A-B eyes launch of high-end stout

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Anheuser-Busch Cos. is exploring the launch of a niche beer carrying the brand name Bare Knuckle.

Expected to be a stout, Bare Knuckle would go head to head against Guinness, the Irish institution marketed by rival Diageo.

Advertising would likely downplay the brew's St. Louis roots, according to one knowledgeable person, since beer aficionados tend to shun the world's largest brewer in favor of specialty beers.

Plans are not finalized, though the beer is believed to be close to test, with advertising by Rodgers Townsend, St. Louis. An A-B spokesman declined to comment, and the agency did not return calls. A-B in October registered for trademarks on "Bare Knuckle," "Bare Knuckle Light," and "Bare Knuckle Draft."

The company has long been interested in the high-end and has tried-albeit unsuccessfully-to strike deals with imports such as Heineken. One distributor-who said he had not heard of Bare Knuckle-welcomed the idea since A-B markets no stout.

One A-B executive underscored its attention to expensive offerings. "The high-end category is very critical to our company and critical in the industry," the executive said, adding that A-B's ability to to enter the high-end segment is key.

A-B is currently testing high end brand Budweiser Red Label in four markets (AA, May 7, 2001) and next month will decide how to proceed, said Pat McGauley, A-B director-high-end brands. Bare Knuckle falls under Mr. McGauley's purview, but he declined to comment on the brand.

Should A-B proceed with Bare Knuckle, it could tap into the free-spending ways of 20-somethings who are beer's primary consumers. The U.S. beer category rose 5% from 2000 to 2001, according to the most recent figures from Beer Marketer's Insights newsletter. Imports, which constitute 11% of volume, rose 72%, while domestic specialties rose 10%.

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