Saint Archer early next year will test a new craft light lager in four markets with the intent to eventually take the brand national.

If successful in test markets, Saint Archer Gold, a Helles-inspired lager, would be the San Diego-based brewery’s first nationally distributed beer.

The beer, at 95 calories and 2.6 grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce serving, seeks to fill what brewery president Brad Nadal calls a “white space in craft brewing.” Gold, he says, is a “low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer that will appeal to both craft drinkers who want a more sessionable option without leaving craft, and Michelob Ultra drinkers who are interested in craft but still want lower carbs and calories.”

Aimed at active, health-conscious 25- to 44-year-old men and women, Saint Archer Gold, which checks in at 4.2-percent alcohol-by-volume, is the brand’s answer to growing demand for “approachable, sessionable beers” that its drinkers crave, Nadal says. “This beer really fits who we are as a brand and embraces the authentic, active lifestyle we live.”

Saint Archer Gold, which Nadal says will be brewed in the tradition of a Helles lager using noble hops, is golden in color, light-bodied and finishes dry. The beer is crisp and easy drinking, but with a slightly stronger flavor profile than competitors in the ultra-light segment, such as Michelob Ultra Light and Corona Premier. Its calorie and carb profile, meanwhile, falls in line with those beers as well as select American light lagers such as Miller Lite.

When it hits test markets next year, Gold will be among the lowest-calorie craft lagers available, falling far below Founders Solid Gold (140 calories per 12-ounce serving), Firestone Walker Lager (130 calories) and Sam Adams Light (119 calories).

“We’re bringing a beer to drinkers that’s lower in calories while at the same time delivering on taste,” Nadal says.

Craft-credentialed Mich Ultra fighter

Saint Archer Gold capitalizes on two major industry trends: the growing popularity of above-premium lower-calorie beers and the growing popularity of lower-ABV crafts.

Led by Michelob Ultra, above-premium lower-calorie beers have outperformed the beer industry as a whole for several years. Year-to-date through Aug. 25, Ultra is up 19.1 percent in sales dollars on a 16.8 percent rise in volume, per Nielsen. Ultra’s success drew Constellation Brands to the space, which this year launched nationally Corona Premier, a lower-calorie light lager that’s on fire, ranking as the No. 3 Nielsen growth brand in the most-recent measurement.

Meanwhile, a wave of craft brewers is getting into lagers, light lagers and lower-ABV blonde ales to meet growing consumer demand for lighter beers, long the public’s preferred style. Michigan-based Founders, for example, is tracking for another record year, led by two lower-ABV beers: Founders All-Day IPA and Founders Solid Gold, a lager sold in 24-packs priced as low as $17.99, about 80 cents a can.

Saint Archer Gold “is really the aligning of the stars,” says Paul Verdu, vice president of sales and marketing for Tenth and Blake, the MillerCoors craft and prestige imports division. “MillerCoors has been trying to figure out an answer to growing above-premium light beers, based on the smashing success of other beers in that segment. And Saint Archer has been looking for the perfect beer that connects with its roots and brand purpose that it could take to a much broader audience of drinkers.”

The beer will be priced in the range of Michelob Ultra and be available on draft, in six-packs and 12-packs of bottles and in 12-packs of slim cans. It will be brewed both in Saint Archer’s San Diego brewery as well as by MillerCoors breweries. It also will be served in both of Saint Archer’s tasting rooms as well as in other venues in southern California, including Honda Center and Angel Stadium.

Aggressive marketing investment

Saint Archer Gold will launch in the first quarter of 2019 in four markets: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Indianapolis and Arizona. In three of those markets — Austin, Indianapolis and Charlotte — Gold will mark Saint Archer’s debut. The beer will join others in the Saint Archer portfolio in Arizona, a state where the brand has been sold since late 2016. If successful in those markets, the plan is to expand nationally, perhaps as early as 2020.

MillerCoors will support the brand with a full media package, including television spots, a digital and social campaign, outdoor advertising, sampling events and a presence at MillerCoors-sponsored venues and events.

“We are investing significantly to build awareness,” Verdu says. “In most of our test markets, the brand is unknown, and it’s going up against some formidable competitors inside and outside craft. Our research tell us consumers love Saint Archer Gold, and now we need to get the word out about the brand and get it in consumers’ hands.”

Gold has been in development for several months and is the product of a collaboration between Saint Archer’s brewers in southern California and MillerCoors brewers in Golden, Colo., and Milwaukee.

Saint Archer, along with fellow MillerCoors craft brands Hop Valley, Revolver and Terrapin, has outperformed the overall craft industry this year both in sales dollars and volume. The four brands are up 34.2 percent in sales dollars and 36 percent in volume year-to-date through Sept. 1, according to Nielsen cross-channel and convenience data. That’s nearly double the growth posted by Anheuser-Busch’s 10 U.S. craft breweries, which are up 17.4 percent in sales and 18.4 percent in volume over the same period.

The introduction of Gold represents the biggest opportunity yet for one of the company’s craft labels to expand nationally.

“From a craft perspective, there’s no way we’d be able to do this at the speed and in the manner we are without (MillerCoors) helping us on this path,” Nadal says. “They’ve given us the ability to move quickly, enter new markets and scale this opportunity in the right way.”