A friend of mine was planning a big celebration for her daughter’s one year birthday and she wanted me to make the beer for the party. If you’ve been to a birthday party for a one year old, you’ll understand why you need the beer. Of course I said yes because I like making beer for large groups.
“What kind of beer would you like,” I asked with thoughts of flavorful Belgian beers, rich porters, or maybe a strong IPA.
“My favorite beer is Stella Artois. Can you make Stella?” she asked. That wasn’t the Belgian beer I was expecting.
If you haven’t had a Stella Artois, you probably haven’t tried looking. It’s a very common plain lager ironically from Belgium. Well it’s originally from Belgium, but most of it is made in the U.K. Either way, it’s a mass produced beer from Anheuser-Busch InBev. Basically it’s Belgian Budweiser, even though Budweiser is technically Belgian and Stella is made in the U.K. I’m sure I’ll get some argument on that… but I digress. You can find it in every liquor store and many pubs.
“Sure,” I gulped wondering how I’d make it. While Budweiser, Stella Artois, Heineken, and other similar beers get a bad reputation for being bland, it really is difficult to make a beer taste that… well… bland. Bland really isn’t fair for these beers. They produce a very crisp and clean lager, which can be very difficult to reproduce at the homebrew level. While the style may not be every homebrewer’s favorite, it’s a very popular style for everyone else. I was up for the challenge.
The first thing I did was look to see what others have used for a recipe. I was shocked to see the number of recipes I came across which added wheat malt to the beer. The beer has a very clean profile, and wheat malt just seemed a bit too Hefeweisen to be a part of Stella Artois. Others added a touch of Munich malt, dextrin malt, Vienna malt, Cara Pils, corn sugar and a bazillion other variations. Nothing sounded right. I decided to do more research.
Then I stumbled upon a post from a brewer in Melbourne who claimed he worked at the Stella Artois brewery in Australia (can’t find the original post, but if you know the post I’m talking about, let me know and I’ll link it here). His recipe was exactly what I suspected. He said it was just pilsner malt and Saaz hops. That’s it! He didn’t know the yeast used, but I doubt the yeast used would be commercially available. Stella Artois uses a house yeast like most other major brewers.
Since the beer is 5% ABV, it was very easy to determine the malt bill. Using 9 lbs, 8 ounces of pilsner malt gives you an ABV of about ~5.1%. That’s close enough for me but if you want to shave an ounce or two, go for it. There are no other grains in the beer.
I used a single infusion mash at 150 F and let it go for 60 minutes. You want a very fermentable wort, since this beer is really crisp. Any warmer and you’ll get a beer which is maltier that Stella Artois.
The hop flavor and nose are very subtile, so there shouldn’t be too much hop to the beer. Most reviews I found put the beer in the low 20s for IBUs. I went with 22 IBUs. I’m adding 1.5 ounces of hops at the beginning of the boil, and then another 0.5 ounces 5 minutes before the end of the boil.
Yeast is the “trickiest” part of this beer. As I mentioned before, their yeast isn’t likely to commercially available. I made a guess and went with your basic German lager yeast (White Labs WPL 830 German Lager Yeast). You might try the WPL 850 Copenhagen Lager yeast if you can find it. Either way I’d ferment on the lower end of the yeast’s temperature range, about 50F – 52F. This will give you a cleaner flavor.
You will also want to make a good starter for this beer. While the beer isn’t high in alcohol, you don’t want any off-flavors creeping into your beer. A good healthy starter for this lager will go a long way to perfecting your Stella Artois.
The final recipe was
9 lbs 8 ounces German Pilsner
1.5 oz Saaz (@60 min)
0.5 Saaz (@5 min)
WPL 830 German Lager Yeast
7.0 gal pre boil, 5 gal
Since this beer is so light in color, you’ll want to make sure you use finings to help the beer clear. I always use Irish Moss when making this beer, and I add it for the last 10 minutes of the boil. After fermentation, I also let this beer lager for a month. This helps the beer clear even more.
Ultimately I ended up with a good approximation of Stella Artois. The keg didn’t last very long, and everyone agreed it tasted like Stella Artois. Mission accomplished!
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