Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Alcoholic root beer – the next big thing?

Washington Restaurant Market Watch: Alcoholic root beer – the next big thing? https://wahospitality.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/rootbeer1-672x198.jpg

By Paul Schlienz

Could root beer, that fondly-remembered non-alcoholic drink from our childhoods, find new life as a real beer with alcohol content?

Several breweries are now creating alcoholic versions of alcoholic root bear. This new version of an old favorite is rapidly gaining popularity, especially in the Midwest, and is likely coming soon to a restaurant, tavern, brew pub or retail store near you.

Indeed, it seems that the timing is perfect for a product like alcoholic root beer.

Technomic, a major Chicago-based research firm, describes today’s Millennial generation of twenty and thirtysomethings – and especially Millennial women – as “highly inquisitive, experimental and influential consumers of adult beverages.”

In other words, with their willingness to take chances on something new, Millennials are the ideal demographic for alcoholic root beer.

“My cohorts and I have spent many a night hopping bar to bar looking for our favorite local alcoholic root beer,” said Susan Rush, senior assistant editor of Restaurant Business and a Millennial herself.  “Friends, both men and women, who planned on booze-free dinners out have tacked on an order of alcoholic root beer when they see it on the menu. It’s an instant draw that many Millennials have a hard time passing up, thanks to the combination of nostalgic flavor and alcohol.”

Alcoholic root beer has particularly taken Chicago by storm. The beverage, which 5.9 percent alcohol by volume in comparison to a typical Budweiser’s 5 percent, first appeared in the Chicago market in early 2013. Initially, you could only get it on tap at select northern Illinois bars and restaurants. In addition, small batches of 22-ounce bottles were produced.

Then Not Your Father’s Root Beer, produced in Wauconda, Ill., by  Small Town Brewery, hit the store shelves in November, selling out fast. Sprecher Hard Root Beer, from Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewing Co., also proved popular.

“We definitely [ran] out and had to limit [Not Your Father’s Root Beer] when it first came out,” Pat Brophy, beer buyer for Chicago’s Binny’s Beverage Depot, told DNAinfo. “Limits varied by store, but were anywhere from one six-pack to a case per person. Whenever we have highly allocated and in-demand products like this, we try to spread the love.”

Other stores have also experienced the same demand for this new product.

“We had an allotment of it in the beginning of December, and it went pretty quickly,” Rob Berkery, manager of a Chicago Town/Armanetti Liquors outlet, told DNAinfo. “I give these young kids credit. They want variety.”

Brophy sees the growing interest in alcoholic root beer as part of a much bigger trend.

“As much as everyone talks about how we’re in the golden age of craft beer, we’re also seeing tremendous growth in the sweetened, flavored, soda pop-y, beer segment,” said Brophy. “Things like shandys, hard root beers and hard ginger beers have been on fire for the past couple of years. There’s always been demand for alcohol that doesn’t taste like alcohol, whether that’s something like flavored vodka or Mike’s Hard Lemonade. As ubiquitous as craft beer has become, and as popular as bourbons and other whiskies have become, we need to remember that the majority of drinkers are still drinking light beer and vodka. Beers that don’t taste ‘beer-y’ are what a lot of those drinkers go to.”

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