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The Art of Craft


Despite their reputation as a small, quirky alternative to the increasingly monolithic major players in the category, craft beers are now decidedly part of the mainstream, with some of them, strictly speaking, not really craft beers at all, or not any more. As proof of this assertion, St. Louis-based powerhouse Anheuser-Busch has already snapped up such niche brands as Blue Point, Goose Island, 10 Barrel Brewing and Elysian Brewing Co.

What’s more, rather than taking a reluctant “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to the segment, Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito is enthusiastic about it, seeing craft beers as a positive force within the overall market. “They’re bringing new views to the beer-business. They’re bringing romance to the business,” he noted last year on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” program. “It’s a high-end business. So … as a market” leader, it’s better to have entrance in the category that will get consumers to trade up than otherwise.”

Available figures back up the perception that craft beers are riding high among consumers. According to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association (BA, a trade organization representing small and independent American craft brewers, in 2014, for the first time ever, craft beers achieved double-digit — 11 percent — volume share of the marketplace.

“With the total beer market up only 0.5 percent in 2014, craft brewers are key in keeping the overall industry innovative and growing,” notes BA Chief Economist Bart Watson. “This steady growth shows that craft brewing is part of a profound shift in American beer culture — a shift that will help craft brewers achieve their ambitious goal of 20 percent market share by 2020.”

Food retailers have been paying close attention to this trend, and some are already responding. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market has actually opened the first-ever in-house brewpub within a grocery store — dubbed the Whole Foods Market Brewing Co. — at its location on Post Oak Boulevard in Houston’s Galleria area, and Brewmaster Dave Ohmer has joined forces with local brewery Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. to produce 7 percent ABV Whole Buffalo Saison, a draft-only beer available exclusively at the store from March onward. Among conventional grocers, Cincinnati-based Kroger is installing cooler and dry shelf space in its beer aisles to hold more craft beer. “Kroger customers continue to ask for additional craft and local beer options,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Jarrell told the Columbus Dispatch in March, “and we are increasing our selections in response to demand.”

All of this comes as no surprise to George Ward, director of off-premise national accounts at Boston Beer Co., brewer of Samuel Adams. “Drinkers are clearly saying they want more variety and more flavor than what premiums and import beers deliver,” he affirms. “They have more sophisticated palates than drinkers generally did years ago and are always looking to explore different flavor profiles and styles of beer, and pair or cook with beer as part of their everyday life. Millennials have adopted and are exploring craft beer the way their parents adopted wine 30 years ago.”

Summer Sips

Given this solid standing among U.S. beer drinkers, craft breweries and the retailers that sell their products are naturally focusing on products and promotions to roll out in time for the onset of warmer weather, a traditional time for downing ice-cold brews, and refreshing limited-time items offering seasonal flavors.

“During warmer weather, drinkers typically gravitate to lighter beer styles, and this summer, drinkers can look forward to the return of Summer Ale, a crisp wheat ale brewed with lemon peel and Grains of Paradise,” says Boston Beer’s Ward. “Available on draft, in bottles and in cans, Summer Ale is also included in our Beers of Summer variety pack that showcases a range of styles for drinkers to enjoy during warmer weather. In addition to Summer Ale, the other beers in the pack include our Samuel Adams Boston Lager; Rebel Rider Session IPA, a session IPA with grapefruit and tropical fruit notes and a hint of bitterness; and Downtime Pilsner, a new beer only available in this variety pack.”

Downtown Pilsner is a crisp golden lager with notes of orange, tangerine and spice, as well as hints of black pepper and melon, from new Bavarian hops varieties Herkules and Mandarina. “This is the first brew we’ve ever released using these hops,” notes Ward.

He adds that the season will also see the limited-time introduction of Samuel Adams Honey Queen, a braggot-style quaff brewed with three honey varieties and chamomile, in 22-ounce bottles; the return of Samuel Adams Porch Rocker, “a refreshing Radler-style lager that combines light maltiness and subtle hop notes with a blend of real lemons for a fresh-squeezed lemon taste”; and the availability of Boston Lager, Rebel IPA, Summer Ale and Porch Rocker in the convenient Sam Can, first launched in 2013, and Summer Ale in 16-ounce single-serve cans for the first time, alongside Rebel IPA and Boston Lager.

As for promotional activity, Ward observes, “We’ve found that the best way to support any craft beer is to get drinkers to try it.” To that end, Boston Beer introduces many of its craft beers at sampling events.

The company is also well aware that the reasons for craft beer’s popularity extend beyond its ability to quench thirst. “Because craft beer drinkers are also increasingly looking to incorporate beer into daily activities like cooking and pairing with food, we develop recipes with chef partners to help show how craft beer is an ideal and accessible ingredient for food pairings and as a cooking ingredient,” he explains. “With the help of the grill masters at Weber Grills, we’re helping to educate drinkers and grillers alike as to why craft beers are the perfect addition to any backyard barbecue.”

And then, of course, there are the season’s holidays to leverage. “Food and beer education, combined with our independence-themed point of sale for the Memorial Day and 4th of July holidays, will drive excitement at retail around Samuel Adams displays,” asserts Ward. “Simple recipes and pairings focused around grilling will help shoppers create a food and beer experience that complements the summer grilling season.”

Other craft brewers are also getting in on the seasonal product act. For instance, SanTan Brewing Co.’s popular Mr. Pineapple Wheat Ale is back for the summer, this time in a redesigned Rexam 12-ounce can. Further, the Chandler, Ariz.-based brewery has teamed with Chiquita to use Rainforest Alliance Certified premium pineapple juice in the award-winning ale “for a more sustainable, socially conscious and tasty beer,” as the companies involved put it.

According to Claude Marbach, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Rexam Beverage Can North America: “Our cans help attract attention on store shelves, maintain beverage integrity, and deliver superior recycling, filling, distribution and retail display economics that will help the brewery continue to build its brand and business.”

Mr. Pineapple in cans is available at select retailers in Arizona, Southern California and Texas.

Also on Tap

Obviously, summer’s not just about craft beer. Among “malternatives,” for instance, Palm Breeze, a brand of Chicago-based Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co., has rolled out a line of light sparkling tropical flavors — Ruby Red Citrus and Pineapple Mandarin Orange — aimed squarely at what New York-based Kelton Research has identified as the 11 million Millennial women who annually drink 13 million-plus cases of flavored malt beverages.

“Millennial women have been largely overlooked by traditional beer companies,” contends Sanjiv Gajiwala, Mike’s VP of marketing. “For these women, being with their girlfriends is an escape — from work, from errands and from whatever else life throws their way. And Palm Breeze is created specifically to be a part of these moments while simultaneously building on the tropical trend we’re seeing overall in food and beverage to ultimately inspire women to turn any girl get-together into a getaway.”

Keeping in mind its target consumer, the brand’s fully integrated marketing program includes digital creative and media integrations with Instagram, PopSugar, TMZ, Us Weekly and xoJane; a series of experiential events with Blo Blow Dry Bar and Gilt Groupe in Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.; and partnerships with food, fashion, beauty, lifestyle and décor bloggers Cassandra LaValle, of Coco + Kelley; Claire Sulmers, of Fashion Bomb Daily; Gaby Dalkin, of What’s Gaby Cooking?; and Melissa Johnson, of Best Friends for Frosting, to create branded content all summer long.

Women — namely those in search of tasty, slightly sweeter, low-alcoholic beverages — are also the intended consumers of Daily’s Spiked Sodas, a line of 12-ounce slim cans in four sparkling flavors combining fruit and soda: Cherry Cola, Raspberry Ginger Ale, Lemon Lime and Blood Orange. According to Verona, Pa.-based Daily’s Cocktails, the fizzy drinks have no malt aftertaste and cost just $1.99 per can.

Beyond malt beverages, the Angry Orchard Cider Co. has rolled out nationally its spring and summer seasonal hard cider, Angry Orchard Summer Honey, available through August. The Cincinnati-based company describes the beverage, which is made from wildflower honey and culinary apples, and comes in 6-packs, 12-packs, and variety 12-packs with other Angry Orchard styles, as “perfect for warmer months and outdoor entertaining.”

Although it’s the No. 1 hard cider in the United States, according to Chicago-based IRI, and the overall segment has experienced steady growth, Angry Orchard has been working to boost hard cider’s profile through sampling and collaborations with well-known chefs, including Kevin Gillespie, of “Top Chef” fame, to promote food pairings and the beverage’s use as a recipe ingredient.

Among spirits, the Captain Morgan Rum Co. will introduce three Caribbean-accented flavors — Pineapple, Coconut Rum and Grapefruit — to serve as the central ingredient in a range of tropics-themed cocktails.

“This summer, we’re looking for consumers to flip over their hammocks and have a little fun with their mojitos and daiquiris by enjoying our new pineapple, coconut and grapefruit extensions,” notes Dan Kleinman, VP of marketing, rums for Norwalk, Conn.-based Diageo North America. “After last year’s successful launch of Captain Morgan White Rum, we wanted to expand our offerings in the category. These flavors allow adult fans to diversify their cocktails.”

Also from Diageo are Sandra Lee Cocktail Time Margaritas in Key Lime and Strawberry flavors, infused with real key limes and strawberries, pure cane sugar, premium blue agave silver tequila, triple sec liqueur and other natural flavors. The ready-to-serve margaritas, which can also be used as the alcohol base in various mixed drinks, are gluten-free and feature fewer than 150 calories per 4-ounce serving. To support the launch of her namesake product, TV chef and magazine editor Lee has embarked a national tour through the July Fourth weekend; other promotional efforts include accompanying recipes and entertaining ideas included in a newly created flip-cover format in Sandra Lee magazine; a website,; and social activations on Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, along with in-store promotions, point-of-sale materials, public relations efforts, and even a cause-marketing campaign, Cocktail Time for a Cause.

And speaking of new flavors, coffee-and-rum liqueur Kahlúa has introduced a limited-edition Kahlúa Salted Caramel variety meant to enliven a slate of creative summer concoctions. “Kahlúa is always committed to delivering innovative flavor offerings that take various drinking occasions to the next level,” says Brian Mequet, VP, rum and liqueurs at New York-based Pernod Ricard USA. “While staying true to the classic taste that consumers love, Kahlúa Salted Caramel builds upon the success of our other limited-edition flavors and offers new ways to enjoy classic cocktail favorites with an added twist.”

“Simple recipes and pairings focused around grilling will help shoppers create a food and beer experience that complements the summer grilling season.”
—George Ward, Boston Beer Co.

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