More Faux-craft from Coors

Coors Brewing Co. hopes to further tap into the rapidly growing craft beer market through its new subsidiary, AC Golden Brewing Co.

The nation’s No. 3 brewer said this week it plans to use the unit to offer “above-premium beers” using the same low-key marketing it used to build its popular Belgian-style craft beer, Blue Moon.

“The high end is where it’s at. So it seems logical they would put a lot more focus on the high end,” Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a Boulder-based industry trade group, said of Coors.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. and SAB Miller PLC’s Miller Brewing Co. also have taken steps to capitalize on the craft beer craze, including the rollout of new beers and investments in craft-beer makers, but no other faux brand has taken off quite like Blue Moon. Sales have been skyrocketing compared with sales of Coors Light.

Coors, a unit of Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing Co., disclosed its plans for AC Golden Brewing in a recent e-mail to its employees and distributors.

The Coors e-mail called the new subsidiary a “brand incubation brewery,” adding it reflected Coors Brewing Chairman Pete Coors’ “passion for great beer.”

Industry veteran Glenn Knippenberg, who previously worked for Coors, will head the new unit.

Gatza of the Brewers Association cautioned that AC Golden Brewing would prove to be a “tricky balancing act” for Coors as it tries to stay focused on its “core brands while innovating at the high end.”

To introduce its beers, AC Golden Brewing won’t use “national rollouts that are very expensive and have had only limited success,” said the Coors e-mail.

With Blue Moon, Coors has played down its ties to the beer, evidently hoping not to scare away craft beer drinkers who might be turned off by the Coors name.

Blue Moon sold 494,000 cases in U.S. supermarkets during the past 13 weeks through Aug. 12, a 45 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Chicago market research firm Information Resources Inc.

The Blue Moon sales were slightly ahead of two top craft brands: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, at 481,000 cases; and Samuel Adams Boston Lager, at 468,000 cases.