America's leading brewer has launched Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale as the first in a series of four seasonal draught beers designed to offer a new solution to the nation's shrinking beer market.
It will do this by attempting to tap into the one of the few areas of the US beer market that have shown decent growth - small-time speciality craft beers.
Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale will be sold under Anheuser's Michelob brand and will be available until mid-December. A winter brew will then be launched in January, followed by a spring brew in April and a summer brew in July.
"Brewing seasonal beers allows us to stay close to our roots," said Florian Kuplent, brewmaster at Anheuser Busch. "Most of the brewmasters here at Anheuser Busch got started by making their own beers and this is a good demonstration of how a passion rooted in experimentation has grown."
Kuplent then launched into 'the science bit', explaining how the pumpkin ale was made with the "finest two-row and caramel malts and the choicest Hallertau and Tettnang hops".
The idea of going back to the roots seems like a good one, despite the inevitable criticism it will receive from speciality players.
Volume declines across the market and higher costs sent Anheuser's profits tumbling by almost 18 per cent in the first half of 2005, and the group recently predicted full-year profits to drop below those of 2004.
Yet, more than 1300 small-time craft brewers in the US have continued to grow, despite only holding four per cent of the national beer market.
"The craft beer industry is on fire with consumers, gaining seven per cent growth in 2004 and easily surpassing large brewers, imports, wine and liquor," said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association of America, at a conference.
Anheuser has already begun reacting to this by positioning its new Budweiser Select as a "new kind of beer" using two row and roasted speciality malts for a rich colour, as well as a blend of domestic and imported hops to create a clean, crisp taste.
The segment for premium craft and imported beers edged up its market share at the same time as increasing prices by two per cent during the two weeks before this year's Memorial Day Weekend.
Anheuser, which controls about half of the US beer market, and rival SABMiller have also focused strongly on low-calorie 'light' brands to help drive sales in today's increasingly health-conscious world.
The long-term question is whether the US beer market can recover lost volume or whether brewers must accept a smaller market, largely due to rising consumption of spirits and wine.
A similar question currently hangs over a number of Western European beer markets, where, in recognition, Carlsberg has just announced it is likely to close around half its breweries within a decade.