To become a World Flair Association judge you need that special something, many years of experience, a good set of eyes and of course you have to be pretty good at flair bartending too! Where do these super-humans come from? Who are they? And how do they get to sit in the best seats in the house at every flair competition? We speak with our newest addition to the WFA judging team, Manuel Wieser to find out more:
Manuel, why did you decide to hang up your flair bottles?
“Well firstly it is only my competition flair bottles that I have hung up, for now… I still love to flair and can’t seem to stay away! However, for me I have been competing in flair bartending for many years and at the same time I have had a business running also, the European Bartender School in Berlin. Time is the real reason I am hanging up my competition bottles, the business requires more of my time and I am finding I don’t have enough to share between the two – both of which I love!
“When I see a flair video online my fingers are itchy, there are not many things I love more than being stuck in a practice room all day with various flair bottles and tins, however I found last year that my time was so limited that I wasn’t putting enough practice into my competition performances. This is very bad for me because I hate approaching anything unprepared and if I tried to continue sharing the time, both the business and my flair would suffer, so I decided it was time to hang up my bottles…”
“I have to stay in the flair industry though, the Flair Family is life – what I will miss most about the competitions is spending time with the other flair bartenders. You have such a good time, every time, even when you mess up your routine. The odd Skype call or text is enough to keep the contact but not enough for me, I want to keep up to date with the world of flair bartending, and also stay heavily involved in the social side of flair bartending, becoming a WFA Judge was the perfect fit so I pursued it!”
How do you go about becoming a WFA Grand Slam judge?
“If I am honest I just woke up one morning and said to myself something has to change. So the next thing I did was call WFA Head of Gradings, @thomasdyer-3, and ask him if they were in need of any more judges for WFA events moving forward. I offered to fly myself out to Flairmania in Riga and pay for all of my own travel and accommodation – so long as I could sit in for some Judge training!
“Tom agreed and the next thing I know I am sitting alongside Timppa, Jay, and Tom – for me, three of the best flair bartenders – asking all types of questions, silly questions, important questions, I asked them all! The guys have so much experience and they were more than happy to share it with me, it was perfect for asking the tough questions around the best practice for awarding points during performances as well as things to look out for”.
What does it mean to you to become a WFA judge?
“For me becoming a WFA Judge is the pinnacle. There is no other association in the world that is at the forefront of flair bartending like the WFA is, if you want to be a serious name in flair bartending around the world then the WFA is where you will make your name. I also love a challenge and being a judge is certainly no walk in the park, it comes with a lot of responsibility! ”
“I find that the experience you have from competing really helps a lot when it comes to judging. As you have competed for many years it is not hard to get into the mindset of the guys and girls up on stage and you really empathise with them when a mistake happens. But like the competitors do, the judges also only have 7 or 8 minutes to try and get it right and with no action replays! Adapting to the analytical mindset that is needed to be a WFA judge as well as ensuring you are consistent in the way you award your scores are both great challenges, but this is part of why I wanted to become a WFA judge – I love a good challenge!”
How are you finding your experience of judging so far and how different is it to being centre stage?
“So far I am loving the experience of judging. It is definitely very different to being centre stage – you don’t have to move which is nice! Seriously though it is very different, you really feel for the bartender in front of you and want it to go well for them – to keep that neutral persona on the outside and not get caught up in the excitement when a competitor pulls off an amazing move is something that I think will take some time for me to get use to!”
“I think this is the part I am finding most challenging so far, as I said before, changing the way I look at flair so I can come across professional and neutral throughout the competition – even if inside I want to shout and scream in support and excitement for the bartenders I see on the stage”.
“There is still quite a lot of pressure on you as a judge. However, like competing you do not want to make any mistakes, it is certainly a different type of challenge that requires a slightly different skill-set. To keep your concentration up through 50+ flair performances through the qualification round and into the finals requires a lot of mental power. It can be quite draining but then I think this is because I am still quite new to judging – I am loving every bit of it so far and can’t wait for the next Grand Slam in Belgium where I will be making my debut”.