STELLA ARTOIS–Belgium’s most famous beer? Though this crystalline lager exhibits few of the qualities that so distinguish ‘real’ Belgian ales, it has nonetheless become the star of InBev’s ‘Global’ brands. Produced in facilities from the Ukraine to Wales to Brazil, Stella Artois is marketed with a more cosmopolitan, even aloof, air than its portfolio peers Budweiser, Corona, and Becks. While adverts for those brands depict laid-back beach parties or chummy tailgating, Stella’s place ravishing models against universal white backgrounds and sigh, ‘She is a thing of beauty.’ It’s a clever tack, pushing the brand as a luxury item—one is encouraged to drink it from a designated ‘chalice’—despite its global ubiquity, relative affordability, and frankly undistinguished recipe. And yet its star continues to twinkle, with no small coterie of craft fans admitting some affinity for the brew. Perhaps its appeal owes to the lackluster company (on the global scale, at least; InBev owns numerous regional breweries of high repute). Or perhaps Stella really is that bauble-bedecked blonde bombshell with the perfect skin and angel’s lips….
At least based on first impressions, Stella earns its pitch as a radiant beauty. The beer pours a golden straw color, perfectly transparent and with persistent light carbonation. Its head—massively fluffy, creamy, and light, reminiscent of the wheat-fortified plumes found in Witbiers or strong golden ales—is one of a few nods to true Belgian precedent. Another is hinted at in the aroma of lemon, minerals, dough, and the spice and floral notes of light Saaz hopping. Skeptics might call its nose adulterated; fans would prefer to say delicate and clean. Shading towards the latter is more appropriate for a lager, and either is better than the skunking so common to green bottle imports. Fortunately this was no issue here and the beer remains a supermodel thus far.
Alas, once on the palate Stella’s catwalk strut begins to stumble. Its mouthfeel is a little creamy as a result of its corn adjuncts, making the body seem fuller than it is (or should be). Carbonation is medium, none too engaging, and lacking in the pinprick brilliance that enlivens the best lagers and Belgian ales alike. None of the beer’s 5% ABV can be discerned, nor any of the yeast strain Stella’s marketing alternately ignores or reveres. Its middle flavors are a bit peculiar, teetering between nearly transparent pilsner malt and a faintly odd hop twinge that doesn’t quite settle in. Shades of DMS appear late before being replaced by a slight astringency in the finish and a mildly disconcerting metallic smack in the aftertaste.
Altogether Stella is not half as elegant as it would have us believe. More fluff than form, it deserves the deflating lance that Newcastle recently administered in conjunction with its ‘No Bollocks’ ad campaign. And yet despite its flaws Stella is still considerably more engaging and nuanced than its three global cohorts. Perhaps it is unfair to judge Stella against such slouchy competition, but there are worse things to be than a Clicquot among Cooks.
Served: 12 oz bottle best by 5/8/12