Tag Archives: AB

#116 – Stella Artois

#116 - Stella Artois

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

Despite Belgium’s reputation for craft beer, bottom-fermented lagers like Stella Artois still make up about 75% of Belgian beer production, although Stella Artois is only the second most popular beer – Jupiler still tops the list. It is in the International market however that Stella Artois has excelled, and if you ask your average Englishmen to name a Belgian beer, then sadly most will probably say Stella Artois. It is actually so popular abroad that AB/InBev have launched a 4% version in the UK and Canada, but not in Belgium. This trend has become fairly common in recent years, particularly in the UK, where there seems a definite goal to lower the alcohol content in beer. Stella Artois is not known as Wife-beater for nothing you know!

A short history of Stella Artois can be easily gleaned from all the information on the label. Brewing started in the city of Leuven in 1366 (Anno 1366), in a local brewpub called Den Hoorn (look for the horn on the logo). The heritage of the beer is very Flemish, with the traditional architecture of the region incorporated into the cartouche on the label. The name may sound very French, but that’s largely because of the change in brewmaster in 1708, when Sebastian Artois joined the ranks. His name was added to the brewery in 1717.

The brewery may have existed for a long long time, but Stella Artois in its current style was only first introduced in 1926, and only in Canada. It was launched as a Christmas beer and the name Stella was chosen to represent the latin term for ‘star’, which of course also prevalently adorns the label. By 1930, the beer was introduced successfully into the UK market, and by the 1960s a million hectolitres were being annually produced. The beer has won numerous awards over the years (again look for the medals of excellence on the label), and grown in its reputation, so much so that in 2006 the brewery were churning out well over ten million hectolitres per year.

The success of Stella Artois clearly isn’t based on its flavour, but moreover clever marketing from a succession of global beer giants. I was pleasantly surprised however on drinking a bottle that I picked up very cheaply in a Belgian drankencentrale. It was smooth, honeyed and much better than the draught guff we get in the UK. That said I have a cellar full of interesting and delicious craft beers so not sure why I would want to drink this again?

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Filed under 6, InBev (Belgium), Pale Lager

#81 – Hoegaarden

#81 - Hoegaarden

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 4.9 %

Everybody has heard of Hoegaarden – certainly since Interbrew exported it around the world. In terms of white/wheat beers there are probably none more famous. The beer gets it name from the town in which it is brewed, and although it is brewed to a traditional recipe that dates back to 1445, this actual beer has only existed since 1966.

The original wheat beer recipe was largely engineered by the monks of Hoegaarden in the middle ages, where they had access to spices such as coriander and curacao due to the Dutch trading influence. So successful was the result, that at one point there were over 30 independent small farmhouse breweries in the tiny town – although by 1957 there were none left! The rise in popularity of mass-produced lager and the asset-stripping that occurred during both world wars had taken its toll on this cottage industry.

In 1966 however, a local milkman with a fond nostalgia for the older white beers decided to reinvent the style. He set up de Kluis (the Cloister) brewery with a few close friends and the rest is history as they say. We have already met this milkman Pierre Celis (#20, #21), and doubtless we will again.

His white beer was a remarkable success over the next twenty or so years, with production growing from 350 hectolitres in 1966 to 75,000 in 1985. Sadly the Hoegaarden plant was completely destroyed by a terrible fire in this year, and Celis was forced to take extra investment from Interbrew, who inevitably were able to influence a take-over of the brewery in 1987. The amount of hectolitres produced would rise to 855,000 over the next ten years, but by then the standard of the beer had fallen sharply. The fact was that by now Hoegaarden was a worldwide commodity, and most people drinking it on a warm summers afternoon had no concept of what this beer once was. The final knife in the back came in 2005, when AB/InBev, who by now had taken over Interbrew, decided to move all production to Jupille, near Liege. Suddenly Hoegaarden was merely a brand, and the village just a memory. Such an outcry followed for the next couple of years that in 2007 brewing returned to Hoegaarden, but sadly the quality has never returned.

I had clearly tried Hoegaarden on and off over the years, but this was the first wheat beer to pass my lips on the Belgian Beer Odyssey. I had brought back a 250 ml bottle from a jaunt to Belgium, and thus was not drinking it from its traditional hexagonal glass*, however it really didn’t taste as I remembered it to be on those warm summer afternoons. Traditional Hoegaarden was famous for being unfiltered, but this was almost translucent, and much too gassy. It looked anaemic and to be fair, if there is still coriander and curacao in this, then it has long since been tastable on my palate. I am not going to bad-mouth the name, because the Hoegaarden Grand Cru is still a mighty fine beer, but this one remains a lesson to us all that we should stand up for the little men amongst the craft breweries of Belgium.

* Did you know? – that the traditional hexagonal glass was supposedly designed to be prised out of ruined drinkers hands at the end of a long night by a spanner.

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Filed under 5, Belgian White (Witbier), Hoegaarden (InBev)

#62 – Belle-Vue Gueuze

#62 - Belle-Vue Gueuze

Size: 250 ml

ABV: 5.2 %

I introduced gueuze after reviewing Timmermans Traditional Gueuze (#12) and this was another of those more sweetened lambics for the mass markets. After a few heavy days driving on the road back from Italy, through Switzerland and France, we were back in Belgium, at a small homely campsite in Purnode, a stones throw from the Du Bocq brewery. The owner ran a cosy restaurant with a limited bar, and I had spotted a few I had yet to try.

The Belle-Vue Gueuze is labelled as a filtered gueuze, which is a fairly complimentary term for a mass market gueuze. There was a famous Royal Proclamation in 1993 that ruled that any beer wanting to use the term ‘lambic’ or ‘gueuze’ on its label, must have a proportion of authentic lambic beer in it, of at least 10%. Therefore breweries such as Timmermans and Belle-Vue (now under AB InBev’s tenure) are able to increase their sales of their produce with the cheapest methods available. Lambic beer takes time and loving care to nurture, so why would a brewery intent on a fast buck want to use the authentic stuff?

Although a number of breweries have tried to muscle in on the gueuze market, it should be fairly easy for anybody even new to these beers to spot the filtered type. If its sweet and your girlfriend likes it, then it’s most likely filtered. Tash was very fond of this one so I was fairly convinced I had found a duffer. It poured a feint orange with barely any head, and a reassuring whiff of caramel. The taste was refreshingly sweet, and if anything tasted like a Caramac bar. Not the usual thing I am looking for in a beer, but I couldn’t deny it wasn’t actually as bad as it could have been. The child in me quite enjoyed it.

(Post-Script) – for the first real authentic gueuze I would try, please refer to the Boon Oude Gueuze (#89).

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Filed under 6, Belle-Vue (InBev), Lambic - Gueuze

#20 – Hoegaarden Grand Cru

#20 - Hoegaarden Grand Cru

Size: 330ml

ABV: 8.5 %

Hoegaarden is reknowned for it’s plain wheat beer, which is something of a shame as it is a common concern of many beer fans today, that the quality of Hoegaarden (#81) has declined since it was taken over by AB/InBev. I would rather tackle that issue another time, as in actual fact, the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, which I painstakingly selected from the bar menu of the Dovetail in Clerkenwell was a much too pleasant beer to be negative about.

I was interested in the concept of Grand Cru. What on earth are they talking about? I must admit I had only heard this term largely used by winemakers, where it generally referred to the specific growth-place of a wine, intimating a region more so than a particular vineyard. The addition of ‘Grand Cru’ is a suggestion that this beverage is indeed a special one of this variation – the ‘great growth’. The term ‘Grand Cru’ can often be associated with foods, spirits and beers, but it doesn’t hold such an obvious official meaning, in that there is no regulation of what is or isn’t a ‘great growth’ beer. Pierre Celis, who invented the Hoegaarden Grand Cru, clearly felt this was his premier beer, and even went so far to use a Grand Cru wine label as the label for his new beer. His revelation in his autobiography ended much speculation that the mansion on the cover had some particular relevance to him – it was actually just a wine label he had happened to come across.

The beer itself was fantastic. A good solid head and a creamy dense mass underneath swimming in a sea of rich sediment. It felt alive. The taste is sweet and meaty and reeling with deep inner strength. I hadn’t eaten, and didn’t need to after this. I had good company in the bar, but noted quietly to myself that this was definitely a good one to look out for when restocking the cellar. Definitely some great growth in this one!

(Post-Script) – I was so impressed with this beer that I followed it, not with food, but a Hoegaarden Forbidden Fruit (#21).

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Filed under 8, Belgian Strong Ale, Hoegaarden (InBev)