On my first solo visit to Europe, I landed at London Heathrow Airport. I had to navigate the Tube to London Waterloo station, board a train to Southampton, transfer to Lymington Town, then walk the mile or so to my aunt and uncle's home in Pennington. I was exhausted when I arrived, and my uncle had a wise suggestion: Drink a beer.
My relatives lived near one of the British importers of Stella Artois (then a mostly unknown brand in the United States), so often had a case or two in the house. After my trek across North America, the Atlantic Ocean and most of southern England, the cure for jet lag was a tall can of Stella.
For years afterward, I searched for Stella in bars and restaurants—hoping to reconnect with the feeling of being 21 and abroad on my own—to no avail, until around 2006-2007, when Stella started showing up everywhere. But the Belgian brew was suffering an image problem: with a higher alcohol content than most European beers, it had the downmarket reputation of a hooligan's beer—basically the British version of malt liquor. A 2007 article in the Daily Mail stated the once beloved brand had "gone from being a product with a certain degree of class to one associated with all the wrong sort of people." I didn't care. I kept right on buying Stella, despite its bad rap and steep price. Then, in 2009, Stella fell into the orbit of Anheuser-Busch InBev in a $52 billion deal that created the world's largest brewing company.
According to a London-based brand expert quoted in 2007 by the Daily Mail, Stella had "become a victim of its own success." By growing "so enormous ... either it becomes ubiquitous and begins to lose credibility. Or it's bought by the wrong type of customer."
Now, those same dynamics are at work as AB InBev continues its domination of the global beer market with a wave of acquisitions of craft brewers. No matter that Stella still tastes the same (as far as I can tell), its corporate powered omnipresence had lessened my affection. Those tensions between macro and micro brews are explored on in a fascinating feature by Boise Weekly roving food writer Tara Morgan. No matter how far you've traveled to get here, follow my uncle's advice and crack a cold one.