Dave Prowse sadly passed away today. A true giant at 6 foot 6 inches tall, the man who famously played Darth Vader in the Star Wars Films.
As a young kid I remember him as the Green Cross Code Man. He taught us how to cross the road at a safe spot, and to stop, look and listen before we stepped off the kerb.
Another claim to fame was recorded at The Fleece and Firkin brew-pub in Bristol in the mid 1980’s.
The brew-pub concept was a novelty in those days. Real ale was a niche product and the majority of drinkers chose lager over anything else. However The Firkin chain had a unique selling point and that was the head splitting brew called “Dog Bolter”.
The Fleece was always a lively place, it had a big open bar and was part of the circuit of boozers you would stop in on a night out with the lads.
Today the pub has evolved into an excellent music venue and the walls are decorated with tour posters of the bands that have played there.
Back in the day the walls were hung with honours boards displaying names of those people who had drunk a gallon of Dog Bolter. It seems crazy now drinking 8 pints of high strength ale in a session, just to get your name written up on a wooden board.
There were not many names up there. A list of people where one name stood out, as it was the only one with the successful completion time written next to it.
I cannot remember the time written up there, but it must have been a record breaker. The person who drank the quickest gallon of Dog Bolter was, you guessed it, Dave Prowse.
The truth about Stella Artois:
There are three numbers that I would like to include within this piece. They are 1516, 4.8 and 284.
Now then a bit of trivia to start with on one of my favourite subjects…….beer.
The world’s oldest continually valid food and drink regulation was put in place in Germany in 1516. The Germans are very proud of the “purity law” that came about nearly 500 years ago to protect the integrity of their beer. This law states that beer can only be made from 4 ingredients: WATER, HOPS, YEAST and MALTED BARLEY.
As a consequence any beer that is brewed and is sold in Germany that contains anything other than these 4 basic ingredients is not allowed to be called beer. If it contains colouring agents, preservatives or different fermentable material other than barley, then it has to be called EXPORT rather than beer. The implication being that if it is not brewed under the 1516 legislation then it is not fit for the domestic market.
Now for some strange reason Stella Artois actually draws customers’ attention to the fact that it is not made purely from barley in its packaging that quite neatly displays a maize cob on its packaging. In declaring that Stella is brewed with “four ingredients” the manufacturer clearly displays symbols for water, hops, barley and maize.
Maize is an adjunct (an alternative to malted barley) often added to the fermentation process in the form of corn syrup to increase alcohol content, make the beer lighter in colour, or simply to cut costs. Yeast is left out of the list, despite being an essential for any fermentation to take place. This is I assume because all the yeast is filtered out of the final product.
The bottom line is that Stella Artois would not pass the German Purity law, but that was always a given. It just seems strange that the marketing people decided that making their beer with maize was a good selling point that was worth advertising.
Did I just say 4.8?
It seems that the new standard “premium” lager ABV strength is 4.8% in the UK. This means that Fosters can step up with their “Gold” product and flex their muscles with the “premiums” as 4.8% represents a stronger concoction than the regular Fosters sold for years at 4.0%. Hence the large figures on the packaging and bottle label declaring the new found strength of the well known lager. The size of the bottle is in a slightly smaller font as these bottles of “Gold” are 30 ml smaller than the traditional 330ml. 330ml is the standard size of soft drinks cans in the UK and is the standard size of a 6 pack bottle of beer in most EU countries.
Now back to good old Stella Artois. Under close inspection of the product packaging of its 6 pack of bottles it is hard to find where its vital statistics are displayed. On the main side panels of the cardboard packaging only a bar code can be found.
but you have to turn the 6-pack upside down to find the ABV is 4.8% a bit different from its previous 5.2% mark.
So eventually we get there. Buy a 6 pack of bottled Stella Artois you get a weaker beer in a smaller bottle than once produced by the same manufacturer. 330ml to 284ml represents a drop of just short of 14% in terms of content. It may not be easy to discover, but the truth is there.
Hard to find, but there in black and white
It says a lot about my poor opinion of the multi-national beer producer (I was going to say brewer then but checked myself) Anheuser – Busch/Interbrew that I am not at all shocked to hear that they are being sued in the US courts for watering down their beer.
The dwindling strength of so called “premium lagers” made by AB/Interbrew has long been of concern among the beer drinkers that are in the know.
Now things are getting interesting in the USA where court cases are being heard concerning allegations that Anheuser – Busch has been systematically watering down its “beer” right on the production line. They would not do that now, would they……..?
August 2012 – I went on a trip to France recently and was out shopping for some snax and a cheeky beer to drink in the hotel room to save me breaking into the mini bar. In a nearby shop I soon found a well-stocked fridge with the cans of beer in nice neat rows; among them were Stella Artois. Guess what?
I checked the abv on the tin. Yep, it was 5%! (unlike 4.8% as it is the UK) and I smelled a rat. Reading the link above will make things clearer.
February 2013 -Stella Artois once had a reputation in the UK for being a premium lager that was never a lunch time session beer. Let’s face it – you would never ask for Stella shandy. Weighing in at 5.2% not too long ago, Stella Artois now has had its strength sapped just like Sampson had his short back and sides. The one wielding the scissors was no Delilah, but it was a business enterprise seeking pure profit.
The first excuse Anheuser Busch/Interbrew gave for the drop to 5.0% in Stella’s strength was to harmonize the alcohol content of the product and packaging in the EU. Since then British sold Stella Artois had now been chopped further to 4.8% by its producer. This followed changes made in the alcohol duty levels by the well-loved Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne. Anheuser Busch/Interbrew has saved huge amounts from its tax bill as a result, and we are talking big money here.
The excuse for the first cut in the abv of Stella Artois sounds a very hollow one now. What really gets my goat is that the drop overall drop from 5.2% to 4.8% abv has been put in place quite insidiously whilst the punters that drink Stella Artois are totally unaware that they are being totally ‘mugged off’.
It is all wrong.
Do you remember the old adverts for Stella Artois, which ended with the catch phrase “reassuringly expensive“?
Those adverts were being broadcast a few years ago and since then the product has changed some what. In the past 4 years Stella Artois has fallen from 5.2% to 4.8% and not many punters of good old “wifebeater” have noticed.
Stella Artois is the biggest selling lager in the UK with annual “off-trade” sales alone totalling £500.3 million (according to Nielsen). Stella Artois is made by Anheuser – Busch/Interbrew (AB InBev) who also produce Budweiser, Becks and a new beer product that will be in US stores soon labelled Lime-A-Rita a so-called “refreshing ready-to-drink margarita with a twist of Bud Light Lime.”
Now this is all good, as we all like beer and beer products that taste of margarita. However, AB InBev have made two cuts in the strength of their no.1 selling lager in the UK.
In October 2008 the following press release was issued by AB InBev:
Stella Artois ABV and packaging changes
October 23rd, 2008
Recently we’ve had some questions about differences in the Stella Artois packaging and ABV. Here’s as an explanation as to we why we decided to make the changes:
As part of InBev UK’s investment into Stella Artois we introduced new primary and secondary packaging for Stella Artois. This packaging change is happening across the globe and began in the UK from September 2008.
We used this opportunity to harmonise the ABV of Stella across channels to 5% (it was at 5.1% in the on trade and 5.2% in the off trade.)
By harmonizing the ABV we are providing the consumer with consistency and clarity. This will have no impact on the taste of the brand but will allow consumers to enjoy a consistent strength lager at home or in the pub.
So we are given the opportunity to enjoy a consistent strength lager through harmonizing product packaging with our EU neighbours. So glad about that then, as I would have hated the decision to have been made on cost saving grounds.
So Stella Artois had now slipped into the “Premium” beer ABV mark of 5% that was common to all its main competitors and here it sat until this year when its alcohol content was lowered once again.
The BBC reported the latest move will save the brewer £8.6m a year in duty from off-trade sales of Stella alone. The additional energy and raw material cost savings were not mentioned in any press releases by the World’s biggest brewer, whilst some analysts saw the move as chance to retain price points and shore up profitability of Stella.
According to The Grocer
The brewer would not give reasons for the reduction, but confirmed only beer sold in the UK was affected.
“Our decision to bring Stella Artois, Budweiser and Beck’s to the UK market at 4.8% abv during 2012 is in line with evolving UK category trends,” said a spokeswoman.
Dare I suggest that Stella Artois has lost its “Premier” status? Which is fine by me as long as the cost savings are passed on to the customer, or used to improve the quality of the product.
However one thing is certain these cuts have only encouraged Molson Coors to drop its Cobra brand from 5% to 4.8% ABV and Carlsberg to do the same with its Export lager.
So someone is losing out here. Is there a solution?
Well, one thing I have done whilst watching the Euro 2012 is made Kronenburg “shandies”. I found a case of Kronenburg 1664 stubbies (5.5% ABV) that I picked up from Calais on my way back from a trip across the Channel. One of these goes nicely in a pint glass topped up with some Stella from the 440ml can which just takes the edge off the 1664. As a consequence the Stella cans now live with the “mixers” – Once a top deck Premium beer, Stella is now relegated to the bottom shelf of the fridge with the tonics and a bottle of R Whites Lemonade.
The stubbies are gone now, so it is just a case of going back to Mother‘s Milk this Summer.
The Germans have a word called “erledigt” it has numerous different meanings, but one rough translation means ‘job done’.
The bloke on camera would shout “erledigt” on completion of the task were he actually german, which in this case, he is not.
Old photos get me thinking and I am digging some out to post as we speak.
However there is one blog that just “makes I laff!” and brought back some vivid memories of some nights out. It is the one linked below:
I met a bloke in the pub the other night; he is a friend of my builder mate Vince. I had gone down to have a quick drink with Vince, who has done a lot of work on our house. This buddy of Vince’s that I was introduced to is called John the Tree and as his name suggests he is a Tree surgeon and a good one too by all accounts.
We supped a few pints of ale that night and just chewed the fat. Random as they say. John’s dog was with us all evening. She is a 4 year old German Shepherd that has a lovely temperament. She sat at John’s feet all evening and got up once to greet him when he came back from the toilet by placing her paws on his shoulders and giving his face a good lick. It was only then that I realised how huge she was as John is a tall bloke and it is some reach for a dog to reach up that far to his face.
I saw the dog again last night in the door way of the Thai restaurant waiting patiently for John to pick up his take away. She really is huge. Seeing them again brought back a memory of a classic one liner that John said in the pub that first time we met.
Us three lads were at the bar and as we chatted over a beer a couple of girls came past on their way out. One of the ladies was immediately attracted to John’s dog. She bent down to give the dog a bit of fuss and asked
“He is a lovely dog. What breed is he?”
“She is a Fox Terrier cross” replied John, totally dead pan
“She is so well behaved” said the girl
“That is the Dalmatian in her” came the immediate reply.
It cracked me up and was so well timed, but was totally lost on the victim!
I was sat at the bar in Origins aka The White Lion in Great Missenden on Friday night nursing a bottle of locally produced beer and my mind wandered down memory lane.
25 years ago I was working at The Kensington Arms in Redland, Bristol and getting paid £1.98 an hour and a pint of Courage Best brewed in Bristol’s St George’s Brewery cost £1.04. So it all boiled down to the cold hard fact that if you were paid in beer, a standard 5 hour shift behind the bar from 6-11pm equated to a wage packet of 10 pints.
Times have changed however, 25 years ago the Kensington was a back street boozer with a similar lay out to the Queen Vic on Albert Square. The punters were pretty bohemian, but down to earth. It was a drinkers’ pub which served the odd hot snack, but I sold more packs of Old Holborn than pasties in my time behind the bar there.
Now it is a “gastro” pub with a good reputation for food rather than beer. I went back there recently and could not get over the transformation and it was impressive. In a way it mirrors the way in which Bristol has changed and how the BS6 postcode has grown in popularity. Over the same time period the St Georges Brewery has been sold up and the dockside building has been converted into loft apartments.
Meanwhile back in Origins I asked Stefan (one of my former students) who was working behind the bar last Friday about costs of beer and rates of pay. It turns out that a pint of Shepherd Neame Spitfire or a bottle of Rebellion White that I was drinking cost £3.50. The bog standard rate of pay for casual bar staff there is £7.00 per hour, so guess what…..?
A regular evening shift behind the bar today still pays for 10 beers! Maybe times have not changed much then?
During the late 80’s The Kensington Arms had a Jack Russell terrier in residence that was called “The Rat”. She was a source of amusement though if you “charged her up” correctly. After finishing the glass collecting and general clear up after a busy Saturday night shift the landlord would often get his staff a drink before we went off home. At this point the Rat would often totter into the front bar and join us. The game we played on her was a bit cruel, but she never learned from her previous mistakes. We used to pick her up and put her on the bar counter. Then we would pour her a drink. Her tipple was Guinness which she drank out of a half filled ashray.
The Rat would just lap it up and the Guinness soon took effect, which you could normally tell when her back legs started to give way. Fair play to the old girl though as she would sit there still on her haunches and sup away until her front legs went. At which point her head lolled about and then she normally zonked out. Once she had fallen asleep she would be scooped up and plonked in her basket by the evening shift as a present for the Sunday lunch shift to open as it were.
In reality it was like leaving a time bomb as the next morning the Rat would wake up with a cracking hangover. She would be cranky and foul tempered, which was no laughing matter if you were pulling pints with her around. She would get the arse ache, snap and growl and often nip your ankle as you walked past her. The Rat was simply a nightmare to deal with when she had a hangover, but like a lot of people she would never learn.