×

Guinness reboots its iconic brand

As revelers across the globe raise a beer to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the Diageo-owned Guinness brand estimates that 13 million of those beers will be its iconic stout.

While the Dublin-based brewer dominates with its Guinness Draught on the day devoted to Ireland's patron saint, the 256-year-old brand is working to re-energize itself to stay relevant in a quickly changing beer landscape in the United States and abroad.

The company is picking up its pace of innovation and experimentation under an initiative named the "Brewers Project," which is designed to breathe new life into the historic brand at a time when more beer drinkers are repeatedly looking for the next new thing.

Nitro,-Draught-&-Blonde
Source: Guinness

The Brewers Project was created in 2014, but Guinness officials are quick to say that experimentation and innovation have always been a part of the company's DNA.

"We are a brewery that's always been making different beers and maybe it wasn't always communicated out there," said Emma Giles, Guinness brand director. "Starting with ales and then moving into porters and ending in the stout that we know today, but along the way we've made a lot of other different beers."

As part of the project, the company is digging into its archives to find inspiration from historical recipes while looking to tap into current trends.

The first two Brewers Project beers to hit the U.S., Guinness Blonde American Lager and Guinness Nitro IPA, have met with mixed reviews.

Guinness Blonde American Lager was an effort to tap into the still dominant macro-beer style in the U.S., with the twist of using Guinness yeast in the lager.

The Guinness Nitro IPA was a combination of the company's pioneering nitrogen roots paired with the current dominant style in the craft beer segment, the India pale ale. While Guinness created the nitrogen-infused stout, "nitro" beers are now a trend in the craft space.

Guinness West Indies Porter and Dublin Porter
Source: Guinness

For its most recent Brewers Project releases, Guinness went inside its substantial archives and came up with Guinness Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter, both of which hit the U.S. market for the first time last month.

While "Session IPAs" are a popular trend in the craft beer market today, Guinness Dublin Porter might be considered the session beer of its day, brewed with an alcohol content of 3.7 percent.

"The Dublin Porter recipe dates to 1796," said Giles. "It was a porter that was developed for the working people of Dublin and the cities, so they didn't want it to have too high of an alcohol content."

Guinness West Indies Porter was created in 1801 and was brewed with extra hops and a higher alcohol content in an effort to preserve the beer during long sea voyages. West Indies Porter was the precursor to what would become today's Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which is higher in alcohol, at 7.5 percent, than the better-known Draught, which is 4.2 percent.

While there is plenty of inspiration to be found in Arthur Guinness' old recipe books, it's not just the archives the brewery is opening up.

Guinness has operated a pilot brewery inside the famous St. James Gate Brewery since 1904, but it wasn't until last year that it decided to open it to the public. Company officials say it's the same lab where the now famous Guinness Draught was developed by pairing nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide in 1959.

The aptly named Open Gate Brewery will offer two new beers a month and solicit consumer feedback as an in-house focus group of sorts.

"We have visitors coming in from around the world, and we're getting their feedback," said Giles. "That live testing is going to be really helpful to make sure we get the beers out there that people want to drink."

In an era when decades-old craft brands in the U.S. run the risk of being stigmatized by a younger generation as their "dad's craft beer," Guinness officials don't see their centuries-long history as anything but a positive in a time when many beer drinkers consider a brewer's back story as second only to the taste of the beer.

"I think so much of what people latch onto today is looking for authenticity and the Guinness story is about as authentic as it gets," said Giles.

To vote in CNBC's Battle of the Beer labels, click here. Voting in round two ends on March 18 at 10 a.m. ET.