Reinventing oneself is never easy, especially when you're a beer brand. Stereotypes tend to stick and associations are hard to shake. But in a bid to steer the Belgian Stella Artois to a luxury audience, they've teamed with chef Shannon Bennett's award-winning Vue de Monde for a shot at premium positioning.
At a private residence on Gordon's Bay in Sydney, the Stella Artois team organised an intimate dinner for 30 guests who were given the chance to experience a degustation menu specifically matched with the flavour of iconic pilsner.
Titled Sensorium, the idea was to show diners how high-end dining fits with every day beer.
It's an unusual pairing but not impossible. In the capable hands of Bennett and his team, a modern cuisine was developed with hints of hops to complement Stella's crisp flavour.
From hops-soaked bread to hops-braised Wagyu beef cheek, it showed guests how malted madness can find a way on degustation menus and actually work.
Beyond status and style
"The collaboration was all about matching an easy drinking beer with good quality food," says Shannon Bennett who had 12 staff fly up and an extra oven couriered for the dinner.
"Beer is a huge part of Australia's food culture and the beer market is packed with diversity now. We wanted to show that a beer like Stella can find a place in degustation menu matching it via a sensory experience," says Bennett.
According to CUB Brand Director Brian Phan, Stella Artois outranks other premium international brands in the beer market and is always looking for new ways to introduce luxury experiences with its brand.
"We are seeing a new definition of premium emerge," says Brian Phan.
"Status and style are important, but the new currency in premium is experience. We know that Stella Artois as a brand is strong on image but we want to go beyond this and provide the experiences that our audience desire," he says of the dinner collaboration with Vue de Monde."
Shedding old skins
Beer consumption is on the decrease worldwide, but that hasn't stopped Stella Artois from trying to ditch archaic associations for one of a modern luxury tipple at the dinner table that's consumed by drinkers with manners.
"I find people are consuming less beer and more likely to consume it with food," says Bennett.
"Beer does play a role in our Vue de Monde menu and we even have a sausage roll made specifically for a beer in our Lui Bar," he says of the top floor of the Rialto bar.
In a bid to further reinvent itself, Stella Artois in the USA recently sponsored Women in Film – a fund that saw them donate $100,000 in grant money. The program is designed to recognise women filmmakers. It puts the stigma attached beer brand in the social action and gender equality space proving they've got more than selling beer on their mind.
Expanding the experience
The success of the Sensorium experience means we'll likely see more of these roll out in other cities, with Bennett keen to see the concept happen again. One can only hope consumers can buy into the experience at Vue de Monde in the future, but that remains to be seen.
"Matching food to beer is vastly different to matching it with wine," says Bennett.
"Beer is more savoury in texture with drier notes and has more diversity than wine. With wine you have to be very specific how you match food," he says.
The drink is also more forgiving and easier to match with robust food flavours.
"The aim is to show Stella in a new light and I think we've done just that, proving a luxury dining place can accommodate beer," says Bennett.
"It's a very Australian thing to do – to drink beer and enjoy a meal."
The author was a guest of Stella Artois.