Minnesota beer lovers will look to the Horizon today, when Summit Brewing Co. rolls out its first new brand of beer in three years.
The St. Paul beermaker has brewed up a hoppy concoction it's calling Horizon Red Ale. Select bars around the metro area will have it on tap starting today, and 3,000 cases of six-packs hit liquor stores Monday.
"I really think it's going to be a big seller for them," predicted Ryan Anderson, who operates the local beer-nut blog MNbeer.com. "It's a pretty innovative beer for them, but it's not so daring it'll turn off people who aren't the diehard beer geeks."
Not to be mistaken for a traditional Irish red beer, Horizon is a very nontraditional hybrid ale with a reddish hue, a light spice and a pungency that -- like the brand name -- comes from its use of Horizon hops and other varieties of the plant that gives beer its aroma.
Summit drops in hops six times during the brewing process, making it the hoppiest of its 12 brands of beer. In beer-geekology terms, the Horizon rates a 70 in International Bitterness Units, compared to 65 IBUs for Summit's India Pale Ale and 45 for its flagship Extra Pale Ale.
Summit brewmaster Mark Stutrud, who founded the company in 1986, said customers have been saying for years that they would be happier with a hoppier brew.
"Between their requests for it, and our own fondness for it, we're pretty confident it'll do well," Stutrud said. "We're constantly fantasizing about all the different styles of beers we'd like to make here. When we come up with one we really like, we go with it and cross our fingers everyone else will like it."
Summit's last two new brands debuted around its 20th anniversary in 2006: the relatively traditional E.S.B. and the wholly unconventional, Scandinavian-spiced Scandia ale. The Scandia brand earned a mixed reaction and remains a summer-only, limited-release brew. Horizon will be sold year-round and be widely available.
While the Brewers Association reported a 10.5 percent revenue increase during 2008 among U.S. craft brewers (those smaller than Budweiser, Miller and Coors), Summit is not one of the beermakers getting through the recession unscathed. Stutrud said sales fell about 7 percent below projections last year as business also slipped in area bars and restaurants. About 50 percent of Summit's sales are on-premises, a higher share than most of the big companies on the association's list, where Summit is ranked 17th in size under top dog Samuel Adams.
While Horizon might provide a sales boon for the brewery, Stutrud said, "This one's more about keeping our dedicated customers happy."
Among the first bars to have Horizon on tap Thursday are the Groveland Tap, Muddy Pig and Sweeney's in St. Paul; Grumpy's Northeast, Longfellow Grill and Mackenzies in Minneapolis; the Edina Grill in Edina, and the new 3 Squares restaurant in Maple Grove.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658