The world’s biggest brewer is stealing a page from the little guys' playbook.
As seasonal and limited-edition brews drive much of the growth in the craft beer industry, Budweiser is releasing its own sampler pack this fall.
Three beers — a deep gold pilsner, a light amber lager and deep amber lager — will be released on Oct. 29 in a 12-bottle package containing four bottles of each of the special beers.
The beers are named after the ZIP codes in which they were first created and are the result of a special program undertaken by Budweiser brewers nationwide.
Earlier this year, the 12 Anheuser-Busch brewmasters at each of Budweiser’s 12 geographically dispersed breweries were charged with creating their own unique beer recipe. Dubbed Project 12, the original beers were narrowed internally in July from the original 12 down to six.
Since then, the six chosen beers have been rolled out at special events for consumer sampling and feedback. Now the people have spoken. Or more accurately, the consumers have tasted and spoken.
The three winning beers are:
Budweiser Batch No. 91406 (Los Angeles): A deep-amber lager with 6-percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Budweiser Batch No. 63118 (St. Louis): A deep-golden pilsner with 6-percent ABV.
Budweiser Batch No. 23185 (Williamsburg, Va.): A bourbon cask lager with 5.5-percent ABV.
Budweiser estimates tens of thousands consumers sampled the beers including more than 10,000 festival-goers at the “Budweiser Made in America” music festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser. “With all this feedback from consumers, I guess you can call this the largest focus group in Budweiser history, maybe even beer history.”
The move comes as larger brewers have struggled to capture the attention of beer drinkers in the face of an overall decline in beer consumption.
Craft brewers, however, have been a bright spot in the industry. Making up just 5 percent of the overall beer market, craft brewers reported a dollar sales increase of 14 percent in the first half of 2012, while the volume of craft brewed beer sold jumped 12 percent during that same time period, according to the Brewers Association.
Once the undisputed “King of Beers,” Budweiser has fallen to third behind Bud Light and Molson Coors ' Coors Light in overall brand sales. So Anheuser-Busch decided it was time to turn the Budweiser brewers loose.
“Project 12 was a way for our world-class brewmasters to have fun experimenting with new ingredients, flavors and brewing processes to bring beer lovers some new options inspired by our flagship beer,” said Peter Kraemer, a fifth-generation brewmaster who leads Anheuser-Busch’s brewing operations in North America.
Budweiser will continue to request feedback from beer drinkers regarding the three winning brews via a QR code on the package, as well as an in-pack tasting guide. The Project 12 packaging will also include tasting notes and details about each beer for in-home tastings.
-By Tom Rotunno, CNBC Senior Editor