Cheers May 2016

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 42 of 51 43 May 2016 • line in February with Best Damn Cherry Cola, another classic fl avor that harkens back the soda shops of decades past. November was a huge month for hard soda launches. That's when The F.X. Matt Brewing Co., brewer of Saranac Soft Drinks, reintroduced its Jed's brand; the "Jed's Hard" line includes a root beer, orange cream and black cherry cream. Abita Brewing Co. launched Bayou Bootlegger Hard Root Beer—the fi rst in a new hard soda line—in late 2015. Also, McAle's Brewing Co., in November rolled out a line of hard sodas including Root Beer, Ginger Ale, Orange N' Cream and Cola. MOVE TO MIXOLOGY Nostalgia is not the only thing going for hard sodas. The category has also tapped into modern trends—like mixology. The Best Damn line was recently showcased at a New York event. The sodas came in cocktails crafted by bartenders from the Brooklyn's Extra Fancy. This included a Rum Java Root Beer Float, which topped off the traditional dessert drink with a shot of spiced rum. "Mixology has been a major focus for us," explains Kathy Sattler, brand director, Best Damn Brewing Co. "Customers nowadays are always thinking variety, and they're open to having beer in a cocktail." Grosser of Wild Ginger Brewing had in mind the popularity of Moscow Mules and other cocktails when creating his Wild Ginger. He has also found fans of his Wild Root among cocktail lovers. "People are having a shot of [rum cream liqueur] RumChata in it," Grocer says. "Hard root beer lends itself to drinks with sweeter profi les. A lot of liqueur companies are trying to ride the wave of hard root beers. I'm seeing a lot of Jägermeister and root beer." Not Your Father's Root Beer has also been mixed into all sorts of cocktails, Kovac reports, including some with vanilla vodka. Gourmet burger chain Red Robin uses the hard soda brand in its Root Brewski Float, launched this past fall. CROSS CONSUMER APPEAL Hard sodas are like alcoholic ciders in that they appeal to all ages and genders. Modern drinkers—particularly Millennials— crave variety. Cider and hard soda offer sweeter, lighter, lower-ABV alternatives to more bitter beers, or heavier and boozier cocktails and spirits. "We're seeing a clear 50/50 split between men and women who buy our products," Grosser says. Other brands have discovered similar customer demos. The target market for Not Your Father's Root Beer "is wide and diverse," Kovac says. "We have customers from 21 to 80, and they include women, men, craft drinkers, beer drinkers, spirit drinkers, non-beer drinkers, wine drinkers." It's this mass appeal that has helped spread the word about hard sodas. Kovac reports that his brewery has done little to no marketing. Not Your Father's Root Beer has climbed up sales charts largely on the back of social media and word-of-mouth. In addition to Red Robin, Applebee's announced in March it would start carrying the product. Hard soda has also benefi tted from a wider audience by fi lling a niche. Sweeter drinks are hot right now in the U.S. Millennials in particular are trending in this direction. And hard sodas, especially the root beers, allow males of this generation to have a sweeter option that also allows them to "keep their man cards," Sattler says with a laugh. Henry's Hard Soda, owned by MillerCoors, came out late last year in orange and ginger ale fl avors. The brand has been picked up by national accounts such as Miller's Ale House and independent operators. For instance, The Federal House Bar & Grille in Annapolis, MD, began carrying Henry's Hard Ginger Ale and Henry's Hard Orange Soda—priced at $6.50 a bottle—this past January. Server Jessica Waters says that guests "love that the sodas don't taste like booze. They're something on the sweet side, like a soda with an extra kick to it." MODERN PACKAGING Hard soda label designs have been an interesting mix. On one hand, they contain classic elements that refl ect the category's play on nostalgia. On the other, labels have tried to capture consumer attention with hipper marketing. Wild Ginger comes in a can featuring a buxom lady, perhaps of the classic pinup model, and of appropriate hair color. "I wanted something that was edgy, like it was a craft-beer label," Grosser explains. "With Wild Root we developed a pissed-off-looking root beer mug. And it's an old-school mug. When we fi rst went to market these labels clearly defi ned who we are." Another factor: "I wanted something that people would be proud to Wild Ginger Brew- ing Co. introduced Wild Root hard root beer in November, two months after it unveiled an alcohol- ic ginger beer. Anheuser-Busch, which launched its Best Damn Root Beer in late 2015, followed up with Best Damn Cherry Cola in February.

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