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Aug 9, 2007 05:02 PM

What is the deal with Stella?

I mean seriously - I am seeing this beer everywhere. The latest bummer was seeing it on a handle at the hotel bar where I'm staying. Last year they had Pilsner Urquell, and now Stella.

I can't understand why such a mediocre beer like this is achieving such market penetration.

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    1. re: rob133

      I guess what bugs me about it is the incredibly obvious inorganic nature of its popularity. It's a 100% manufactured phenomenon, where people only know about it because it's been stuck in front of their faces by large marketing dollars. It's not something like good microbrew, where popularity spreads based on things like merit and flavor.

      People are sheep, though, and will fall for any marketing campaign it seems, provided it's put together properly.

      Stella has a fancy name/glass, and is from Belgium, therefore it must be good!

      I remember the first time I had it, someone brought a sixer over to someone's house. I had heard of the beer, and that it was Belgian, so was curious to try it. First mouthful in I knew that I'd been had. Another bogus crap import beer for people to feel sophisticated ordering. Blech.

      1. re: Josh

        Stella has been brewing beer since 1366 and you think it's a fad?

        1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

          Assuming that's true, do you really suppose today's Stella Artois is the same thing SA's brewers were making all those hundreds of years ago?

          And, yes, boring, nondescript Stella has only become popular in the US in recent years.

          1. re: Kenji

            Well, I'm old but I wasn't around during the 14th century and therefore can't tell. However, Bavarian beer, since the adoption of the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, supposedly has remained remarkably consistent since then. Doesn't this argument boil down to personal preference, if you like dark, hoppy more complex beers Stella won't cut it but if you happen to like a crisp, clean lager (and yes I think Stella is crisp and clean and I love it) then Stella fits the bill.

            1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

              While the Artois brewing company (now InBev) is old, the "pils" style of beer was first developed in the mid-1800's and the brand/beer Stella Artois was first brewed in the 1920's as a Christmas beer, and was later turned into a full time offering.

              As for the "German Beer Purity Law of 1516", the Reinheitsgebot, here's a different view of it-

                1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                  Ya mean the subtitle of "why it's a load of old bollocks" isn't enough?

                  Different than the opinion that most beer aficionados (*including* myself, at one time) have about the Reinheitsgebot, it's origins and it's current incarnation.

                  1. re: JessKidden

                    I didn't pass judgement on or offer an opinion of the Beer Law of 1516, I merely made an observation. It's an interesting read, that article you point to. I'm still digesting it but I'll offer one brief observation: with the wide variety of beer available from around the world I think if a particular culture chooses to approach it in the way the Germans do that's up to them and it just contributes to the variety and choices available. The similarities and analogies are obvious: parmigiano reggiano is made according to strict rules going back centuries, and balsamic vinegar from Modena is approved by the consortium according to very strict and very old rules. There are also excellent parmigian cheeses not from the Parma / Reggio region and great balsamic vinegar not from modena, but having the heritage and history of those products just makes the whole experience of tasting and learning the differences between all the available products even more enjoyable. What I like best about the Beer Law of 1516 (and I'm no expert on the subject) is the cultural aspect of it, its effect on the modern day German culture, especially Bavarian culture which I am more familiar with than up North. Munich is Beer City, the appreciation the people have for beer there is something to behold. Now, I don't know how much of that can be attributed to the 1516 law, but to drive around Munich and see a 70 year old man riding a bike with a case of empties towords the local brewery for new supplies just warms my heart. And I just love Bavarian lagers and wheat beer, I even like that mixture of wheat beer and lemonade (I know, I know) so, to my palate at least, they seem to be doing something right. I'm curious what you think of Bavarian beers, as you obviously know your stuff?

                    1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                      "And I just love Bavarian lagers and wheat beer, I even like that mixture of wheat beer and lemonade (I know, I know) so, to my palate at least, they seem to be doing something right. I'm curious what you think of Bavarian beers, as you obvious know your stuff?"

                      Sorry but the wheat beers are outlawed by the Reinhotsgeibot(sp) of 1516. Only malt, water and hops. Yeast was added after it was understood. Wheat is not permitted in pure beer.

                      Germany grabbed the lager style and made it theirs, but it is not the only way to make good beer. Try a Fullers ESB for a good easy dinking beer with taste.

                      1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                        The history of beer dates back literally THOUSANDS of years. By that standard, the Reinheitsgebot is a relatively recent development. Germany is far from the be-all, end-all of brewing.

                        Belgium has a brewing tradition dating back many centuries, and the appreciation of great beer in that country is everywhere, and they didn't need a special purity law to make that happen. In fact, their beers often violate that law by incorporating ingredients apart from the four it specifies.

                        In any event, you completely missed a key point in what I said. Pilsner Urquell is neither dark, nor especially hoppy, nor particularly complex. It is, however, definitely a more interesting and better beer than Stella. People who like good beer aren't just sitting around drinking dark beer, or hoppy beer.

                        1. re: Josh

                          If you like Pilsner Urquell, try a czechvar

                          1. re: chrisinroch

                            Having read Josh's posts on this board for a while, I sure he's familiar with Czechvar and wasn't really looking for a "replacement" for 'Urquell just mentioning the fact that it was gone and replaced by Stella at that hotel.

                            OTOH, the future of Czechvar aka correctly as "Budweiser" is somewhat cloudy these days, since it looks as if the Czech gov't is ready to sell with A-B the most likely buyer. (Gee, add one "minus" to the list of pluses and minuses re: the fall of Communism in Europe.)

                            Now, I sort of doubt that A-B would drop the brand/beer - altho' if they did, they'd actually SAVE money on legal costs, according to this article
                            -I could see them selling it as ORIGINAL BUDWEISER or BUDWEISER EUROPEAN CLASSIC EDITION or something <g>. I doubt they'd even tamper with the recipe; "modernizing" the brewery?- maybe- as Pilsner Urquel did to some negative impact on the beer.

                            I keep saying I'm going to pick up some in 1/2 liter brown bottle next time I see it fresh from A-B's new Import division (sadly the previous importers' stuff sits around a long time from what I've seen) and now it seems even more important to get it from the Czech-owned brewery while it's still available.

                          2. re: Josh

                            But the beer you're insulting comes from this admittedly fabulous beer culture of Belgium, and the Brewery that makes it dates back to 1366, well before the 1516 German thingy. The fact that they thought this was a good beer to market to the American market - and were right about it - you could hold against them if you want, I guess. I do get your point that you prefer Pilsner Urquel and that they spend relatively little on advertising (and therefore earn their business) compared to Stella. However, to be honest, I find the two very similar. Close enough at least that even a more sophistictaed pallet than mine would like both if they like one. How do they differ, do you think?

                            1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                              Stella is a euro pale lager while Pilsner Urquel is (as you might guess) a Pilsner and thus is more aggressively hopped (among other things). But before I go any further I know the YOU think that they taste similar and in today's world what the individual THINKS is all that seems to matter anymore.

                              1. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                                Stella doesn't come from the beer culture of Belgium. Stella may be made in Belgium, but it's no more Belgian than Budweiser made in the US is a Czech pils. Stella is a bland euro lager, indistinguishable from Heineken, St. Pauli Girl, or Beck's.

                                Urquell to me has a noticeable hop character absent from Stella. It's also got a bit more body and is not as light.

                                Really I just find it amazing to see the power of marketing at work.

                              2. re: Josh

                                "better beer"?
                                How do you quanitfy "better"?
                                You mean that you prefer it?

                        2. re: JessKidden

                          Huh. I never read the law before. Didn't realize it prohibits dry-hopping. Wonder what the reason for that is?

                          1. re: Bat Guano

                            I doubt dry-hopping had even occurred to anyone at the time of the Reinheitsgebot.

                            1. re: Kenji

                              the new schneider-brooklyner hopfen-weisse claims to be the first dry- hopped beer made in germany. the idea of dry-hopping still hasn't occured to most german brewers!

                              1. re: warrenr

                                Well, if nobody was doing it then why bother to outlaw it? Obviously it had occurred to somebody - namely whoever wrote the law! Maybe the frugal Germans were trying to conserve expensive hops?

                                1. re: Bat Guano

                                  Josh, have you been to Belgium? You'd be cursed right out of town if you told them that Stella is no more Belgian than Budwesier. They do love their Stella.

                                  1. re: naven

                                    It's my understanding that the Belgian breweries are doing so well these days because of the American demand for abbey-style beer. Not necessarily because of large-scale local affinity.

                                    1. re: peetoteeto

                                      It's on tap Everywhere. Every country loves their pale lagers. Just like Heineken is on tap everywhere in it's home city of Amsterdam. EVERYWHERE.

                                      1. re: naven

                                        naven speaks the truth. Very popular in Belgium. That and Jupiler are tasty and refreshing. No one will confuse it with a complex brew. It is a consistent beer.

                                      2. re: peetoteeto

                                        If you looked at the statistics I expect you'd find the lion's share of Belgian beer sales in the US consist of Hoegaarden and Stella Artois.

                                    2. re: Bat Guano

                                      The Reinheitsgebot does not say anything specific about dry-hopping; it's only by implication that the practice it prohibited.

                                      1. re: Kenji

                                        Well, according to the translation posted in a link somewhere above, it says hops can only be added before or during the "simmer" phase (I assume that means the boil) - which means no dry-hopping. So yeah, it doesn't say 'dry-hopping,' or whatever the German for it would be, but the way it's written pretty much defines (non) dry-hopping.

                                        1. re: Bat Guano

                                          Are you referring to this (edited for brevity)-

                                          "#5- Hop powder, hops in other milled forms and hop extracts may be used in brewing, so long as these products comply with the following requirements:... Hop extracts must.... only be added to the wort before or during the simmering phase."

                                 under "German Beer Law" a little over half way down.

                                          So, it seems to me that true dry-hopping with whole flower hops is allowed, only "hop extract dry hopping" is banned.

                                          1. re: JessKidden

                                            Yes, that's what I was referring to. I sort of glossed over the first part of the rule, and misinterpreted it as a total ban. Thanks for straightening me out. Sorry for getting so far off-topic, too. Stella really sucks!

                                            1. re: Bat Guano

                                              from a practical manner, can anybody think of a german beer that uses dry-hopping? None of the ones that i drink have the beautiful "in your face" hoppy nose that I typically see with dry-hopped beers.

                                              1. re: chrisinroch

                                                The Schneider Brooklyner Hopfen Weisse is the one that leaps to mind
                                                (tho' some might consider it not only "untraditional" but only "half German" as well?).

                                                For "in your face" hoppiness from a German pils (can't recall if it's dry hopped, tho'), I suggest a fresh bottle of Jever but, as has been discussed in this forum before, you must only buy it out of a closed case (preferably with a least 6 months to go on the "Best By" date), otherwise what'll be "in your face" is the scent of many beer drinker's least favorite white-striped animal (the one critter that no brewer has yet to name a beer after AFAIK...).

                                                1. re: JessKidden

                                                  I had a Jever on tap on my recent trip to Europe, i will have to admit when I am wrong. It was really good. i might but a case now here in the US

                                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                                    You could just bypass that whole Jever minefield and get some cans of Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (very similar stylistically), if you can find it in NYC. Damn fine beer, and it just won Gold at the GABF.

                                                    1. re: TongoRad

                                                      My Pilsener spot is usually occupied by Victory, but I will give this a shot too if i see it. Thanks for the tip

                                                      1. re: MVNYC

                                                        Sly Fox's Pikeland Pils has pretty much replaced Prima Pils as my number one choice for pils (altho' it's not as easy to find, and when found, is often not as fresh- tho' the cans obviously help in that regard). And it's darn cheap, as far as craft beer goes- I pay around $25 a case in NJ.

                                                        Altho' both Pilsner Urquell (really like the 1/2 liter cans) and Jever are still on the list, as well. For Jever, also pay attention to the "best by" date (both on the label and the end side of the cardboard case)- they give it 1 year apparently- I'm not so generous and look for it with at least 6 months to "go".

                            2. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                              I agree - not sure about the US but it's been at large and very popular in Canada for years. Love the Stella challis too :)

                          2. re: RachaelRaysConscience

                            The beer Stella is selling today isn't anything close to what was brewed in 1366. In fact nobody was able to brew a clear beer successfully until the mid 1800 when Pilsner Urquell basically invented the style. 1366 is pure marketing.

                      2. It rides the wave of Belgian beer being good I think. In new York and london it is very popular. I think because the name sounds different and it really is just Belgian macro lager people seem to gravitate towards it. It is non threatening yet sounds exotic. Marketing and name recongnition plays a large roll in what people drink.

                        As an aside, my British friends call Stella the wife beater beer because to them it is so high in alcohol. This cracks me up becuase it is only about 5.2% but compared with the typical british bitters and lager I guess it is high. To me a 7% beer is sessionable.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: MVNYC

                          Inbev has done a good job of selling Stella Artois as an upscale beer, reportedly requiring draught accounts to serve the beer in its own glassware, which is elegant IMO.

                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                            i agree with you, it is a nice glass. Good marketing.

                            1. re: Jim Dorsch

                              You mean the official Stella "challis" - love it too. Love getting a free one with purchase at the liquor store even more!

                            2. re: MVNYC

                              I must chime in off topic just a bit; 7% beer is "sessionable". I envy your liver.

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                Yeah a six pack of a nice IPA is not too difficult. I am not saying I do this all the time, but it isn't too hard. The bigger problem is the 1500 or so calories that it packs.

                                1. re: MVNYC

                                  'Hooligan Juice' or 'loopy juice'...yep thats the stuff. Never understood the logic, but I have seen many people have a'crazy' night after drinking this stuff...Walking into the local after everyone has had a day on the stella can be an experience!

                                2. "I can't understand why such a mediocre beer like this is achieving such market penetration."

                                  Money? In this case, both InBev's and A-B's.

                                  With the brewing industry increasingly international in scope, I suppose it's inevitable that InBev (which is the world's largest brewer, based on barrelage- A-B and SABMiller reportedly are larger based on revenue) has set it's sights on the US market. In 2006, InBev had only 2% of the US market (and that was probably down somewhat from previous years since they sold the Rolling Rock brand which was in the Top Ten of US breweries). Still, the Big 3 in the US is so dominant (over 3/4 of the market), InBev's 2% still puts it at #7 in the US, even tho' their best selling brand in the US is Tecate at this point (InBev's Labatt and Becks are also in the Top 10 of US imports).

                                  Certainly, A-B's recent deal to become the US importer of many of the InBev brands is, in some areas, one of the reason so many tap handles are changing to Stella, but I'm guessing that's a region by region event, based on the ability of A-B to switch the brand to it's own distributors (some states have laws that protect a distributors' contract to carry a brand, even if the brewer or importer changes) and is probably also affected by what other "premium import" brands the local A-B distributor already carries.

                                  F'r'instance, in my area the local A-B distributor has long been the supplier for Heineken (a direct competitor for Stella) and I doubt that they are bothering to try to switch Heineken taps for Stella, since there's no gain for them. I've only seen one recent switch to Stella in my area (and can't really remember what was on that tap before) but I have seen a LOT of new Hoegaarden taps, as well other A-B imported/distributed beers like Widmer.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: JessKidden

                                    Some areas have seen lengthy periods of out-of-stocks on Inbev brands since AB took over importation. I believe that's improving now.

                                  2. I spent about three weeks in Belgium, ten years ago. My impression of Stella was that it was not a bad beer(they always taste better when one is close to the source). But it was everywhere! I decided that Stella was kind of the "Budweiser" of Belgium. And now that it seems to be readily available in the US, even on tap, perhaps they will compete with Bud!(yeah,sure)

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Sam at Novas

                                      Pretty much every country in the world has their version of generic mass produced lager. Some are better than others but they all serve one purpoose. They are non threatening(re:not even a shade darker than diluted urine) which suits the masses who generally do not like beer.

                                      1. Because it's from Belgium, at first I refused to believe how bad it is. But I still have a couple of their glasses, because my GF likes them (one was a giveaway, and one was, ahem, liberated ... guess it's true what they say about Stella inducing bad behavior).