Since 1897, Stella has been the Egyptian beer and the brand is almost a euphemism for the laid back national character. The iconic star on every bottle is familiar to generations up and down the Nile valley, across the delta, in the high Sinai Mountains and along the coastal shore.
“Stella is the taste of Egypt, Philippe Saintigny of Al Ahram Beverages told Daily News Egypt. “Everywhere in Egypt people know the Stella Star.
Al Ahram Beverages produce 700,000 hectolitres of beer annually and employ 2,800 people at five plants, producing Heineken beer as well as Stella, a variety of non-alcoholic malt drinks and the ubiquitous Grand Marquis and various other wines.
“It is in the Downtown Cairo bars that Stella has its roots and we would like to help to revive Downtown, because the perception is not positive, he said.
Saintigny is right about that, wust el balad is not seen as a place that offers the bar experience, but in reality it is the only area of Cairo that truly does.
Downtown there is a choice of some 50 watering holes, some serving food, with a selection of wines, others are just hard core Stella bars, no airs and graces, just chilled, thirst quenching Nile soda.
“We are working towards a strategy of bringing back drinkers to Downtown and producing promotional material that not only identifies the location of bars but gives the PPS: Price Per Stella.
Al Ahram Beverages are an important piece of the Egyptian economy. Not only do they export to 10 African and Middle East countries, they provide one of the essential drinks to the tourist market.
“Forty percent of our business comes from tourists and most visitors to Egypt are from European countries where drinking is part of the culture.
Without beers and wines, the tourist industry would not be what it is. In a hot country, people want to drink beer, he added.
“We also provide hotels with a training service. To teach their staff how to serve wine, pour beer and with technical support as well, Saintigny said.
Cairenes will be pleased to hear that the development of fine wine is a priority for Al Ahram Beverages.
“As a Frenchman I am very proud to be working with only one of two of Heineken’s operations in 173 countries that produce wine, with the other being Chile. Egypt has a long tradition of producing wine and in the delta there are the perfect conditions for growing quality grapes.
“In only a few short years we have come a long way with the quality of Egyptian wine and have added a number of brands to the shelves of our Drinkies outlets and restaurant wine lists, Saintigny said.
With a French vintner coming from Chateau Laffitte, as the wine production manager, in addition to technical support by Spanish consultants, it may not be too many years away before Egyptian wine is winning medals and seen on European tables.
With the end of Ramadan, when beer sales plummet, Saintigny is focused on getting Cairenes to rediscover Downtown, where there is the greatest variety of bars loaded with character, easily accessible to Maadi on the Metro and a quick taxi ride across the river from Zamalek, Downtown is waiting to be rediscovered.
And it will be, as middle class flight from the inner city is followed by a period of investment and gentrification. It has been a familiar pattern seen in New York, Sydney and San Francisco. There is too much character, street life, galleries and specialities to go to waste for ever.
Where else can you buy an Iranian made Vesper scooter? Sift through draws of diamonds and antique jewellery? Enjoy Scottish highland dancing or belly dancing? Pick up a modern canvas, visit the cinema or be measured for a tailored suit? Downtown, which backs onto Khan El-Khalili and is across the river from the Opera House, is waiting for you.
There is an embargo on the launch of Al Ahram Beverages new marketing tool that is aimed at getting the party started Downtown. However, I do believe they are investing substantial sums in both the cabaret style launch and the distribution of a long overdue item that will put the Downtown watering holes on the map.