Consumers might shop less or put off buying a new computer during a recession, but they keep drinking beer. Beer sales rose 1% last year to $99.3 billion, while sales of wine and liquor fell, according to the Beverage Information Group, a market research firm. While the weak economy hasn't killed beer demand, it's damping growth. In response, brewers are targeting calorie-conscious Americans with lighter beers. They're also trying to appeal to frugal connoisseurs who prefer high-quality craft beers, but can't stomach the cost. Here are some new beers headed to your local liquor store: Michelob's wheat beer sampler packs: Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, is trying to carve out a share of the expanding craft beer market. The firm's Michelob brand last month introduced a series of six- and twelve-packs that include an assortment of the brewer's wheat beers -- Shock Top Belgian White, Dunkel Weisse and two new brews, Hop Hound Amber Wheat and Honey Wheat. Craft beers are usually made by small breweries. They tend to be of higher quality and often carry hefty price tags. With the sampler packs, Michelob is trying to draw consumers who are willing to try new beers but refuse to pay a premium. Samuel Adams Imperial Series: The Boston Beer Co. ( SAM - Get Report) has cultivated loyal fans over the years with its Samuel Adams brand. The company's new Imperial Series will target Budweiser or Miller drinkers looking to expand their horizons. The Imperial Series offers more intense and flavorful versions of older Samuel Adams beers, with about twice the alcohol per volume. The series includes the brews Double Bock, Imperial Stout and Imperial White, with four-packs selling for about $10.
Consumers might be reluctant to pay such a steep price during a recession, but tough economic times so far haven't hurt the craft beer industry. Sales of craft beer grew 5.8% by volume in 2008 and accounted for about 6.4% of all retail beer sales, according to the Brewer's Association. A lighter Miller Chill: Major breweries have released several Mexican-style beers in recent years to compete with Grupo Modelo's ( GPMCY) Corona Extra, the top imported beer in the U.S. Two years ago, MillerCoors introduced Miller Chill, a beer served Mexican-style with lime and salt. Anheuser-Busch followed with Bud Light Lime, a chelada-like brew that eroded sales of Corona and Miller Chill. Now MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller ( SBMRY) and Molson Coors Brewing Co. ( TAP - Get Report), is revamping Chill to make it more competitive with low-calorie Bud Light Lime. The recently released version of Miller Chill has fewer carbohydrates and calories. MillerCoors executives are banking that the new recipe and a packaging makeover will make Miller Chill the Mexican-style beer of choice for weight-conscious consumers. Guinness 250th Anniversary Stout: U.S. sales of imported beer have fallen since the economy tanked. The trend has forced foreign firms like Diageo ( DEO), the world's largest alcoholic beverage company, to find new ways to appeal to American drinkers. Guinness, its renowned Irish stout, is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, and London-based Diageo is taking advantage of the opportunity. The company recently debuted the limited-edition 250th Anniversary Stout. It's the first Guinness product introduced in the U.S. since Guinness Draught in the mid-1960s. The beer, which will be available only in the U.S., Singapore and Australia, tastes more like malt than the creamy Guinness Draught and has slightly more alcohol.