When Did Lager Become Ordinary?

Another nugget from the BFI pub documentary collection: “When lager first appeared in quantity in this country in the early sixties, it was regarded as a luxury drink, and expensive drink,” says a voiceover in A Round of Bass (1972). Not very much more expensive than any other drink, and not just for women, he adds.

Watch the clip from a 1974 episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads above (from 3:25). Terry (James Bolam) is down-to-earth and resolutely working class; Bob (Rodney Bewes) is a well off office worker struggling upwards into the middle classes. Terry drinks bitter while Bob, of course, has a bottle of lager. So, at this point, lager was still the classy choice — a symbol of Bob’s social status.

The first recorded use of the phrase ‘lager lout’ appears to have been in about 1988. At some point in between, lager lost its ‘posh’ reputation. Stella Artois managed to cling on to ‘poshness’, we reckon, until about 2000.

With the emergence of Greenwich’s Meantime and, more recently, Camden, posh lager is back, but we don’t think that, these days, a person’s broad choice of lager, bitter or wine says as much about their social status or aspirations as it used to forty years ago.

Maybe these days, the distinction is between those who choose brands and those who (think..?) they don’t.

Hmm. Ponder ponder.

To those who wait?

Whereas the best lagers have a month, two months or even longer to mature, some big industrial incarnations, we understand, are lucky to get three days.

Given that the purpose of lagering is to allow chemical compounds to dissipate or be consumed by the secondary action of yeast, how is it actually possible to accelerate this process? More chemicals? Sorcery?

Peraps all the important stuff happen in the first three days and the rest is just superstition and marketing, but we can’t help but wonder if is this one of the reasons why, say, Stella Artois tastes so nasty.

Would it improve if given 90 days to ripen?

The lager spectrum

Advert for Stella Artois.

All commercial lagers sit somewhere on a spectrum.

On said spectrum, Becks might act as the zero point, with its more-or-less neutral flavour. We can take it or leave it; it doesn’t actually taste unpleasant; it’s better than nothing. Maybe that’s where Peroni lives, too.

Above that point, there are many good, very good or even excellent commercial lagers. Estrella Damm, for example, might not be remotely like a craft beer, but it’s good. We enjoy drinking it, and even find it a little moreish. It has a certain something.

But, head the other way, beyond the Becks neutral zone, there is the murky world of the nasty lager.

Nasty lagers aren’t just bland or boring: they actually offend the tastebuds. We’d rather drink water than San Miguel, even on a hot day in Spain. What is that flavour? Onions burned in butter? Stella Artois is in the same boat, with a taste that suggests someone has bunged a bit of lighter fluid in to pep it up.

What are your candidates for the nasty end of the spectrum?

Things to do with crap beer #5: chicken thigh casserole


You need a specific type of crap beer for this one — you don’t want too much bitterness. We’ve used Stella Artois, and you have to cook it for a long time before the bitterness and metallic taste disappears. We got much better results with Debowe Mocne (other sweet Polish tramps’ lagers like Warka Strong would probably work) and also a bottle of Kronenbourg Blanc that a well-meaning friend left round.  It also works quite well if you have any flat homebrew left in a polypin.

By using chicken thighs on the bone, you create the stock as the casserole cooks, producing a really rich taste. It’s great comfort food, especially on a rainy day like today.

Recipe after the jump.

Continue reading “Things to do with crap beer #5: chicken thigh casserole”

Insidious Stella Artois campaign sadly effective

The most recent issue of Marketing casually mentions, in an article on Stella Artois’ branding, that the lager contains “only the four traditional ingredients of beer” — malt, water, hops and maize.

So, it seems that the sneaky campaign from earlier this year has partially achieved its aim. That is, subtly linking the idea that beer has a limited number of traditional ingredients (as per the German purity law) with the four slightly different ingredients found in Stella.

Maize is not, of course, traditionally found in beer, and has only been included by sly brewers in the last century or so to reduce the cost of production and lighten the flavour.

Stella up to their usual tricks

A slick CGI image from the weasely new Stella ad
A slick CGI image from the weasely new Stella ad

The geniuses behind Stella Artois really are trying to convince us of the historical worth of their brew. A new advertising campaign on the telly makes lots of intriguing references to “1366”, obviously designed to suggest that this is when the beer originated.

A bit of digging around their website makes it clear that a brewery existed in Leuven in 1366… Apparently, thanks to the “courage” of some medieval monks, Stella Artois exists today. Er… If you dig around on their website, it’s quite clear that whatever happened in Leuven in 1366 has sweet Fanny Adams to do with Stella Artois.

The funny thing is that they keep making reference to the “four ingredients”. But which four? Is this the barley, hops, maize and water proudly boasted of in their billboards? If you go into their site, they have five (not four) mini-films to illustrate different “challenges” of brewing. Hops, water and barley get a mention, as does yeast (unlike in the billboards). The fifth challenge of brewing has nothing to do with making the beer, but is to do with exporting it.

Oddly, maize isn’t mentioned in these adverts. But it would be a bit tricky to square with this historical heritage angle, given it originated in Mesoamerica and therefore would have been unknown to the good burghers of Brabant in 1366.

I’m sorry, but this kind of mock historical bollocks really, really gets on my tits. Fortunately, the campaign is way too inconsistent to fool anyone.

NB – we’ve not linked to any of the Stella pages so as not to increase their presence on the interweb. You can find it for yourself if you have nothing better to do. But you really ought to have something better to do.

UPDATE 17/08/08: image added.

Beer blogging as marketing tool

First, Stella started their blog. I’m not linking to it as I don’t want to increase their Google rankings, but you can read Stonch about it here, A Good beer blog on it here, and Tandleman discussing it too. The blog itself is pretty dull, and aside from adding a few beer blogs to its blogroll to look authentic, it makes no attempt to go out and engage with the blogosphere.

Now it looks like Becks are having a go, and advertising for a beer blogger. The advert’s on the front page of their site if you fancy applying, although I think liking Becks might be an “essential” rather than a “desirable” part of the job spec. Also they specify you have to be between 21 and 30 – age discrimination, surely? The age requirement now seems to have disappeared from the website – someone’s realised they’re subject to EU law.

At least making it a full time job means that they might be making more of a go of it – i.e. presumably this blogger will be going around the blogosphere, doing the rounds, taking part in debates, perhaps even linking to others. It sounds like Becks “get” blogging a bit more than the Stella people do and realise that it’s not just a case of posting corporate pearls of wisdom and expecting a buzz to create itself.

Even so, it’s difficult to see what they’re trying to achieve from this. Firstly, it ain’t gonna work – the beer blogging community isn’t going to suddenly start plugging Stella or Becks just because someone writes a blog. We’re a bit too savvy for that, surely? Secondly, even if it did work, who cares? Much as I love the beer blogging world, I’ve enough humility to know that we’re not movers and shakers in the mass market. The average Bud drinker is not going to switch to Becks because a beer blogger writes about it.

We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s being done because it’s the latest “cool” thing in marketing, even if there’s no evidence that it actually works. The marketing team / agency can explain to the board that their exciting campaign features Web 2.0 technology and get to look creative and cutting-edge.

The other potential achievement from this is to increase search-engine rankings, and perhaps hope to pick up a lazy journalist (of which there are many) who will reproduce stories and press releases. However, beer bloggers can help subvert the effect of the this by writing (and more importantly, linking to) honest, critical articles on genuine beer blogs about Becks and Stella Artois.


Thanks to Appellation beer for the Becks story.

Big brewers love their beer too

We recently had an interesting conversation with a former executive level employee of a one of the big booze companies. He likes decent beer himself and was outraged by this.

But he also said that, in his time travelling the world for IndustroBooze, he met a lot of brewers of what most of us would consider crappy beers, and found that, to a man, they loved the beer they produced.

He said that the makers of one of the big bland American lagers drank it themselves and were genuinely convinced of its quality. They couldn’t understand why it was so reviled. After all, making it taste the way it did, consistently, was hard work for them — not just a matter of pressing a button.

Perhaps most revealingly, he described the experience of working for a big international drinks company as like being “brainwashed”. The company’s own products are wheeled out at parties; dished out as Christmas bonuses; and staff are encouraged to drink them when they’re out and about and push them to friends.

Just like mothers who think their own children are the most wonderful in the world, regardless of any evidence to the contrary, the men who slave over industrial size operations to make the bland beers most beer geeks shun think their babies are beautiful too.


PS sorry about reusing this image so soon, but we gather Stella Artois are keen to increase their profile in the world of beer blogging. Anything we can do to help!

Cheeky Stella Artois ad campaign

This new advertising campaign for Stella Artois is designed to emphasise the quality of the product. It implies that Stella contains only the four traditional ingredients of beer:

Stella Artois advertisement -- "Contains only four ingredients: hops, malted barley, maize and water"

That’s right — hops, malted barley, maize and water.

Maize!? Rather than trying to hide the fact they they use corn as an adjunct to make the beer cheaper, they’re boasting about it, counting on the fact that most people won’t know any better. Hardly honest, but bloody clever.

And they’ve avoided mentioning all that yucky yeast, too, in case the thought of it puts anyone off.