Long-time beer drinker Ross Lewis talks to the people behind our great brews and beer news.
New York, London, Paris, Perth. It doesn’t matter to Paul Van De Walle.
If the Belgian beer expert has done his job properly, his prized beverage will taste like, well, a Stella Artois in any city.
Van De Walle is Stella Artois’ global brewmaster. And it is his job to travel the world making sure the famous beer is up to the company’s fastidious standards.
That means the Pilsner should have particular characteristics regardless of where you consume it and whether it was produced by one of the 22 brewers globally with a licence to manufacture Stella Artois.
Indeed, the drink should be as it was when first produced as a Christmas beer in 1926.
“We have our recipe which is traditional so that helps us maintain a consistency even if Stella is brewed somewhere else,” Van De Walle told The Sip during his recent Australian visit.
“It is my job to ensure that the Stella Artois, and our Becks, regardless of location are tasting the same.
“We have procedures to ensure that is the case.”
One of those rules has troubled many licensed operator. Van De Walle makes detailed inspections of premises and equipment before approval to brew Stella Artois is given. And the brewers need to produce five trial batches, that go before a taste team in Belgium, before they can commercially release under the beer’s label.
“But it doesn’t stop there. We will continually look over their shoulder to see how they brew,” said Van De Walle. “And that is why I travel for about four months of the year checking various breweries around the world.”
Each month Lionco, which has the Australian licence for Stella Artois, has to send samples of their product to Belgium for evaluation.
One of the platforms that allows Van De Walle to maintain uniformity in his brew around the world is the yeast.
The same yeast that was used to brew Stella Artois in 1926 is still in use today.
“And we only use it for Stella Artois. It gives pineapple esters in the flavour,” said Van De Walle.
“When I started at the brewer in Leuven there has always been a lot of attention and care in our yeast strain to keep its integrity.
“We have done a lot of work to ensure the yeast doesn’t change or mutate over time.
“We ask our breweries, like Lion, to change the yeast every three months. They have to get rid of all the yeast and replace it. They are not allowed to make sub-cultures of the yeast. It means we don’t have any deviations in the brewing over time.
“We have a whole team in Leuven who just look after the yeast.”
Van De Walle also believes that no matter the location, drinkers of Stella Artois should consume the brew from the specially designed chalice for which the beer has become famous.
The glassware allows the drinker to avoid warming up the glass by holding a stem.
There is also a ritual about pouring a Stella.
“There should be a 2cm foam head to keep in the flavour,” he said. “It is a protection layer between the air and the beer.”
And fortunately for lovers of the Belgian favourite Van De Walle’s scrutiny ensures that when the golden liquid touches the lips it is exactly as the drinker remembers it.