Stella Artois promotion
a small difference of 540 years
You have to admire the cheek and the chutzpah of the global brewers. Take, for example, the new promotion for Stella Artois. There is much use of the year “Anno 1366”. This comes across particularly strongly in the new TV advert, with the sonorous voice of former Dr Who actor Tom Baker telling us that Stella's heritage dates from 1366.
Rowlocks, as they say in boating circles. Stella Artois dates not from 1366 but 1926, just a small difference of 540 years. The Artois family had nothing to do with the brewery back in the 14th century. It started life as a small brew-pub in the Belgian university city of Leuven. It was called Den Horen, the Horn, and it achieved some success by supplying the university with beer from 1537. The Artois family didn't arrive on the scene until the early 18th century. Sebastien Artois was an apprentice brewer at Den Horen. He graduated from the university's brewing faculty as a master brewer and raised the funds to buy Den Horen in 1717.
Sebastien's grandson, Leonard, busily expanded the business. He bought two rival breweries in Leuven and became one of the most successful commercial beer-makers in Europe. But – and it's an important but – Artois didn't switch to the lager system of production until the late 19th century. The family was inspired to do so by the success of the first golden lager brewed in the Bohemian city of Prague. It's known today as Pilsner Urquell – Original Pilsner.
Artois's inspiration also came from Germany. The company called its first lager beer Bock, which is the name of a strong lager, of around 6 or 7% brewed, in Munich and surrounding Bavaria. The Artois version of Bock was considerably weaker than a Bavarian Bock but it did put down the brewery's marker as a new entrant in the lager market.
Its fortunes grew in 1926 when it brewed a Christmas beer called Stella Artois: stella is Latin for star and referred to the star that led the wise men to the birthplace of the infant Jesus. The beer was a hit with drinkers and it became a regular brew.
Beer in parts of Germany had been lagered or stored for centuries. Storing beer in regions such as Bavaria and Bohemia was essential as the regions enjoy long, hot summers.
Belgian brewers didn't adopt lagering until the 19th century because the country doesn't enjoy long, hot summers and it's hard to dig deep cellars and caves in land as flat as the proverbial pancake. So any claims by InBev that Stella Artois is a beer with deep roots going back to 1366 are nonsense. In common, with Britain, just across the North Sea, the Belgians brewed brown beers using warm fermentation – in other words ale – until the Pilsner revolution and the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution encouraged the switch to golden lager.
To repeat: Stella Artois was first brewed in 1926 not 1366.