When a category is up 127 percent, you pay attention. A quick peek at the latest data from IRI Worldwide, a Chicago-based market research firm, reveals one utterly apparent trend in 2015: craft pilsners are on fire.
According to IRI, which tracks off-premise sales in grocery, drug, club, dollar, mass-merchandiser and military stores, the craft pilsner category has added more than 317,000 cases year-to-date (through Aug. 9). Only four other categories – IPA (3,507,963 cases), Variety (557,753 cases), Fruit/Veggie/Spiced beer (493,344 cases) and Pale Ale (349,240 cases) – have added more incremental volume in 2015.
That’s significant, and no doubt one of the factors prompting Goose Island, which is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, to rollout its own craft take on the classic pale lager style.
Goose Island’s newest beer, Four Star Pils, which pays homage to its hometown of Chicago and a city flag that features four red stars, will make its official debut next month in 11 Midwest states (IL, IN, WI, MI, OH, MN, NE, ND, SD, MO, KS).
The beer will initially only be available on-draft, but company officials said they’re planning for a broader 2016 rollout that will include additional markets and bottled versions of the product.
In a conversation with Brewbound, Goose Island CEO Andy Goeler and General Manager Ken Stout described the beer, which checks in at 5.1 percent ABV and 44 IBUs, as a “hoppy take” on the pilsner.
“We are using Mt. Hood, Meridian and Equinox hops, so this will have a lot of personality,” said Stout. “These hops just complement each other so well. It’s refreshing and pleasing to beer drinkers who may not necessarily be beer geeks or home brewers.”
“This is a Goose Island interpretation of the pilsner,” added Goeler.
Translation: it’s designed to be drinkable.
After test-marketing the beer at a “handful of accounts” in Chicago this summer, Goeler and the Goose crew greenlit Four Star Pils for a wider release. Goeler believes the new offering will complement a Goose Island portfolio that is led by offerings like IPA, 312 Urban Wheat and Honker’s Ale.
“Consumers love variety-seeking,” he said. “A lot of these products are new to them. Pilsners are usually easier to drink and more sessionable and coming out with a Pilsner is part of Goose Island’s DNA.”
For now, the beer will be made at the company’s Fulton Street brewery, Goeler said, but it could eventually transition into larger-scale production at one of A-B InBev’s 12 U.S. breweries.
“We are taking this one step at a time and we want to see the response from consumers first,” he said. “We feel very fortunate and happy that we have access to those breweries and I look forward to making that call.”
The beer itself takes longer to produce and will tie up fermentation tanks for four weeks, Stout said.
“Lager beers are the most challenging beers to make,” he said. “There is no hop bill or big ABV to hide behind.”
And although Goose Island said it plans to push wholesalers to get behind the new pilsner, it doesn’t want to take attention away from an IPA brand that is currently up 212 percent through August 9, according to IRI.
“We are seeing some great growth on that and I want to make sure that we don’t take our eye off the IPA,” Goeler said. “Consumers are loving the story. It is an exciting style of beer and we are excited that Goose is in the mix.”
The entire Goose Island portfolio is up about 23 percent nationally, Goeler said.