"We don't believe the world needs another IPA."
That's the rallying cry that AC Golden Brewing will use to market Colorado Native IPL, its second beer under the increasingly popular Colorado Native Brand.
"We do, however, believe there is room for a beer that is similar to an IPA, but is one that allows the hop characters to shine through as only a lager can do," the label reads. IPL stands for India Pale Lager, which distinguishes it from an India Pale Ale, or IPA.
AC Golden, a tiny subsidiary of MillerCoors, will roll out the new brew in twelve-ounce bottles at the end of August -- and only in Colorado. As a result, it will change the name and label of its existing beer, Colorado Native Lager, to Colorado Native Amber.
"When we say Colorado Native now, we are referring to a brand, and it's a brand that we have a lot of equity in," says AC Golden president Glenn Knippenberg. "We felt like we could strengthen the Colorado Native line by extending it."
As for IPAs, "there are already 6,000 of them. Surely you can find one you like," he says, adding that AC Golden believes hoppy flavors stand out better in a lager because the brewers don't use ale yeast, which can impart fruity esters into a beer.
But the biggest challenge AC Golden will face with its new beer has nothing to do with style guidelines or yeast strains. Rather, it's the company's self-imposed rule that Colorado Native beers be made 100 percent from ingredients grown in this state.
Although the hops industry -- located mainly on the Western Slope -- has been expanding for several years, it is still very small, and the farmers can't afford the equipment needed to package their hops into pellets, which is how most breweries, both large and small, need them. As a result, the growers have been hesitant to plant more acreage.
While craft breweries are interested in using local ingredients, too, most of them can only use non-pelletized hops in a style known as fresh- or wet-hopped beers, which means there are a lot of hops left over. To encourage the growers, AC Golden decided a few years ago to buy up the remaining crop and truck it to Washington to be pelletized.
That's an expense that few craft brewers could afford, but one that made sense to AC Golden, which serves as a brand incubator for MillerCoors.
With the decision to add Colorado Native IPL to its lineup, AC Golden signed three-year contracts with eleven different growers earlier this year that will assure them a set price for their hops. In addition, the brewery asked the growers to plant more acreage and to grow several different varieties that will be used in both beers.
The Amber is brewed primarily with Cascade and Chinook hops, says AC Golden head brewer Jeff Nickel. But the IPL will be made with Centennial, Crystal and Nugget hops, along with some Chinook and Cascade. "When we met with the growers, we asked them to plant these varieties. It should allow us to do 2,500 barrels of IPA this year and give us enough to do 3,000 to 4,000 barrels next year," Nickel says.
By contrast, AC Golden plans to brew 10,000 barrels of Colorado Native Amber in 2014.
"We agreed to buy every bit they can harvest. The hop growers are pretty excited. They want to get bigger and make more money," Knippenberg says. The agreements mean that AC Golden will continue to have the rights to 85 percent of all the hops grown in Colorado -- and 95 percent of the varieties that they use.
And as for the original Colorado Native Lager, AC Golden has news on that as well. In May, Knippenberg asked MillerCoors and its craft subsidiary, Tenth and Blake, if it could hold on to the beer until 2018.
Since AC Golden, which was created in 2008, is a beer incubator, one of its missions is to develop new brands for MillerCoors. Once one of those brands reaches 10,000 barrels per year, Coors can take it over and produce it or sell it nationwide. Colorado Native will reach that milestone in 2014. "But I told them that I think the brand will be better off if we keep it and grow it in the state for another three years," Knippenberg explains.
He believes AC Golden can double the beer's production in Colorado alone over that time -- something that would be a better deal for Tenth and Blake.
Westword's Beer Man on Twitter at @ColoBeerMan and on Facebook at Colo BeerMan
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