Belgium, Beer

It was a question of too little head and too few beers in London pubs for the man from Belgium Frederic Langers sighs and strokes his ginger-bearded...

It was a question of too little head and too few beers in London pubs for the man from Belgium

Frederic Langers sighs and strokes his ginger-bearded chin. "For me it is bad beer," he says. "Beer without a head is bad beer." Langers is from Brussels, the Mecca of beer, where he works as a barman at Le Roi D'Espagne.

He has agreed to take part in Interbrew's bar exchange programme and spend a week working at the Jerusalem bar in Rathbone Place, London. But he is not entirely happy with the way we drink our beer.

"In Belgium, you have to make a good head. At least two fingers up the glass. If the English want no head I can make no head, but if my boss saw me serve beer like this ­ he would sack me."

The Belgians are very particular about how they serve their beer. You can feel the passion in Langers' voice when he talks about how to pour the perfect beer. His enthusiasm is so great, you feel he could talk all day on the rights and wrongs of various methods of pouring.

Whereas many consider bar work here as a good part-time job, in Belgium it is an art form. "Not everyone can serve a good beer," says Langers. "In Belgium you have to learn and study. You have to have a diploma. All the barmen in my bar have diplomas. It takes one day only. In the morning someone tells you how to pour and then you have four hours to practice."

But after two shifts working behind the bar at the Jerusalem, Langers has put his training in Belgium to the back of his mind.

In fact, he fears what customers may say if he served up a beer a la Belgique. "I wouldn't like to do it here as the customers would come back and say are you kidding me, what's that beer?' We have to change the minds of many people but it can happen."

Langers apologises for his English, but there is no need. However, he admits that contact with customers and the language has taken some getting used to. In his bar at home, Langers does not have any direct contact with customers. Waiters take orders and he pulls the beers behind the bar. He says the only two things he ever says to the customers are "you cannot order here", and "the toilet is that way".

Things are different in England and Langers enjoys the tradition of customers off-loading problems on the barman or making small talk. "It's cool to speak to them but it does make me tired as I have to concentrate hard on what they are saying." Despite his good level of English, Langers explains he struggles to understand accents. The main problem here being that his boss, Steve Ward, is an Irishman.

The other main difference is the range of drinks. "There is so much more stuff here that we don't have," he says. "We don't make cocktails in my bar, we just serve beer ­ it is a beer temple. We make and serve the best beer in the world. Cocktails give me a problem because I don't know what is in them."

Overall he is impressed by the Jerusalem, praising its relaxed atmosphere and the quality of food. "Everybody said to me you will be dead in one week if you have to eat English food. The image the world has of English food is black pudding and chips but I will tell them they are wrong when I go back. I was very surprised and I am still alive."

Steve Ward, manager of the Jerusalem, says Frederic has brought "passion" and "great product knowledge" to the bar. But he does have one complaint ­ the bow tie Langers is accustomed to wearing in Belgium. "The dickie bow is awful," he says. "He actually asked me if I wanted him to wear it on his first day."

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