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Sapporo hopes its new premium beer is the new 'Black'

Sapporo beer is taking a walk on the dark side.

Hoping to keep pace with a growing number of consumers looking for the next new thing, the Japanese beer maker is releasing Premium Black, its first new beer since its Premium Light was launched in 2004. Sapporo is the top imported Asian beer brand in the U.S., a perch it has held for over 30 years.

"Our sales representatives had been receiving requests for new product from wholesalers, retailers and consumers for a long time," said Jiro Ohkawa, senior marketing manager Sapporo USA. "So Sapporo Black is the answer to their requests."

Premium Black is slated for nationwide release on September 1.

Hard times for Asian imports

Premium Black might be the tonic to boost an ailing imported-beer market. According to Chicago-based market research firm IRI, which measure sales at multi-outlet and convenience stores, sales of Asian imports are down 9.9 percent year to date, with Sapporo Premium Draft down 2.4 percent through the period ending July 10.

Brewery officials say that while Sapporo tends to be the preference on occasions where Asian food is served, the challenge going forward is finding opportunities for the brand to branch out.

"Many consumers say, 'I enjoy drinking Sapporo when I eat sushi,'" said Ohkawa. "It's a great compliment, but we want people to enjoy Sapporo at other occasions too."

Sapporo hopes part of that answer can be found in Sapporo Premium Black, a dark lager brewed with roasted dark malts that has an alcohol-by-volume of 5 percent.

"The biggest challenge is to break through the consumer's perspective of a Japanese beer," said Ohkawa. Premium Black "diversifies our portfolio and allows us to reach a broader consumer."

Founded in the city of Sapporo in 1876, Sapporo is the oldest beer brand in Japan, as it first hit U.S. shelves in 1964. Sapporo USA was established in 1984.