Thursday, 27 November 2008
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Positively my last post about Stella Artois before a self-imposed three month moratorium (unless they go and do something REALLY stupid)
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Sunday, 9 November 2008
I really, really don’t want this blog to turn into http://www.ihatestellaartois.com/ – that would be at least as boring for me as it would be for you. But they just keep doing things that make my jaw drop, and not in a good way.
When the ad came on my TV on Friday night I hadn’t seen it before or heard anything about it. Until the resolution where the brand is introduced, right at the end of the 40-second spot, I honestly believed I was watching a new ad for Lynx – the deodorant specifically targeted at teenage virgins who masturbate furiously to pictures of recent Big Brother contestants in Zoo and Nuts magazines.
Maybe this was intentional – a watered-down beer targeting the consumers of watered-down porn – but I doubt it.
Officially the ad has a James Bond theme. The campaign is set on the French Riviera. (Confusingly, while the entire dialogue is in French, the final bar call is for “une Stella Artois Four”, the number being the only English word used. Why?) While the plot may be Lynx-lite, the tone and feel are sub-Peroni: five years ago, Peroni was shamelessly stealing art-directional cues from Stella Artois. Now, too, that’s reversed.
One final thought: given that the whole launch of Stella Artois Four is aimed at helping Stella lose the ‘wifebeater’ tag, isn’t it a bit ill-judged that the whole plot is driven by the threat of physical violence meted out by one man to another who has been messing with his bird?
It’s fascinating watching the sheer velocity with which this brand is imploding.
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Most of the people who read this blog really seem to know their stuff, so let me ask you a question: what's the next big thing in beer? What's the next thing we're excited about that has a real chance of going mainstream? Think about how Hoegaarden launched in the UK a decade ago: building slowly with little in the way of marketing hype, to the point where wheat beer is now an established sector in the beer market that doesn't scare the mainstream drinker.
Things are very exciting just now -we've got more choice and variety in beer than ever before if you know where to look for it. Deus and Kasteel Cru have pegged out a 'champagne beer' niche that seems to have a lot more room in it. Innis & Gunn has blazed a trail leading wood-aged beers into the supermarket and we've seen an explosion of whisky-aged beers from Schiehallion, Orkney, Brew Dog, and now Fuller's. Brew Dog's Punk IPA and Thornbridge's Jaipur show that British brewers can make big, American-style IPAs, and we're getting more of the US beers readily available. And what's happening in the States now? What's creating a beery buzz over there?
Will 2009 be the year we see another big beer style go mainstream?
I may be using some of the answers to this for a commercial project for which I will be paid money. If this offends your sensibilities and you feel it contravenes the unwritten ethics of blogging I apologise. I'm making this clear so that if you object, you can choose to withhold comment. But if you don't mind, I'd love to hear what you think and would hope that it would create an interesting thread!
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
"Drinks giant Carlsberg has announced plans to close its historic brewery site in West Yorkshire with the loss of 170 jobs. The company blamed falling consumption, and higher duties for the decision to shut its Leeds site by 2011. Consultation with the workers has started and Carlsberg said it would seek to redeploy staff. There has been a brewery on site in the city since 1822 when it used to produce just Tetley beers. The brewery now produces Tetley and Carlsberg and is one of two owned by Carlsberg. The other site is at Northampton."
I've got little insight to offer here, but I'm gutted. I grew up in Yorkshire before leaving home to go to university in St Andrews. Trips between home and Uni usually involved getting the little local train from Barnsley to Leeds (there was a sign saying 'home of Tetleys' as you pulled into Leeds station), then the train from Leeds to York, then the intercity up to Scotland. Every time I was leaving home I'd stop at Leeds station and go for a pint of Tetleys in the little pub just outside the main entrance (now a M&S Simply Food). Coming back, I'd stop there again for half an hour before getting the train home. There was no decent beer in Scotland at that time and during term I confined myself to Tennents Lager. My ritual was about savouring a gorgeous, nutty, rich pint, and it was about thinking about my relationship with Yorkshire while standing on the point between past and future, my heritage and upbringing and what it meant to be leaving that behind. In other words, the perfect beer moment.
But none of Carlsberg's actions - or lack of them - are responsible for the brand's decline and the resultant brewery closure. Of course they aren't. It's falling consumption and higher duty that are to blame. In other words, it's the government's fault, your fault and my fault that one of the most popular ale brands in the UK takes a giant step closer to extinction.
Thanks for clearing that up, Carlsberg.
(And thanks for making me sound like a die-hard CAMRA fundamentalist. I really appreciate that.)
Sunday, 2 November 2008
It goes back to the yuppie-tastic eighties, when the brand really was a cut above its rivals. At the time, most lagers in the UK were brewed to around 3.5%, pale imitations of the European brews they claimed to be. Stella never compromised in order to get into pubs - it was the full 5.2%, sat pretty much on its own in this category, and was therefore comparatively more expensive and premium than its rivals. But ABV wasn't the only measure of worth.
Stella was celebrated in beautifully-written, long-copy press ads - the kind you don't see any more in our attention-deficient age. This one's my favourite:
- Stella Artois is only brewed with the best female Saaz hops
- The beer is malted only with Europe's finest barley
- Unlike other, cheaper lager beers, Stella is lagered for six weeks
Taking those in turn: Stella does still use Saaz hops. But it clearly uses far fewer of them than it once did. Stella used to perform poorly in blind taste tests because it had a distinctly more bitter character than the British lager-drinking palate was used to. Taste Stella side-by-side with Budvar, even Kronenbourg today, and this is no longer the case. At a recent seminar on lager organised by the British Guild of Beer Writers, former Stella head brewer Paul Buttrick diplomatically explained that large-scale brewers generally are using fewer hops than they once did, which means that "Many beers that became global brands have less distinctive character than they originally had".
Malted using only Europe's finest barley? Stella now proudly advertises the fact that it is brewed with maize which, far from being reassuringly expensive, is a more economical source of fermentable sugar than barley, and produces a blander beer. Stella's beautifully-produced website, which harks back to an entirely fictitious origin of the brand in 1366 (they word it very carefully, never actually claiming that Stella was first brewed in 1366, but leaving you with a very strong impression that it was) doesn't address the issue that maize is indigenous to North America - which wasn't discovered for another 126 years.
Fermented for six weeks? Oh, my aching sides. To be fair, there is at least a basis for a debate here, one raging between brewing traditionalists and those who have to deal with the reality of the economics of modern brewing. The latter claim you simply don't need to condition beer for as long as we used to, that modern fermenters and ingredients can achieve the same results over a shorter time period. That may well be so, but whatever the optimal period now is, Stella is lagered for a far shorter time than many of its rivals - a week is now standard in lager. I've heard from an authoritative source - but without being able to get confirmation I'd better leave it vague - that Stella is fermented for considerably less time even than that.
On its website, Stella claims that it is still brewed "with the same process of mixing and fermentation as in the old days". I suppose your view on whether or not this is a bare-faced lie that insults both the drinker and the brand itself depends on how closely you define the word 'process'.
I used to love this beer - both the brand and the product itself. I was proud to have my stint working on the ad campaign. I think the ad above demonstrates exactly why I no longer feel the same way. I suspect that if a batch of Stella was brewed to the spec it had ten or fifteen years ago, and if we were permitted to taste it side-by-side with the modern version, Inbev would be the proud inheritors of one of marketing's most enduring and revealing fables.