These Are The Beers of Summer

Beer Meets the Soda Shoppe

The success of Not Your Father’s Root Beer, the boozy soda launched last year, has not escaped notice. Last summer, Anheuser-Busch InBev debuted its hard soda line from the Best Damn Brewing Company, a name that gives the beverages the old-timey veneer also associated with Not Your Father’s. The first flavor, Best Damn Apple Ale, was actually a natural competitor with Redd’s Apple Ale from MillerCoors. The newer Root Beer arrived in December, joined by Cherry Cola in the spring.

In January, MillerCoors introduced Henry’s Hard Sodas. Maloney described the line as a “portfolio of broadly appealing, familiar flavors.” Hard Orange and Hard Ginger Ale will be joined by Hard Cherry Cola in August.

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In January, MillerCoors introduced Henry’s Hard Sodas.

Retailers have noticed the category, but seem skeptical about its staying power.

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Willowbrook’s Cambareri says, “hard sodas are new, so they’re very popular. We’ve just seen the launch of, I think, the fourth brand. I think the market was saturated when the second brand came out. It’s a natural category for these guys to go to, I guess, but it’s really cannibalization at this point.”

“They’re trying to appeal to people by making root beer, orange soda and ginger ale to get people to switch over instead of drinking Smirnoff Ice or Mike’s Hard Lemonade,” observed Campbell at Bay Ridge.

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“They’re definitely aimed towards women, because a lot of women don’t like beer. Actually, it’s funny–a lot of women are getting into beer, or have been introduced to good beer. But at the same time, I think the marketing companies are the ones targeting women with these super sugary-sweet drinks,” Campbell adds.

A Kaleidoscope of Flavors

The infatuation of consumers with anything new and shiny drives the proliferation of seasonal beers in the craft sphere and fruit-of-the-month fickleness among producers of everything from hard soda to flavored malt beverages, and across the aisle to vodkas.

“What’s going on is amazing: if it was new yesterday, it’s old today,” Cambareri says. “We send out three emails a week to our beer enthusiasts. Last week alone I think we had 51 new beers that went out on our email. Let’s say we get a 30% of those customers coming in throughout the week looking for those beers. The next week we have some people coming in, saying ‘That beer was great, do you have any more?’ But more people come back in and say ‘OK, that was great, what’s new this week?’ It’s really crazy—that bubble’s going to break sometime, but not yet.”

The only way to keep up, he says, is a well-trained staff and careful inventory control. “The beer enthusiasts know more than we do–what’s coming out, when it’s coming out, and how long it’s been in the store. It keeps us on the ball and it’s great for the industry.”

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And, once associated with a “tinny taste,” cans are now seen as a better alternative for flavor and improved shelf life.

Cans Can

As canning lines have become more affordable for smaller brewers, cans have shed their cheap beer stigma. This change in attitude hasn’t been limited to smaller producers. Stella Artois, the Belgian lager that has long projected an image of high quality and premium price, is coming out in cans for the first time in its 90-year history.

Kevin Harrington, account executive for the brand, hails the can as offering consumers “a new way to entertain, with the sophistication and luxury of Stella Artois this spring and summer.”

And, once associated with a “tinny taste,” cans are now seen as a better alternative for flavor and improved shelf life.

“A lot of people are realizing that cans are actually a better package, due to the light exposure, because light will kill a beer before temperature will,” Campbell says. “Warm to cold doesn’t matter, but if it gets exposed to light for any duration of time, it tastes like sulfur.”

He guesses that half of his customers, his “beer nerds,” are aware of the quality that cans deliver. The other half is motivated by convenience. “Annapolis is a boating town. A lot of people are buying craft beer in cans to go out on their boats. During the summertime, six-packs and 12-pack cans have been doing really well. So many craft beers are coming in cans now, I think that’s helping.”

As summer beckons, beer fans of all stripes will find their preferences catered to with a wide selection of beverages to suit the season.

Julie Johnson was for many years the co-owner and editor of All About Beer Magazine. She has been writing about craft beer for over twenty years. She lives in North Carolina, where she was instrumental in the Pop the Cap campaign that modernized the state’s beer laws.

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