Stella Artois is a Belgian pilsner that enjoys popularity at home in Belgium and throughout the world. Its clean, crisp flavor and wide availability have made Stella Artois a firm favorite for many drinkers, but some often wonder when Stella Artois first entered the market and why. Here’s our abridged version:
Stella Artois first came out in 1926 as a Christmas beer. Its name was inspired by the Christmas star, and it actually began as a seasonal winter beer. It was so popular that it eventually became available year-round, and is offered as a premium Belgian pilsner to this day.
That’s the brief answer to when Stella Artois came out and why, but there is plenty more detail to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Stella Artois became the global powerhouse it is today, where it was first brewed, and how the beer has fared since then.
Why Did Stella Artois Come Out?
Stella Artois was not the first beer released by the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven. In fact, the brewery had been operating for almost seven hundred by the time of Stella’s launch in 1926. The original name of the brewery was Den Hoorn, but upon the ascent of head brewer Sebastien Artois to ownership in 1717, he renamed the brewery after himself, calling it Brouwerij Artois.
Brouwerij Artois released Stella Artois in 1926 as a Christmas beer, naming it “Stella” in honor of the Christmas star. Seasonal beer offerings are commonplace in Europe, particularly for local breweries in smaller areas. Stella Artois, a strong pilsner, proved to be very popular and became an annual winter release. Eventually, however, the brewery conceded to popular demand and offered Stella Artois all year round.
Although Stella Artois encountered serious difficulty as Europe was torn apart in World War Two, even halting operations at the height of the war, production resumed with the onset of peace. By 1960, approximately 100 million gallons of Stella Artois were produced every year.
As the 20th century drew to a close, Brouwerij Artois was a key player in the merger that created Interbrew. Eventually, Interbrew was part of the merger that created InBev, leading total production to exceed one million liters by 2006. Two years later, in 2008, InBev merged with American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch.
Stella Artois ABV
Stella Artois enthusiasts who have tried this brew both in Belgium and abroad will notice that the beer’s strength varies from one territory to another. At home in Belgium, Stella Artois is sold at the full-powered 5.2% ABV, the standard alcohol content for a pilsner in that country. However, in other countries where alcohol regulations are stricter, it is sold with a reduced ABV. This is particularly noticeable in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, where it can get as low as 4%.
The lower-strength Stella Artois is typically brewed under license away from the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven. Currently, Stella Artois is brewed under license in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Stella is, however, imported from Belgium into many territories, so keen drinkers can still access full-strength Stella Artois if they look hard enough.
Although Stella Artois is sold at a lower ABV in the UK than at home in Belgium, the brand leaned heavily on its reputation as a strong beer in that territory. Stella Artois’ push into the British market was spearheaded by the slogan “Stella’s for the fellas who take their lager strong”.
Stella Artois also positioned itself as a premium imported lager in the UK with the slogan “Reassuringly Expensive”. Television adverts often paid homage to European art cinema, with extensive use of the French language. Despite attempting to cater to an upmarket, premium demographic, Stella Artois’ reputation in the UK is that of a binge drinker’s staple. The brand has taken many steps to rectify this reputation in such a key market, including sponsoring film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance.
Stella Artois is often served in a specially branded glass known as the Stella Artois chalice. The perfect pour of Stella Artois involves nine clear steps, each designed to bring out the best flavor and texture in the beer. The procedure of pouring the perfect pint of Stella is known as “The Ritual”.
The first step in “The Ritual” requires one to bathe the Stella chalice in cold water, chilling it to help sustain the head on the beer.
The second step requires the pourer to (controversially) sacrifice the first few drops of beer to emerge from the tap. This is to ensure that any old beer in the line does not contaminate the glass of Stella Artois, making for a fresher, fuller flavor.
The Stella chalice should be held at a 45-degree angle, optimized for the best combination of foam and liquid to form the right amount of head.
Upon straightening the chalice towards the end of the pour, a perfect white head of Stella Artois should form. This works to seal in the beer’s freshness and flavor.
The pourer should then close the nozzle as the full glass of Stella is removed from the beer tap, ensuring a graceful exit.
Next, the beer’s head should be skimmed, again at a 45-degree angle, removing any large, loose bubbles from the head.
Stella Artois should next be surveyed to ensure that the head is no thicker than three centimeters, just over an inch.
The glass is then given a final dip in cold water, allowing for a “brilliant chalice and stunning presentation”.
Finally, the perfectly poured pint of Stella is offered to the drinker, allowing a moment to admire the beer.
Where Was Stella Artois First Brewed?
Although Stella Artois often features French language in its advertising and branding, the beer is native to the Dutch-speaking Belgian city of Leuven. Leuven is in the Flemish region of Belgium, and has long been a center of learning and innovation. It is home to KU Leuven, Belgium’s largest university, and has been a university city since 1425.
Leuven was home to the Den Hoorn brewery, which became the Artois brewery, from 1366. In fact, the symbol of the Den Hoorn brewery remains on the Stella Artois label to this day. The Den Hoorn brewery was beloved by Leuven’s locals, and they brewed Stella Artois as a special Christmas gift for their loyal local customers.
Leuven, sadly, was ravaged by World War Two but was able to rebuild following the Allied victory. Today, Leuven is home to the headquarters of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the parent company that currently owns the Stella Artois brand.