…Stella Artois?

The opprobrium attached to Britain's favourite lager is just another excuse to have a go at working-class men.

Leah Simpson

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Leah Simpson argues that the opprobrium attached to Britain’s favourite premium lager is really just another excuse to have a go at working-class men.

It is bad news for the street brawling, wife beating and – God forbid – football chanting yobs of Britain – or as some might call them, Stella Artois drinkers. According to a recent feature in the Daily Mail, local pubs are dropping the popular lager by the barrel-load in favour of more upmarket alternatives. Ironically, Stella, which bears the slogan ‘reassuringly expensive’, has been accused of attracting a rowdy, bad lad drinker. In response, Stella’s makers, InBev, plan to release a more ‘continental’ set of advertisements around the country in an attempt to reclaim the beer’s former reputation.

What was once a premium lager is fast becoming the poor man’s pint. With a higher alcohol content than most brand names, Stella is the drink of choice for the unfortunate pauper who wants more booze for his bucks. Nevertheless, pubs searching for a better class of clientele are swapping the downtrodden lager in favour of trendier brands like San Miguel – despite the fact that San Miguel packs even more of a punch, at 5.4 per cent alcohol, than the slightly weaker Stella.

When Stella first hit these shores, it enjoyed success by catering to the average middle-class male who wanted a little more for his money than the typical, urine-weak lagers that British drinkers had tolerated for so long. But somewhere along the way, greediness took its toll and Stella was promoted to a mass market, undermining that ‘reassuringly expensive’ image.

Suddenly there were regular cheap offers in supermarkets. When three quid or so could get you four cans of the beer, it inescapably became more accessible than other brands to the very drinkers – some say, yobs – that the brewers set out to avoid in the first place. The result has been a reaction against the brand. Sales of the now infamous lager in stores have declined by five per cent recently. If nothing else, the fact that sales have fallen while the panic about ‘Binge Brits’ getting hammered and fighting every weekend carries on regardless, rather suggests that our drinking culture has less to do with what we actually drink than how much.

Labelling Stella as ‘the wife beater’ might have started out as a bit of popular slang tinged with a bleak sense of humour. To take the label seriously is outlandish, implying that drinkers of a particular brand are more prone to be violent towards their partners. It’s also rather bizarre. Stella advertises itself with twee black-and-white commercials about continental priests in days gone by having a sneaky bottle or two. That hardly suggests that Stella is the obvious beer of choice for the inebriated thug going home to take his frustrations out on the missus. But, like many such lazy associations in the past, Stella’s reputation has more to do with denigrating working-class men than anything to do with the stuff inside the cans.

So, working-class men are assumed to be constantly on the edge of brutal violence, with a whiff of beer all that is required to send them over the edge. That would suggest that domestic violence is commonplace, a notion reinforced by the suggestion that ‘one in four’ women have been the victims of it. But surveys that quote such figures can only do so by expanding the definition of violence to include things – like being treated badly or being forced to do menial tasks – which even the ‘victims’ themselves do not consider to be violent acts.

We don’t need to have too much sympathy for the folks at InBev. While sales of Stella have fallen in UK and Western Europe, such figures are contrasted by strong sales in other countries. Total group revenues increased to €3.72billion, from €3.38billion. So, evidently, the drink is still going strong. It seems that it’s just the UK that is losing its taste for Stella. Unfortunately, it seems that our pundits and commentators haven’t lost their taste for lazy stereotypes.

Leah Simpson is a journalism student currently interning at spiked.

Read on:

Who’s afraid of…?

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