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.