A brewery tour is always a great lesson, a delving into the past and history of a particular place. During my visit to the Stella Artois Brewery I did indeed journey into the past, learning some of its secrets while admiring its scale and technologies. Though undoubtedly, my favourite moment was enjoying the fresh beer direct from the source, impeccably served with a nine-step pouring ritual.
The brewery stands on the banks of the Leuven-Mechelen canal, at a distance of 31 km. from Brussels. It covers 35 hectares and is the city’s most prominent landmark.
Delving into the past, we find tax records dating from 1366 attesting to the existence of the “Den Hoorn” (“the horn”) brewery in Leuven, which marks the start of an illustrious tradition. By 1537 it had become the biggest enterprise in the city. In honour of the Den Hoorn Brewery, its symbol – a horn – is still proudly displayed in the logo on the Stella Artois label. In 1708, Sebastian Artois became the master brewer at Den Hoorn and within a few years had become its owner. For over a century the art of brewing was handed down from father to son.
During the First World War, the Artois brewery was destroyed and rebuilt almost immediately.
The first Stella Artois beer was exported to other European countries in 1930 and by 1960 annual production had reached about 100 million litres.
Today, the brewery combines tradition and know-how accumulated over centuries with new technologies. It has three production lines, with tanks capable of turning out over 9 million hl annually. The bottling facility has four lines for bottles, two for cans and one for barrels. Bottle filling capacity is 80,000 per hour, compared to 750 per hour for barrels. The warehouse holds 9,000 palettes, while 24 lorries come and go from the brewery every six minutes, day and night!
The water used to make the beer comes from the brewery’s 80 wells that reach a depth of 40 metres, while other ingredients used to produce the different styles of beer include barley malt, hops, a unique (and secret) yeast strain and non-malted grains. Production follows the classic process for lagers such as Stella Artois (fermentation and conditioning at low temperatures).
Stella Artois is a special lager whose acclaim is due to a number of factors, but above all its light taste characterised by a delicate, well balanced bitterness, its unique pouring ritual and its wonderful appearance. It is Belgium’s highest selling beer, now available in 80 countries.
My visit to the brewery, with my friend Tom as my guide, concluded with a refreshing tasting at the Den Thuis bar. First, a stylishly served “chalice” of draught Stella, followed by Leffe Royale, a relatively new beer. Leffe Royale stands out for its fruity and somewhat smoky aroma, underpinned by subtle traces of spices. It has an alcohol content (ABV) of 7.5%
The fascinating pouring ritual and attractive appearance of Stella Artois are two of the beer’s assets promoted internationally via the global competition Stella Artois World Draught Masters. The competition aims to instruct barmen in the proper way to serve the beer, which comprises nine steps, with awards for the world’s best.
In 2008 the Belgian company InBev acquired the American brewery Anheuser-Busch, creating the world’s largest brewer. InBev, whose brands include Stella Artois and Beck’s, also produces what is perhaps America’s best known beer, Budweiser. The name of the company is now Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev).
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