Number five-selling Stella Artois is a rare brand: a European premium lager that has kept its shine, with 9.1% growth. The messages supporting the brand have emphasized its appeal as an on-premise drink, with the branded chalice and “nine-step pouring ritual.”
Gift packs for the 2015 holiday season, however, have attempted to duplicate the experience for home consumption, complete with personalized, gold-rimmed glassware.
Classic Heineken, though slumping in sales, is still secure in its number three position. Its appeal, and that of Heineken Light, relies on perceptions of quality. As Lasda notes, they “embody the traditions and craftsmanship of their native country and are created with tried-and-tested techniques that offer distinct full flavor, taste and character.”
The venerable Guinness brewery also trades on its history. Emma Giles, Guinness Brand Director, says “Guinness has always been about beer and people.”
The iconic stout inspired American home and craft brewers, and she acknowledges the link. “I think many people gravitate towards craft because they feel a connection to their story and the passion of the people who brew it. It’s on us at Guinness to do just as good of a job telling American beer drinkers about the countless brewers in Ireland who are every bit as passionate, skillful, and dedicated. We just do things in a slightly more Irish way.”
Guinness has responded to changing tastes with two initiatives. This year, they joined the pale lager line-up with Guinness Blonde American Lager. According to Giles, “it’s pale, clean, and crisp—as it is a lager—but it’s quite highly hopped and brewed with the same yeast we use for our stouts, which lends a lot to taste and savor.”
More tantalizing is The Brewers Project, “charged with designing new brews to trial,” which recently released Guinness Nitro IPA. More beers in the specialty vein will appear in 2016.
Small, Diverse, Flavorful
Just as the craft segment has energized the U.S. beer market in the past decade, a large number of smaller, specialty beers spice up the import menu.
The ultimate import chimera might be a limited release from Constellation, available only on draft in Chicago. The company has introduced a beer called Tocayo, jointly developed by Chef Bayless and the brewmaster at Missouri’s Perennial Artisan Ales. Tocayo is a white ale—a traditional Belgian style beloved by craft brewers and popularized by Coors’ hugely successful Blue Moon.
Constellation’s Sabis summed up the beer’s multifaceted appeals: “So we’re taking the hottest import segment, Mexican imports, and the hottest segment of craft and putting them together: a Mexican-inspired craft beer.” BD
Julie Johnson was for many years the co-owner and editor of All About Beer Magazine. She has been writing about craft beer for over twenty years. She lives in North Carolina, where she was instrumental in the Pop the Cap campaign that modernized the state’s beer laws.