Stella Artois: I haven't heard so much buzz over a brew since Fat Tire hit the valley a few years back. The Artois brewery in Belgium has a proud history that dates back to 1366, but their trademark Pilsner wasn't created until 1926. Rolled out as a special Christmas beer, it proved so popular that production continued year round. And now it's storming through Boise, on tap at places like Bardenay, Bittercreek, Pair, the Garage Bar and Taste, to name a few. But let me save you the trouble of asking-no, it's not available by the bottle. Not at Albertson's, not at Winco, not at the Co-op. At least not locally, and it won't be until September.
It's a marketing thing-introduce it in kegs first, but hold off on the bottles for a full six months. And since every beer lover seems to be talking about Stella Artois, the strategy seems to be working. To be honest with you, I just don't get it. I mean, it's a decent brew-light, clean and fairly refreshing-but if you're looking for something made in the Pilsner style, there are alternatives that have a bit more character.
Pilsners originated in Bohemia in the town from which they take their name. Before 1842, all beers were dark, but that year, using the lager method, a brew that was golden and clear was first introduced. A hop-driven floral bouquet marks the style, with soft malt flavors backed by crisp hops and a dry finish. To my taste, the Stella is on the softer side of that formula, with a just dry finish that leans toward a hint of sweetness. But since you won't be able to buy it by the bottle for a while, why not try the original, Pilsner Urquel, from Plzen, Czechoslovakia, an absolutely delicious brew with an emphatic hop character that comes through especially on the finish.
The Germans also do a credible job of brewing noteworthy Pilsners. Two that top my list of favorites are the Bitburger Premium Pils and the Warsteiner Premium Verum, both medium-bodied lagers with a nice creamy head and a hop-accented, clean, dry finish. And while they are better known for their Boks, Einbecker Premium Pils is an exceptionally refreshing effort that, like the Stella, is on the softer side. So give these brews a try while you're waiting for Stella Artois to arrive in bottles and who knows-by the time it gets here, you may already have found a new favorite.