New Guinness offering taps the luxury beer market

Guinness 1759 Limited Edition Amber Ale
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Guinness 1759 Limited Edition Amber Ale

Buying the newest Guinness brew entails Champagne tastes and a little more than your standard beer budget.

Diageo executives told CNBC.com that in early November, the brand will launch its first in a line of "limited edition luxury beers." A formal announcement is expected Thursday.

"Even though Guinness is so often known for being a certain type of beer from a certain place, our brewers are some of the best in the world," said Doug Campbell, Guinness brand director. The convergence of several market trendsnamely, rising demand for premium beers, growing consumption in fine dining settings, and broader consumer palates—has finally warranted bringing some of their experiments to market, he said.

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The 1759, as the first Signature Series beer is called, is a dramatic departure from your standard Guinness. The 9 percent ABV amber ale is based on a 200-year-old recipe using a blend of traditional beer malt and peated whisky malt (from Diageo's spirit brands), along with Guinness yeast. It arrives in a black cage-and-cork topped bottle, inside a velvet-lined box.

Its price is luxe, too: A 25.4-ounce bottle retails for $34.99.

Guinness will produce just 90,000 bottles of the upscale brew to be sold in retail stores, bars and restaurants starting in early November. "We will brew it one time only and basically throw away the recipe afterward," Campbell said. To put that volume in perspective, that's about how much regular Guinness is produced each hour to meet daily global consumption of 1 million pints, he said.

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The Signature Series is the second recent departure from Guinness' signature dark stout. Earlier this fall, the brand introduced a Discovery Series of limited-time offerings it plans to base around brewing trends in various markets. The first was Guinness Blonde American Lager, which was so popular the company says it will stay on the roster.

Diversifying puts Diageo in a position to attract more customers and also makes sense amid global premium-ization, said Philip Gorham, senior equity analyst for Morningstar. "They're already at the premium end of the market," he said. "They don't really play in the lower price points."

The 1759 isn't the priciest beer out there, not by a long shot. But it may prove too expensive for some fans, said Jerald O'Kennard, director of the Beverage Testing Institute. "That price puts you squarely in the territory of very esoteric reserve series," he said. But it's unlikely to linger on shelves, he said, given the strength of the Guinness fan base.

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Timing of the release, at the onset of the holiday shopping season, isn't coincidental. Guinness is hoping to position The 1759 and future Signature Series releases as gifts for connoisseurs and collectors. "We're trying to step into that trend," Campbell said.

The beer's name is the year founder Arthur Guinness signed the lease for St. James' Gate in Dublin, where amber ale was among his first brews. Future Signature Series releases will have similar ties to Guinness history, although the company has yet to determine the series scope.

"We don't have an end date in mind," Campbell said. "We've got 255 years' worth of stories."