Budweiser is bringing back its "Project 12" beer, releasing three new brews named for the ZIP codes where the recipes were created.
It's the second year in a row the brewery has created limited-edition "ZIP code" beers under its Project 12 banner, which asks the 12 Budweiser brewmasters located across the country to create new varieties of its iconic lager.
"We think of Project 12 as the innovation arm of Budweiser," said Brian Perkins, vice president, Budweiser. "We see it not as a competition but a collaboration among our brewers."
The Budweiser brewmasters are challenged to flex their creative muscles in terms of ingredients yet remain true to the brand's roots by using the same yeast strain Budweiser has been using since Adolphus Busch founded the brewery in 1876.
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This year's brews include Batch 94534 (Fairfield, Calif.), brewed with North Pacific hop varieties; Batch 23185 (Williamsburg, Va.), aged on a bed of bourbon barrel staves and vanilla beans; and Batch 43229 (Columbus, Ohio), brewed with chocolate and caramel malts.
Budweiser Black Crown
Last year, when Budweiser sold its Project 12 mix-pack, it featured an amber lager created in Los Angeles, Budweiser Batch No. 91406. The brew was slightly higher in alcohol at 6 percent, and it proved so popular that Budweiser renamed it Budweiser Black Crown and added it to the brewery's everyday lineup.
"The fact that we let consumers into the decision making process by really asking them what they wanted and then that's the beer we launched, that's powerful from a big iconic brand," said Perkins.
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Consumer feedback has been a hallmark of the Project 12 initiative. For the past two years, the new brews have been available for sampling by consumers at the Budweiser Made in America Music Festival over Labor Day weekend.
Budweiser brewers are on hand to discuss the new brews and explain the brewing process as fans sample them.
Building the brand
"It enabled us to have conversations with beer drinkers that we had never really had before," said Perkins. "There was such overwhelmingly positive feedback to those interactions, it was one of the reasons we wanted to bring it back this year."
Perkins said those conversations have helped raise the perception of the brand.
"Last year at the Made in America Music Festival, 85 percent of the people that tried the Project 12 beers had a higher perception of Budweiser than they did before they tried those beers," he continued. "This year 93 percent of those that tried the Project 12 beers had a greater appreciation for Budweiser. That's huge for us."
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While Perkins doesn't rule out one of this year's Project 12 beers becoming a permanent offering down the road, it's not currently in the works. The focus for now, he said, remains on growing the Budweiser Black Crown brand.
"There's still a long way to go with Black Crown," he said. "There's a lot of people who don't know about Black Crown and who haven't tried it yet...From that standpoint, we'd rather raise the awareness of Black Crown."
—By CNBC's Tom Rotunno. Follow him on Twitter @TomRotunno.