Constellation Brands is making its first foray into craft, this week introducing a new line of beers made in partnership with celebrity chef Rick Bayless and inspired by traditional Mexican ingredients.
Operating under the identity “Tocayo,” which loosely translated means “of the same name,” Constellation’s first product, Tocayo Hominy White Ale, is a Belgian-style witbier brewed with hominy, a white corn popular in Central American and Mexican cuisine.
Launching into craft with a Mexican-inspired ale is a natural starting point for Constellation, which already makes and markets a number of Mexican imports, including Corona, Pacifico, Modelo and Victoria.
“There is a change going on with consumer tastes,” Jim Sabia, Constellation’s chief marketing officer, told Brewbound. “The high end is growing and the overall industry is basically flat. I believe consumers want beer with more flavors and more taste. We hope that everyone tries our beer and likes it.”
At 5.5 percent ABV and only 14 IBU, Sabia believes Tocayo Hominy will largely appeal to crossover craft drinkers.
“We want to play in the craft space and we want to own more share in the high-end,” he said. “We also want to appeal to folks who are just starting to get into the craft segment.”
To help bring the beer to life, Constellation worked with Bayless as well as two craft brewers on recipe development and production. The company tapped Perennial Artisan Ales founder Phil Wymore for help creating the recipe and it is currently producing the beer under contract at Two Brothers Brewing in Warrenville, Illinois.
“We get asked all of the time to contract brew and our answer is generally no,” said Jason Ebel, the co-founder of Two Brothers. “But they made a good case for it. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Hackett (Constellation’s beer division president), Rick Bayless, and their stature in food and beer.”
Sabia declined to comment on the financial details of each partnership.
The entire project has been in development for the last two years, said Michael McGrew, Constellation’s senior director of communications.
“We wanted to take our time and do it right,” he said. “We haven’t been in a rush to get into craft in an aggressive way. We wanted to test and learn on a small scale while staying focus on job number one for us, which is growing our core portfolio.”
Constellation will also take a slower, more disciplined rollout approach, first introducing the beer on draft at a handful of retail accounts in the Chicago market, where the company is based.
“We really want to take a disciplined approach,” said Sabia. “We hope to secure about 25 accounts in the first month, and within five or six months, we absolutely plan to introduce packaged goods.”
Expanded regional and national distribution, as well as line extensions, could be on the table in 2016 as well, Sabia said.
“Today, our strategy is yes, we would consider that,” he said, when asked about plans to grow the brand’s footprint. “Naturally we will line extend from the Hominy White Ale into other styles, but first we just want to be a part of the craft scene here in Chicago.”
Constellation, which yesterday reported second quarter earnings for the 2016 fiscal year, grew its net sales, for beer, 14 percent.