Anheuser-Busch Debuts Beck’s Sapphire Beer

Source: Anheuser-Busch

The Beck's brand is getting bigger. Anheuser-Busch InBev is rolling out Beck's Sapphire, a new pilsner-style beer described as "smooth and distinctive."

The Sapphire name is derived from the Saphir hops used in the brewing process which are developed, grown and sourced from Germany. In addition to the flagship Beck's brand, the new beer joins existing brand extensions, Beck's Premier Light, Beck's Dark and Beck's Oktoberfest.

The latest Beck brand extension takes a page from the Bud playbook that worked so well with Bud Light Platinum last year. As an extension of the No. 1 selling beer in the country, Bud Light Platinum was the most successful new beer launch of the year.

Beck's Sapphire made its nationwide debut on New Year's Eve in higher-end bars, clubs and restaurants and at select pop-up locations in Beverly Hills, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in New York City's SoHo neighborhood and along South Beach in Miami.

Like Bud Light Platinum, which has 6-percent alcohol by volume versus Bud Light's 4.2 percent, Beck's Sapphire also features higher alcohol content than its predecessor at 6 percent versus 5 percent for Beck's.

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While Bud Light Platinum features a distinct cobalt blue bottle, Beck's Sapphire is packaged in a solid black bottle, which the company says it took two years perfecting.

While both the original Beck's and the new offering are brewed according to traditional German purity laws, which date back to 1516, Beck's Sapphire is designed to get the brand into places where you don't usually expect traditional German beer brands: high end bars and night clubs.

The company describes the new beer as a "luxury beer suited for late-night occasions: a beer for those who embrace style and image."

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The high-end and aspirational positioning of Beck's Sapphire is aimed at a younger consumer that may have moved away from beer and toward distilled spirits. It's a strategy that worked beyond Anheuser-Busch's expectations with Bud Light Platinum, with industry data indicating Bud Light Platinum sold more than 1 million barrels, or roughly 14 million cases, through the third quarter of 2012, quickly establishing the brew with a one-percent market share.

Consumers can expect to see another similar "hipper and higher in alcohol" formula from Anheuser-Busch with the spring release of Bud Black Crown. The beer will be an extension of the Budweiser brand, but with a 6-percent alcohol content and at a higher price point.

Beer drinkers may currently know Bud Black Crown from Bud's recent "zip code" beer series. The Los Angeles beer, known as 91406 after the brewery's zip code, was in the Project 12 Fall variety pack and will be rebranded as Bud Black Crown.

-By CNBC's Tom Rotunno; Follow him on Twitter @TomRotunno

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