Thursday, August 21, 2008

A pub historian protests...

DID Belgians discover the New World more than a century before Columbus set sail? Before we go sailing adrift into speculation about Madoc, St.Brendan or Eric the Red, let me quickly explain that the reason I'm asking is the new Stella Artois advert.

It would seem the line about this lager being "reassuringly expensive" is no longer effective, if it ever was, though I thought the second word was true enough. The admen had hoped it would give the brew a snootier upmarket image to get rid of its "wife beater" reputation, which I am sure was unfair though I'm no expert.
Maybe they have now started to sense that with times getting harder, the number of pillocks prepared to tell themselves that something must be good because they paid more for it is becoming limited, along with those who go into the pub to flash money around.

The new theme is wholesome. Since May we have had an advertising campaign assuring us that Stella only contains four ingredients - water, barley, maize and hops. Fair enough. There are also yeasts and fines from isinglass to make the beer more clear and sparkling, but let's not get all anorakish.

What I'm objecting to is a new TV ad which tells us that back in 1366 when the world seemed a frightening place, with seas flowing over the edge, and the sun sinking beneath the waves in the West, the inhabitants of Leuven decided to create the finest possible beer with only the best ingredients they could find - the best malted barley, finest maize and hops, and purest water - and Stella Artois was the result.

I don't know what's special about the Leuven brewery's water. (and as I type those words an ad comes up on television about hard water and limescale in washing machines. Spooky, what? And now we have an old episode of Inspector Morse with a family brewery at stake). In some places it is minor impurities that make a difference to the beer - gypsum at Burton on Trent, small quantities of which have been added elsewhere to produce a similar ale.

But if they really put in maize in 1366, that's remarkable, especially when as we are told people still believed the esrth was flat and if you sailed too far you'd fall over the edge.

Maize, as we used to call it when grown for a winter feed for cattle, corn on the cob when we took some of the best heads up the kitchen, was first grown by the natives of Mexico and Central America - hence Indian Corn as people here used to call it, referring to American Indians. It did not reach Europe or the Old World generally until the late 15th century.

Unless someone at Leuven had made a daring secret voyage, and brought back the mystery ingredient.

But though the date "1366" appears on a Stella label, referring to the year when the Leuven brewery first gets mentioned in tax records, Stella Artois was first brewed somewhat later - in time for Christmas sales in 1926 in fact. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this bit of important research). It' has been quite a successful lager since, and is brewed under licence in Australia. I'm not going to knock it, though I am not much of a lager drinker and can find more interesting brews to sample in Belgium (anyone wants to start a fund to enable me to pursue my research?).

But in the interests of maintaining standards in historical discourse, the good name of my pub quiz teams, and the reputation of licensed establishments as fountains of learning, gentlemen of the advertising industry I must protest! With your "reassuringly expensive" salaries I am sure you will care about accuracy.

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At 10:22 AM, Blogger white rabbit said...

I just heard on the radio that the UK economy has come to a standstill after 63 consecutive quarters of growth. Not sure reassuringly expensive is quite the pitch for that context. I blogged on beers a while ago and generally I prefer to support the small quirky breweries as against the multinational conglomerates - not least because they tend to produce better stuff but also for the same reason that I'd rather give my money to the local butcher than Sainsburys - they also sell better stuff btw.

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbus was late 15th Century, and I'm not sure how long after that it was when maize made it to Europe as a crop, but that's not the only lie.

Flat Earth? That's a myth. started by Washington Irving.

Stella Artois: first brewed in a world of idiots, so our advertising executives can feel clever.


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