::Beer brewed by and for urban consumers hits test markets this week::


Most uninspired thirty-somethings only dream of chucking the middle manager rat race and pursuing something they truly love. In 2002, St. Louis native Ray Hill did just that, turning his hobby and passion for home brewing into a full-time vocation.

During a trip to Colorado in 1998, Hill fell in love with craft-brewed beers and decided to create a brew in his kitchen, fermenting it in his basement. The result was Ray Hill’s American Pilsner — a full-bodied craft beer with a round, malty sweetness and a smooth finish.

The brand’s hoppy, slightly caramel flavor received positive feedback in taste tests with urban professionals, who noted that the beer compared very favorably to European imports they enjoyed. After offering samples of his beer at private social events throughout the Midwest, he slowly built a loyal following.

Ray Hill and his business partners approached Anheuser-Busch in 2005 with a proposal to brew his beer on a larger scale. The company’s brewmasters tried and enjoyed the beer and began a collaborative process to make Ray Hill’s American Pilsner widely accessible.

The result was a joint venture developed in 2007 between Anheuser-Busch and Hill Brewing Company forming the Hill Craft Beer Co. Under Hill’s supervision, Anheuser-Busch will brew the same recipe he created in his kitchen and distribute the beer through its wholesaler network. Hill Brewing Company will be responsible for marketing and sales of the brand.

This is the first time Anheuser-Busch has entered into a contract production agreement with an entrepreneur. Hill Craft Beer Co. will be led by Hill Brewing Co., which holds 51 percent ownership, with Anheuser-Busch holding the minority stake of 49 percent.

“Ray Hill is a classic story of a small businessman who started out in his basement with a great product and a great idea. We’re proud to work with him to help make his dream come true,” said August A. Busch IV, president and chief executive officer of Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc. “Bringing diverse, new products, such as Ray’s, to consumers through our wholesalers allows us to participate in the growing craft beer segment and invest in a minority-owned business that has a lot of potential.”

The Ray Hill’s brand will be available initially in test markets in the metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. and in Washington, D.C. this week.

Taking a good idea from drawing board to great product to a store shelf is a daunting undertaking. How did Hill go from brewing a few batches in his home to launching a brand in three cities?

“It was a meticulous process of recipe formulation, craft brew industry research and asking beer drinkers to try my beer one bottle at a time. After nearly a decade, I’m finally about to fulfill my dream,” says Hill, founder and chief executive officer of Hill Brewing and a former Federal Government team leader. “What differentiates my brand is that no other beer in the craft category is purposefully seeking exposure in the urban market.”

Ray Hill’s is a full-bodied beer brewed to full-fledged European strength using a blend of domestic and classic noble hops, and a combination of American barley malts and corn. Hill created a specialty beer that maximizes the phenomenal growth of the craft beer segment and the resurgence of the Classic American Pilsner.

Several years ago, Hill also saw a unique opportunity to introduce his craft beer to image-conscious, trend-setting urban professionals. Upscale networking happy hours and exclusive celebrity events provided the perfect avenues to build momentum for his up-and-coming brand. Hooking up with business partner Mario Wayne, who in turn introduced the brand to Anheuser-Busch, also helped bring his vision to reality. Rounding out the three-member partnership is Stephen Bruce, package design manager, who created the brand’s visuals and upscale packaging.

“Ray is the epitome of a craft brewer,” Busch said. “He risked a lot to follow his passion for brewing, and he developed a great-tasting beer. We’re honored to work with him.”

Ray Hill’s American Pilsner is available in six-packs and can be purchased in local bars, clubs, restaurants and grocery/convenience stores in St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. and Washington D.C.

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