The new beer in town is Wurzburger Hofbrau, a centuries-old Bavarian brew, and beer-drinking Washingtonians are the newest subjects of a test conducted by Anheuser-Busch Inc. to gauge the popularity of its latest imported libation.

Busch is one of many domestic breweries that have jumped on the lucrative import distribution wagon. U.S. consumption of imported beers has grown from 870,000 barrels in 1970 to 4.4 million barrels last year. Pabst, Coors and Miller all import European beers.

Wurzburger has been available in the United States since the 1890s through several importers and distributors. However, beer starts to age as soon as it's bottled, says Busch; by the time the old Wurzburger arrived in the United States, it had lost a good deal of its freshness.

Under the new arrangement, Busch becomes the West German brewer's only U.S. distributor. The St. Louis brewer spent four years and about $6 million to come up with a different way to import beer.

Wurzburger Hofbrau is now shipped from West Germany in huge, air-tight, insulated, stainless steel containers.

The company is aiming its product at the "upscale demographic person," said Les Sumner, product manager for Wurzburger.

Sumner is counting on Bush's extensive distribution network to give Wurzburger a 10 percent share of the imported beer market. Heineken currently enjoys supremacy with 50 percent of the market. "Heineken is the fat cat," he said. "But it took them 25 years to do it."