Beer takes center stage in the summer, bringing its cold refreshing fizz to picnics, beaches, backyards and balconies. It’s such a natural, such a tradition, such a slam-dunk sales opportunity that it’s easy to just pile it high and step back to watch folks grab their accustomed packages and race to the register.
A happy thought, but think about this: there are a bunch of great new tastes in beer on the market. Be the store that introduces your customers to them, and you’ll be seeing them again and again, long after summer is over. Who knows? You might find something good, too.
A Flood at Coors
We’ll start with a new beer that’s actually over 80 years old. There was a flood at the Coors brewery in 2004, and one of the things brewer Keith Villa (the same Keith Villa that came up with Blue Moon 15 years ago) saved was a box of brewing logbooks from the pre-Prohibition years. ‘It was a minor flood,’ Villa recalls, ‘but it could have wiped out the records and we’d have had nothing. We decided to make some, and served it in the private bar here for employees; we called it Pre-Pro, and people loved it.’
When the marketing folks at Coors found out about it, they loved it too: this was a beer with a real story behind it. It’s got a real difference, too. ‘They named it Batch 19 because 1919 was the last year beer was legal before Prohibition,’ Villa explains. ‘The beer was heavier then, and had less rice, about 20%. When Prohibition was repealed, it went up to 33%. It’s got a lot of hop character, a good lager character, and it’s a bright, clear beer. It’s a real nice lager, a pre-Prohibition lager.’
Batch 19 is currently in test markets in five cities: Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC, San Francisco, and San Jose. ‘We’ll see how it does,’ Villa says. ‘If it does well, we’ll expand it. If not, well, at least I got to make it.’
Anheuser-Busch has been experimenting with line extensions on Bud Light. The latest, Bud Light Golden Wheat, tries to catch the success of Blue Moon in a light version, but has not seen much success yet. The October launch may have been the problem; this seems more like a hot weather beer. That’s what worked for the earlier extension, Bud Light Lime.
Yes We Can
Bud Light Lime came on the heels of Miller Chill’s success in 2008, and pretty much eclipsed Chill, the most successful launch for A-B since Michelob Ultra (and the last one before the company was bought by Belgium-based InBev). After another strong year in 2009, the brewery is going to keep the fires stoked under this one by putting it in the can (the tag line of a viral video campaign that introduced Bud Light Lime’s new can packaging).
That should work well for them. Canned beer is at a sweet spot right now, making this 75 year old package the hot new ticket. Cans are great for the beer ‘ no light damage, generally much lower air in the package ‘ and for the environment ‘ easily recycled, lighter and take up less space to transport. They don’t break, so you can take them a lot of places bottles can’t go: the pool, parks, boatside, and so on.
Harpoon (Boston) is taking their flagship IPA and seasonal Summer Beer to a can as well. The Summer Beer, a golden kÃ¶lsch-type beer, has been around since 1999, but the can is going to put it a lot of new places, like the beach.
Point Brewing (Stevens Point, Wis.) is also canned to go to the beach: Nude Beach, their summer wheat beer. Director of marketing Julie Birrenkott says the unfiltered wheat ale is now available in cans. ‘It’s the third year for Nude Beach,’ she notes. ‘It’s made with raw red wheat, and there’s a nice citrusy touch from the hops. The wheat gives it a smooth, creamy feel.’ Point’s available in the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and now in the South as well.
If you’re looking for something in a can that’s real summery with a taste you’ve probably never had in a beer before, try the silver tubes of Hell or High Watermelon Wheat from the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco. ‘I think we were the first ones to do watermelon,’ says brewery co-founder Shaun O’Sullivan.
His business partner, Nico Freccia, homebrewed a watermelon beer in 2000, and O’Sullivan made a batch at the brewpub the next year. ‘It was wildly popular,’ O’Sullivan admits. ‘There are some other watermelon beers out now, but I think we’re the only ones using real fruit, and we still use real fruit.’ The beer is light, with the sweet taste of ripe melon floating right on top of it.
Damm, the Spanish brewery, has two beers that will almost sell themselves. Inedit is a surprisingly tasty takeoff on a Belgian witbier; surprising because the beautiful and shapely bottle almost seems to promise too much’¦until you pour the lovely, translucent beer inside. Inedit was formulated to work well with a range of foods, and it is a great match with grilled vegetables, chicken, fish, and a variety of sausages. The large-format black bottle is almost too pretty to resist.
The other new beer from Damm, Daura, comes in a plain-Jane wrapper, but it’s a stunning new development in gluten-free beer: it’s brewed with barley malt, and tastes like beer. Gluten-free beers have been made from sorghum, honey, millet’¦but barley has gluten. Daura changes that.
‘Daura is a real beer,’ points out Justin Fisch, director of marketing at importer U.S. Beverage. ‘During a proprietary brewing process, the gluten protein is stripped away, leaving a real beer taste. Finally, consumers seeking a gluten-free option have a real beer.’ For celiacs, having a beer that just’¦tastes like beer is nothing short of revolutionary.
A-B has been trying some different flavors under the Michelob brand; that’s where they’ve been brewing more craft-type beers. They have a four-beer sampler pack for the summer that features all wheat beers: Shock Top Belgian White, Michelob Dunkel Weisse, Hop Hound Amber Wheat, and the all-new Michelob Ginger Wheat. Shock Top delivers citrus and coriander in a classic Belgian combination, and the Dunkel Weisse uses a Bavarian yeast strain to create subtle flavors of banana and clove. Hop Hound Amber has more caramel and hops than the others.
Ginger Wheat is a completely different animal. Michelob Brewing brewmaster Craig Heisner rightly pegs it as a great food beer. ‘With the great ginger aroma,’ he says, ‘Ginger Wheat is a natural pairing with Asian cuisine, especially sushi. It’s also an easy and tasty marinade. Before putting chicken on the grill, marinate it for several hours with the beer, soy sauce, sesame oil and garlic.’ The ginger isn’t overpowering, but balances nicely with the wheat beer’s body.
Lambrucha combines Asian and Belgian fermentation traditions in one bottle, in a very different way. Don Feinberg, of importer Van Berg & DeWulf, explains. ‘Kombucha is a fermented tea; soda-ish, light, bubbly,’ he says. ‘Lambic, among other things, is sour and tannic. Put the two together and you get the spring tonic character of Kombucha with the complexity of lambic. It’s the most palate-cleansing beer I’ve ever had.’
It is also probably the most complex, flavorful 3.5% beer you’ve ever had, able to stand up to ‘stinky food: cheese, creamed herring, like that,’ according to Feinberg. Even your most jaded customers have had nothing like this. ‘To my knowledge, it’s the only time two living drinks have been combined to make a third living drink,’ claims Feinberg.
Maybe it’s a trend: MateVeza Black Lager is made with tea as well: yerba matÃ©, the South American herbal tea. MateVeza founder Jim Woods happened to have a fresh glass of mate just after drinking a pale ale, and found the combination intriguing. He has three beers: Yerba MatÃ© Gold, Yerba MatÃ© IPA, and the new Black Lager. The Black Lager uses toasted matÃ© leaves, which add a pleasant herbal bitterness to the beer along with a shot of caffeine.
On Safer Ground
If that kind of thing is just a little too way out for you, stay on more familiar ground with Zatec Dark, a dark lager that’s made with’¦dark malt, that’s all. But who thinks of dark beer in the summer? You should, says Craig Hartinger, marketing director of importer Merchant du Vin. ‘The default summer beer is pale and light,’ he agrees. ‘But they don’t need to be light in color. Zatec Dark is the master of subtlety: not a challenging hoppy beer, not over the top. This is a good next step in opening eyes to summer beer options.’
The Lion Brewery (Wilkes-Barre, PA) is an old regional brewer that is taking a shot with more craft-like beers, reviving an old brand name, Stegmaier, with a line of seasonals. They’ve brought back a one-off from a few years ago, Stegmaier Summer Stock Pils, to put in their summer slot. The Summer Stock is light, crisply hoppy, and a real thirst-killer on hot, humid days.
Boston Beer Company is making all their beer in-house these days, and the latest is Latitude 48 IPA, available in the Samuel Adams Summer Styles Variety Pack. ‘We decided to brew an IPA with German, English and American hops,’ explains founder Jim Koch, ‘a sort of meritage approach to hops in contrast with the normal varietal approach of using hops for m a single growing area. It’s a unique beer because we’ve chosen three different hops from the top German, English and American growing regions, all near the 48th latitude along the ‘hop belt’ of the Northern Hemisphere – which is where the beer gets its name.’
Newcastle Brown Ale is a classic of its type, so it’s not surprising that when they chose to make a Summer seasonal, the resulting beer is very close to type. Newcastle Summer Ale hews closely to a type of beer little-known in the U.S., an English Summer ale. It’s golden, with an earthy, spicy bitterness from English Fuggles hops, and a tasty body based on Golden Promise malt. Just the thing to try out your new Newcastle glassware, the Geordie Schooner.
If you want new beers for your customers, there are plenty. If you want new flavors, you have to look a little closer, but they’re out there, from brewers large and small, old and new. Make sure you have some, and make sure your customers know about them. Keep things interesting, and you’ll have a great summer.