Looking to extend craft beer craze, makers of Sam Adams and Miller push into ‘Hard Soda’ drinks.
Root beer, which soared in popularity as a pre-Prohibition temperance drink, is leaving its roots behind. An alcoholic version called Not Your Father’s Root Beer has become one of the fastest-growing products in U.S. beer aisles. Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams, said last week its new Coney Island Hard Root Beer will be available nationwide by mid-August. MillerCoors LLC, the nation’s second-largest brewer by volume, is planning to launch soda-inspired beverages early next year.
Anheuser-Busch In Bev NV, the nation’s largest brewer, is watching the trend closely. Its innovation team is “plugged into trends around sweet beers and products, working closely with consumer focus groups to understand and respond to these emerging interests and passion points,” said Val Toothman, vice president of Innovations.
Not Your Father’s Root Beer, which was first introduced late last year, made its creator, Small Town Brewery, the sixth best-selling craft brewer for the four weeks ended July 12, snagging 3.3% of the craft dollar sales at retail, according to retail tracking service IRI. It accounted for $8.1 million of the $245.8 million in craft sales during the period.
The brand’s success has created a new category in the alcoholic beverage industry. Some call it hard soda. Others call it flavored beer. An owner of Not Your Father’s Root Beer, who also is an owner of Pabst Brewing Co., is pushing the term “gruit ale,” which was used to describe spice- and herb-flavored beers made centuries ago before the widespread use of hops in beer making. The category has the potential to expand beyond root beer to alcoholic ginger ale, strawberry rhubarb and French toast stout.