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Blue Moon Brews a Beer for Friday's Blue Moon

Thursday, 30 Aug 2012 | 12:10 PM ET

Tomorrow night there will be blue moon in the sky and a new Blue Moon on the shelf.

Tohoku Color Agency | Japan Images | Getty Images

Night sky watchers will have the chance to see a "blue moon," the unusual occurrence of a second full moon within one calendar month, for the last time until 2015.

If they also happen to be beer drinkers, they can toast it with a new brew timed to mark the occasion.

MillerCoors' Blue Moon Brewery is introducing a new fall release, Caramel Apple Spice Ale. The new beer is the result of a yearlong contest timed to roll out on the day of the blue moon.

Beer drinkers were asked to submit their suggestions for a special "blue moon" brew on the brewery's Facebook page.

The suggestions were whittled down to three finalists: Blackberry Tart, Chocolate Bacon Porter, and the winning Caramel Apple Spiced Ale.

The Caramel Apple Spice Ale will be sold in Blue Moon’s fall variety pack, along with the Blue Moon Belgian White, Belgian Pale Ale and Harvest Pumpkin Ale.

The new release looks to capitalize on the success of Blue Moon's flagship beer, Blue Moon Belgian White, which grew 19 percent in 2011 to become the 18th largest U.S. beer brand according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

“I never knew it would be as successful as it is,” says Blue Moon Brewing Founder and Brewer Keith Villa. “I originally thought it would peak out about 10 years ago, but it just keeps growing at about a double-digit rate.”

Blue Moon is now the anchor of Tenth and Blake, MillerCoors' craft beer division, which also oversees the Leinenkugel’s, Pilsner Urquell, Peroni and Killian’s brands, among others. While MillerCoors is fighting headwinds in the face of a decline in overall beer consumption, Tenth and Blake continues to be a bright spot. Tenth and Blake accounts for less than 10 percent of MillerCoors sales volume, but it posted double-digit growth in the second quarter. (Read more:MillerCoors Crafts Small Beer Strategy)

Source: Blue Moon

Blue Moon may be backed by MillerCoors

but Villa's journey in getting Blue Moon off the ground is a tale similar to many craft brewers. After receiving his Ph.D. in brewing from the University of Brussels, Villa returned to the states with one goal: convince his bosses at Coors to let him experiment with the Belgian-style beers he grew to love while overseas.

Villa was given the green light by Peter Coors in 1994 and the next year Blue Moon Belgian White was in production. However, the brand was deemed too small to brew at a Coors' facility so Villa contract brewed his beer at the FX Matt Brewery in Utica, N.Y.

Next came the challenge germane to all craft beer pioneers, winning over consumers with a style of beer that was unlike anything on the market at the time. Blue Moon Belgian White was unfiltered, cloudy, and spiced with coriander and orange peel.

"It didn't just have barley and malt," says Villa. "It was also a wheat beer with oats."

Complicating the sales pitch was the fact it was a "Belgian-style" beer, a category unknown to many Americans at the time. Coors Light this wasn’t, and his bosses were not sure it was worth continuing the investment.

"I was trying to sell it through the Coors system, it just wasn’t big enough, and they tried to kill it off at least five times," says Villa. The breakthrough came through a tactic of guerrilla marketing. Villa would go bar-to-bar not only peddling his unique style of beer, but highlighting a unique way of serving it: garnished with an orange.

Villa would make repeated trips to bars and restaurants with a bag of oranges, a knife and cutting board to sell the Blue Moon experience.

"[Bar owners] started to call us up asking for their free bag of oranges," says Villa. "We had to explain to them it was an introductory thing and they had to buy their own."

In time, Blue Moon managed not only to survive but thrive. With the national distribution power of MillerCoors behind it, the beer has become a staple in stores, bars and restaurants.

Blue Moon Belgian White is now so ubiquitous it is often referred to by many in the beer industry as a “gateway beer,” an entry point for consumers looking for something different than mass-produced lager and light beers.

While Villa doesn't deny the gateway concept, to him it's missing the point.

“If Blue Moon helps people to experiment and try [other] styles, then that’s a great thing, but a lot of people have tried Blue Moon and stayed with [it]," he says. "It's a great style of beer. The fact so many people enjoy it, to me that's the fun part."

-By Tom Rotunno, CNBC Senior Editor

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Tom Rotunno on Twitter @tomrotunno.

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