According to Michael Jackson’s (1992 edition) The Great Beers of Belgium, “Belgian Pilseners are usually 80-95% malt”. This presumably included Stella Artois, the well-known Belgian pilsener, long imported to Canada.
Stella, which means star, was first released in 1926. It was quite possibly all-malt at origins. When I first drank it in Belgium some 30 years ago, it was by then probably a malt-and-adjunct brew, as the case for most Belgian pils.
According to (1996) Belgium by Beer: Beer by Belgium by Annie Perrier-Robert and Charles Fontaine, since the last quarter of the 19th century adjuncts have been steadily used in Belgian brewing. Of course, not by all brewers, or for all styles.
The authors cite lower cost as the main reason, viz. barley malt.
They state the percentages in the mash as from 10-15% – similar enough to what Jackson wrote. Mass-market brewing in North America typically employs much higher levels of adjunct.
In Belgium, Stella is brewed by InBev Belgium, a unit of Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, which also owns Labatt Breweries in Canada. And Stella is now being brewed in Canada.
At The Beer Store (TBS) in Ontario, some outlets still carry both the Belgian and Canadian brewings, in cans. The bottles seem still only Belgian.
So I bought cans of each, first, to try Stella again, second, to compare the two versions. I tasted them blind, poured in the same style glass, at same temperature.
The colour as later observed was similar but sample no. 1 seemed fractionally darker.
Not surprisingly, the two beers tasted quite similar. I’m sure the typical consumer could not detect a difference. Still, to my palate, sample no. 1 seemed a touch richer and longer in finish, with the hop taste more defined.
No 1 was the Belgian, No. 2 the Canadian.
I confess to some surprise, as going by the ingredients list on the can, Canadian Stella is all-malt, hence no corn, rice, or other adjunct is used. The Belgian can doesn’t say, but presumably Belgian Stella uses adjunct, as other reports have stated. Once the import warmed I thought I could taste the adjunct, but it’s a light touch.
Of course, all-malt of itself does not denote a better beer. The degree to which the fermentation is taken (in particular), the hopping, and other factors play into it as well.
Jackson’s book of 28 years ago noted a marked Czech hop character in the nose. I didn’t get that in either version, or in Stella I tried in Belgium earlier this year.
As to why the Canadian brew is all-malt, I could ask Labatt, but my interest is not keen to that extent. It may have to do with duplicating in Canada a beer mashed with European malt.
In other words, presumably Canadian Stella is brewed, or mostly brewed, with North American malt, and other ingredients. Perhaps to align the profiles it is best to use all-malt here. Or maybe there is another reason, I don’t know.
Anyway such are my views, your mileage may vary, of course.
N.B. A licensed version of Munich’s Lowenbrau similarly replaced the import on our shelves some years ago. A few months ago, having forgotten it is brewed here now, I poured one and thought, “typical German blond lager, nice and fresh, too”. There you go.
*I’ll try the newbie in a few months. My experience with breweries of any size, although more typically small ones, is tweaks can be made in the first year or two of a new release.