SABMiller announces agreement to bring Belgian Abbey beer to select markets

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SABMiller plc [SAB:LSE/SAB:JNB] announces that it has entered into a distribution agreement with the Van Steenberge brewery in Ertvelde, Belgium, to distribute SABMiller’s first Belgian beer in select markets.

Under the terms of the agreement, the beer will be distributed outside Belgium under the St Stefanus brand. The name derives from the monastery of Sint Stefanus, to which the brewery is linked and which still houses an order of Augustinian monks.

Produced according to traditional principles that date back to as early as 1295AD, St Stefanus is the only ‘Abbey’ beer in SABMiller’s portfolio of over two hundred local brands. The high fermentation brewing process requires three different strains of yeast. The beer referments in the bottle and is released from the cellars after maturing for a minimum of three months. St Stefanus is approximately four months old when it leaves the brewery, but the consumer can choose to mature the flavour further by continuing to ferment the beer in its bottle for up to another twenty months.

Alan Clark, managing director of SABMiller Europe, said “SABMiller takes a keen interest in the development and growth of the global craft beer market. We have been searching for something special for beer enthusiasts in a category that already has some exceptional beers. In St Stefanus we have found exactly what we are looking for – a genuine Abbey beer that has remained true to its heritage and offers a high-quality product to a niche, yet discerning, market.”

The agreement that has been reached with the Van Steenberge brewery is the first of its kind for SABMiller. The brewery, which specialises in brewing refermentation beers, remains independent and will continue to produce and distribute in the local market under the original brand name of Augustijn. SABMiller has acquired the right to distribute the beer under the name of St Stefanus globally. Variants of the brand will range from the lower alcohol Blonde, which is cellar-matured for three months, through to Grand Cru, which is cellar matured for a minimum of nine months. Depending on maturation, variants will be available for purchase from Autumn 2011 onwards.

Jef Versele, commercial director of Van Steenberge brewery said “We are delighted to have access to SABMiller’s distribution networks outside Belgium. As the industry continues to wake up to the potential of the craft segment, progressive agreements like this will ensure a broader and more varied portfolio for global brewers, product integrity and greater reach for craft producers and, most importantly, more choice for consumers.”

Distribution will focus on carefully chosen markets and retailers that favour craft and speciality beers, especially other Abbey brands. St Stefanus is aimed at consumers who are passionate about craft beers and who will seek out new, niche products for a different taste experience. For this reason, the beer will only be available in the bottle, allowing consumers to choose how they want their beer to taste by cutting short or prolonging maturation.

SABMiller continues to diversify its brand portfolio and to invest in selected craft ales. In August 2010, its joint venture in North America, MillerCoors, announced the formation of Tenth & Blake Beer Company to focus on craft and import beers and strengthening relationships within the beer industry with a view to enhancing the overall segment’s volume and growth.