Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Brewers Collective craft division is betting big on craft beer’s most popular style — the IPA — in 2020.
Brewers Collective president Marcelo “Mika” Michaelis told Brewbound that the world’s largest beer company is making a multi-million dollar investment behind a new low-alcohol, low-calorie IPA from Chicago’s Goose Island, as well as a hazy IPA from from Seattle’s Elysian Brewing.
Sales-to-retailers for Goose Island So-Lo IPA and Elysian Contact Haze IPA will start on December 30, and the new products should begin showing up on store shelves January 1.
So-Lo, which launched about two months ago in Chicago, checks in at 3% ABV and 98 calories. Goose Island has been test marketing the brand in 6- and 15-packs priced similar to Goose Island IPA ($8.99-$9.99 6-packs) for the last couple of months in Chicago.
“I think this is going to play everywhere,” Goose Island general president Todd Ahsmann told Brewbound, citing wholesaler requests for low-calorie options.
So far in Chicago, So-Lo has proven popular without much of a marketing push behind it.
“The first month out, it was the No. 1 share gainer at Jewel[-Osco], which is our No. 1 retailer across the country,” Ahsmann said. “It’s had some good pull through and sustaining power.”
With A-B investing behind the brand, Ahsmann said Goose Island will “stress 98 calories” and “100% IPA” in its initial marketing push.
“We’re not positioning this as an extreme ‘change your lifestyle’ kind of beer,” he said. “This is a beer for your lifestyle that’s now. That’s for people that’s just a little more mindful of what they’re drinking and eating and how they’re living their lives.”
Michaelis added that he doesn’t believe So-Lo will cannibalize Goose Island IPA or Next Coast IPA. In fact, he compared Goose Island’s portfolio of IPAs to the stars of the 1990s NBA Championship Chicago Bulls teams.
“We think we have Jordan, Pippen and Grant, in the same portfolio because they complement each other and not necessarily stealing each other’s thunder,” he said.
Meanwhile, Contact Haze checks in at 6% ABV, a lower ABV in comparison to Elysian’s average of around 8% ABV for its IPAs. Contact Haze will be sold on draft, as well as 16 oz. single-serve cans and 6- and 24-packs, with 6-packs priced around $10.99.
Contact Haze will also be included in a mixed 12-pack with Space Dust IPA and Superfuzz pale ale, which Michaelis called “a longtime ask” from wholesalers.
Elysian general manager Kyle Fitzsimmons, who took the post about four months ago after working for A-B for more than seven years, said there remains a lot of opportunity nationally for hazy IPAs, which are growing at about 151% year-to-date by market research firm IRI’s count.
“There are 210 brands that make up like 75% of the dollar sales in the IPA category, but only seven brands contribute to like 75% of the dollar sales in the hazy category,” he said. “So a pretty small amount of hazies that are contributing to a lot of growth in the hazy category.
In order to ensure freshness, Fitzsimmons said A-B’s wholesaler network will be tasked with getting the beer, which will come with a 120-day “best by” date, out quickly.
Meanwhile, Goose Island will be releasing its own hazy IPA as a spring seasonal. Lost Palate IPA, checks in at 7% ABV and was brewed for one of Goose Island’s brand ambassadors and bartenders, Jonny Coffman, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late 2017.
Although Coffman lost most of his palate, he could still taste mango and cinnamon, Ahsmann said. So he requested that Goose Island brew a hazy IPA brewed with mango and cinnamon, and Goose Island obliged. Ahsmann said Goose has been donating some of the proceeds from the early versions of the beer to Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. As for Coffman, as of February, he is 100% cancer free.