Stella’s A Star!
Style & Cachet Signal “Super-Belgian” Status for Stella Artois
By Meridith May
INSIDE OPENING STORY CAPTION: Michael O’Brien, owner of San Francisco’s popular pub and restaurant “Royal Exchange” offers Stella Artois on tap, served in her own “Chalice” glass
Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the U.S. import and marketing rights for Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Beck’s and Bass Pale Ale being sold to Anheuser-Busch. These European brands will all be imported, marketed and distributed by Anheuser-Busch beginning February 1, 2007.
Stella Artois is the darling of beer importer InBev USA. With her golden hue and startling clarity, honeyed floral aromatics and delicate buttered caramel sweetness, she is nevertheless slim and lean enough to handle an array of cuisines.
While Stella Artois is a household name throughout Europe, and her history traces back to 1366, this Belgian charmer was only introduced to the U.S. at the turn of the 21st Century.
Today, Stella Artois is sold in over 80 countries, and now the blonde bombshell lager is the fastest European beer import to reach over a million cases in 20 years. The beer recently reached a new threshold this past year of over two million cases nationally.
While San Francisco’s import beer sales are up by 16%, according to InBev’s Retail Account Manager George McCarthy, Stella accounts for 32% of those sales!
To demonstrate her recent claim to fame, Patterson’s teamed up with the InBev specialists in San Francisco to document the on-premise reaction to Stella Artois and her Belgian sister brands, Leffe and Hoegaarden, as well as the company’s English and German imports: Bass Pale Ale and Beck’s, respectively.
The results were positively eye-opening. The San Francisco on-premise community voiced the same story, from its top-rated dining spots to its most popular watering holes: Stella Artois is the City’s shining star.
The Belgian Trio
Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Leffe
The ancient guild now known simply as “The Belgian Brewers” refers to Belgium as “Beer Paradise,” and with its variety of styles, complexity of flavor profiles and distinct depth of taste, no wonder the country has afforded the luxury of creating their own “cuisine de biere.”
As the wine arena has its pledge of terroir for world-class wines, and the global stage of whiskies are borne out of renowned regions, Belgium is home to an entirely different class of beer.
Each Belgian beer is presented in its own special glass. The presentation and design highlight each brand’s unique flavor characteristics: Stella Artois, Hoegaarden (pronounced “Who-Garden”) and Leffe Blonde.
At Frjtz, a Belgian bistro in San Francisco, InBev’s Belgian trio gets front and center
*Brewed with the finest European hops and malt made with the traditional floor-malting process
*Fastest-growing European import in the U.S.
*No.1-selling Belgian beer in the world
*Fastest-growing European lager in the world
Serve cold (38-38 degrees F) in the traditional Stella Artois Chalice glass at a suggested fill of 15.5 ounces
Stella Artois’s footed “Chalice” glass is slightly closed at the rim, to fully support the beer’s head and accentuate the floral hop aroma. Note how it also spotlights the brilliant clarity of the beer. We paired it with a Cobb Salad at San Francisco’s Royal Exchange pub and restaurant.
Belgium’s first and original white beer, Hoegaarden has become a cult favorite and has virtually re-established the popularity of Belgian wheat beer. Called “wit” in Flemish and “blanche” in French, the English word to describe this very Belgian style is “white.”
Immediately, you experience a visual distinction: the cloudy, almost shimmering liquid is a shade of yellow that resembles a cross of just-squeezed lemons and pineapple juices. But the taste is even more nuanced: citrus and spice notes are the result of real Curaçao orange peel and a dash of coriander added to the recipe.
*Belgian white beer
*Brewed with unmalted wheat and malted barley, spiced with orange and coriander
*Cloudy appearance is due to a secondary fermentation in bottles and kegs
Leffe: An Authentic Belgian Abbey Beer
Once, when drinking water wasn’t to be trusted in Belgium, abbeys would brew their own beers from its safe local sources, sustaining the monks and providing refreshment for visitors. Leffe Blonde’s origins date back to 1240, when monks first brewed Leffe beer. Today, Leffe is still made by an authentic Belgium monastery, and the term “Trappist” Ale is associated with these much-revered, handcrafted brews.
Leffe Blonde is a gem-like golden color, aromatic with malty character, round and smooth with a nutty texture and bitter (white pepper and clove) finish.
Leffe Brune’s rich molasses-brown depth shows off fruity apple-brown-betty notes and ends with a hazelnut finish.
Both Leffe Blonde and Brune pair well with savory, robust, full-flavored foods.
Full flavor and a rich mouthfeel, combined with its authentic Abbey Beer status makes Leffe a sensational beer to savor. Note its presentation in a Chalice glass which not only reminds drinkers of its monastic heritage, but the shape also accentuates the beer’s aroma and helps maintain the perfect foam head.
San Francisco’s InBev Distributor
No.1 in the West Coast and No.3 in the U.S., distributor Matagrano Inc. is the wholesaler for InBev in San Francisco. Headed up by President Tom Haas, the spacious warehouse in South San Francisco is an impressive homage to not only beer (this is also the Anheuser Busch distributorship for SF) but an vast portfolio of waters, energy drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages.
As the wholesale house for InBev’s top three brands (Stella Artois, Bass Ale and Beck’s) quantum leap sales have added to Matagrano’s success story.
At the Matagrano warehouse in South San Francisco, InBev’s George McCarthy and Kirby Shyer pose with stacked cases of the portfolio’s golden girl, Stella Artois
Stella & The City
In San Francisco, Stella Artois Needs No Introduction
Marketed as a premium lager since her introduction to San Francisco in 2000, Stella Artois is on the “A” List of just about every on-premise establishment.
Americano’s G.M./Beverage Director Morgan Plant with Kirby Shyer, food & beer specialist for InBev.
At San Francisco’s Hotel Vitale, located on the waterfront at the Embarcadero, Americano is deemed to be one of the City’s more sophisticated dining spots. Its modern design and warm wooden floors are beautifully lit from huge windows offering a panoramic view of the Bay.
Americano General Manager Morgan Plant (voted the Anthony Dias Blue “Up-and-Coming” Beverage Director this year) sat down with Patterson’s and InBev’s George McCarthy and Kirby Shyer to discuss Stella’s success.
The outstanding wine selection and well-stocked top-shelf spirits gives rise to Americano’s prestige, and Plant is entranced by Stella Artois’s positioning with her drink menu. “To be honest, we sell a ‘truckload’ of Stella,” Plant offered, pointing to the vast, covered outdoor patio, the only one of its kind in the City.
“We can do two functions a day on our patio alone and another inside and beverage volume soars. Ten to 12 percent is beer sales, but Stella Artois accounts for 30 plus percent. It’s our No.1 beer, by far.”
The sharp and chic Americano doesn’t list a selection of traditional imported brews, and Stella champions over the other imported brands.
“Stella is light, drinkable with cachet: not only for her Belgian pedigree, but for her overall European appeal.”
Photo “Stella Pizzeta”: “Our customers make a conscious decision on matching beer with food. Stella Artois is a refreshing European Pilsner and it makes sense with so much on our menu, such as our creatively crafted pizzetas to our signature entrées. The beer is adaptable and it is my role to introduce my clientele to her virtues.”
Farallon Manager Dustin Rogge, sitting at the recently installed Raw Bar, informed us that there is a definite buzz on Stella’s appeal. “Stella is far and above our biggest selling beer,” attested Rogge. “She’s a household name. We don’t have a generic beer list here, in fact we plan our offerings for the connoisseur, and they confidently choose Stella Artois.”
The underwater fantasy dining destination, Farallon, is the creation of San Francisco restaurateur Pat Kuleto and Chef Michael Franz. Its true “coastal cuisine” features everything from the sea. A new Raw Bar located directly across the bar is a dramatic addition, debuting just months ago.
Stella Artois draught is poured at Farallon, her delicate aromas and crisp floral and honeyed notes a perfect pairing for fresh crab, oysters and clams. Wine drinkers can compare notes to the offerings of a Champagne, for its high acidity and effervescence – or perhaps a Pinot Gris from Alsace, another honeyed fruit profile quaff.
We challenged our server to pair four gourmet cheeses with Stella Artois and he was quick to make his decision. “I know the profile: I’m a Stella drinker,” he informed us.
The selection included an aged French sheep’s milk (Abbaye de Belloc), a Wisconsin blend of cow, goat and sheep’s milk (Benedictine), a Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy and a rich, nutty cow’s milk Stilton from England.
The winner? The semi-soft and complex nature of the Wisconsin blend had a white pepper bite that was refreshed and demurred by Stella. In fact, Janet Fletcher of the San Francisco Chronicle researched the fromage & beer unison for weeks and concluded, “I’m convinced beer as a partner for cheese rarely stumbles.” Some added hints: Hoegaarden melds well with an earthy, nutty Gruyere while Leffe Brune marries beautifully with fresh mozzarella.
Stella Artois literally sings in harmony with sushi, crab legs and oysters
Stella Artois is served in her branded Chalice glass to Tom Haas, President of Matagrano Inc, the wholesaler for InBev USA in San Francisco.
In San Francisco’s Financial District, the majority of the hustle bustle is witnessed during the weekday, while weekends are quiet. Michael O’Brien, owner of the Royal Exchange, enjoys those Saturdays and Sundays with his family, but his Mondays through Fridays are packed with customers.
The long and narrow pub is filled with well-dressed businesspeople. Since 1972, when Victoria Station occupied the space, it has been a destination for the type of revelry one expects from a favorite hangout. In 1983, O’Brien’s family bought the business and established a loyal lunch crowd by expanding the menu. The Royal Exchange averages 350 lunches a day.
With a menu that plays on the money theme (Blue Chip Burgers, Green Backs salads) and a bar that runs the length of the room, beer as a concept for the thirsty patron is glorified through a choice of 32 different brands (each bar has 36 expertly polished taps).
“There are 700,000 people within a three-block radius,” O’Brien points out. “We have an earlier Happy Hour than most. We get started at 5pm, while most other bars usually start pouring in the early evening.”
And who comes out a-“head” of the rest? “Stella Artois is our No.1-seller three fold,” insists O’Brien.
At first a bit hesitant to serve the stellar brew in its signature Chalice glass, O’Brien is thrilled he made the decision about six months ago. “O.K., I admit it. It reinforces the quality of the product, and shows off the characteristics of the beer through the shape of the glass; but it also marks the conviviality of the drinking occasion.”
Who drinks Stella? “Everyone,” stated O’Brien, owner of the Royal Exchange, a pub that caters to a business lunch crowd. “You can’t pigeon-hole the demographic of a Stella Artois drinker. It pleases across the board.”
A true Irish pub in every sense, the Irish Bank is home to beers from all over the world. A couple of its top players are Stella Artois and Bass Ale, both imported by InBev USA. Pictured here is George McCarthy from InBev and Ronan O’Neill, proprietor.
Ronan O’Neill worked at the Irish Bank for ten years before he and partner Stephanie Perry – who also worked the bar – purchased it in May 2005. The Irish-born O’Neill gave the Bank a facelift, making customers cozier with heat lamps and awnings for the huge alley patio, and added a fireplace in the back room. A new walk-in for kegs ensures fresher, colder beer.
We asked O’Neill why a Belgian beer would be so popular at an Irish pub. “I don’t think there’s a bar in the City that doesn’t carry Stella. People are going for the lighter, more refreshing lagers and Belgian beers have made a name for themselves here.
Leffe Blonde has established itself as a huge call at the Irish bank as well. “So many of my customers love the stronger style of Leffe,” he added.
And the glassware? “It walks,” O’Neill told us. “The Chalice is adored by all. They refer to it as the ‘fancy glass.’ It’s a wonderful souvenir and I guess our customers want to have that same intimate experience with the beers at home.”
Leffe is a strong brand at the Irish Bank
George McCarthy of InBev USA (center) talks to Pierre Chatel and Frank Leclerc about their plans to install a new tap system for Stella Artois and Leffe at the très français Café Claude.
The authentic zinc bar at Café Claude was shipped from Paris, where it led its night life in the City of Lights circa 1950.
“Café Claude was the catalyst for San Francisco’s French Quarter,” said Pierre Chatel, co-owner of the chic bistro established in 1989. “With our Parisian vinyl booths and exquisite cuisine, we have always had a French soul.”
Chatel recalled the days when they would open at 7am and serve coffee – years before there was a coffee chain on every corner. “So, Frank just took our food and beverage program to another level and we became a full-blown restaurant.”
Romantic and warm, Café Claude is a great dinner date spot. The selection of wine and French fare is a natural match. But recently, beer has become a notable demand. “It actually all started when Stella came into the market,” Chatel explained. “The competition for imports expanded, but look who’s on top.”
Washington Square Bar & Grill
If you were transported to Washington Square Bar & Grill with your eyes closed and had to guess where you were, you might say New York or even Paris. But you’re in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach. There’s a grand quality to this landmark restaurant and classic saloon, where columnist Herb Caen nicknamed it “the Washbag” over 30 years ago.
Guy Ferri bought the place seven years ago, and at one point, changed the name to the Cobalt Tavern, which didn’t last long due to a cacophony of protests from faithful customers who were true to their favorite neighborhood meeting hall and eatery.
For the last four years, the Washington Square Bar & Grill is back in all its glory, an Italian/American bistro operated by “great front men,” according to Ferri. The pours are still presided over by veteran barman Mike McCourt (brother to author Frank McCourt of Angela’s Ashes fame).
“San Francisco welcomed us back with open arms – we are part of its history.” But when it comes to beers, the clientele isn’t so loyal to the local brewers.
“Stella Artois is No.1 on draught here,” noted Ferri. “That really says something; it’s a great bistro beer and with our own European ambiance, we’re not unlike the Parisian brasseries that feature this amazing lager. I would always recommend Stella to anyone ordering our moules frites in aioli.”
owner of the Washington Square Bar & Grill believes Stella Artois is the toast of The City.