More Friday afternoon beer advice from Real Beer's Stu.
A couple of months ago I found myself with a brewer friend sampling the two most widely available green-bottled beers in New Zealand, Heineken and Stella Artois. Both are beers I'd not normally drink. Neither are beers I would refuse, if offered one, but they are certainly beers I avoid buying in all but the most desperate of situations. During this 'taste-off' we both surprised ourselves with a sneaky appreciation for Stella Artois. Not enough to go out and buy it but enough, at least, to agree that it actually is "beer."
We concurred that Stella Artois, from a glass, displayed a nice hop aroma (with lemony herbal hints that you would expect from a classic European lager) and a pleasing balance of subtle malt sweetness and a subdued, cleansing hop bitterness. It was well made, fresh, clean and crisp. Stella certainly outshone it's more heavily promoted cousin by a long margin.
Fast forward now to a couple of weeks ago, and Stella slipped into my beery world again. I attended a wedding where the beer options were Tui, Lion Brown or Stella Artois. With the recent pleasant memory still in mind, I contemplated the reasonable quality wine list, perused my memory again, and found myself asking for the green bottle (and a glass, of course). On this occasion I also picked up, within the aforementioned subtleties, a slight tropical fruit hop note that I'm sure you'd not pick up in a European-brewed version of the same drink. I sipped through a couple of bottles and teetered on a balance point between wishing there was something better, and being glad that at least I wasn't drinking Tui. (Beer? Yeah right.)
That same week I mentioned my enjoyment of Stella (or "Nelson Mandela", as my brother calls it) to some other beer lovers. One response was "I would rather drink a classic New Zealand draught, than a 'Premium Lager' pretending to be something it's not. At least Lion Brown, down at the RSA, is honest about what it is." This had me thinking about why I choose the beers I do. Do I look for honesty or integrity in the beers that I drink?
I thought a little about this and decided that I choose my beers on what the beer actually smells and tastes like, not what the marketing department or anyone else tells me it is (or isn't). I choose without any bias towards beers that are perceived as girly, dumb, over-priced or pretending to be something they are not. I truly enjoy every style of beer that I've tried, as long as it is a well-made and well-cared for product that is in fact a beer. I try everything I can get my hands on but I only ever go back to the best (or I retry ones where I think I may have got an ill-treated sample). Sometimes you've just got to drink the best beer you can get your hands on, and in some of those occasions Stella Artois will be that beer. It's unlikely that Otahuhu-brewed Heineken, with it's signature DB 'banana' note, will fit that bill for me.
It's unlikely that you'll find me in the supermarket line with a box of Stella Artois [reports can be sent to me here at Not PC Towers - Ed.] but you may well find me drinking it, from time to time, just so long as it continues to meet its current high standards. I won't toe the company line, however, in saying that the beer "epitomises European style and sophistication and is the beer of choice for successful consumers that are in the know." I'll leave that sort of talk for those in the know.
I just know that it's good enough to drink. When you have to.
LINKS: Stella Artois: Beer drinking stereotypes
Beer for all the right reasons: SOBA
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