Our recurring “Beers to Know” roundup is starting to feel outdated or at least misnamed as so many craft breweries explore products beyond beer. There are hard seltzers, of course, and the even trendier “ready to drink” canned cocktails. Here’s a quick look at some new products in this growing beyond beer category and some insight from several breweries on how and why they are doing it.
Distilling and RTDs as retail expansion strategy
The espresso martini, which skyrocketed to become one of the top ordered cocktails of 2022, just became a whole lot easier to enjoy thanks to Two Roads Brewing Co. and its Nightshaker Espresso Martinis, a vodka-based canned craft cocktails. At 12% ABV, Nightshaker Espresso Martinis are crafted with vodka and real cold brew coffee.
“While we’re beer people first and foremost, we never shy away from learning and trying our hand at something new,” said Two Roads Master Brewer Phil Markowski. “Espresso martinis are delicious to drink, but they’re a hassle to make…ask any bartender…so we wanted to give our fans a great-tasting and easier way to enjoy them. Our take on the espresso martini is 100% Two Roads, crafted with highest-quality ingredients, a bold yet balanced taste, and an invitation to try something unexpected from us.”
The martinis are the third spirit-based product released under Two Roads Distilling Co., the distilling arm of the famed brewery that launched last year. After spending two years learning the art of craft distilling, Markowski and his team released the first products under the Two Roads Distilling Co. banner in 2022, a small batch vodka and London dry gin.
How much of Two Roads Distilling capacity is dedicated to canned cocktails vs. bottled spirits?
“Right now, the majority of our distilling and blending capacity is dedicated to our RTD line comprised of Daybreaker Vodka Sodas and our recently launched Espresso Martini, Nightshaker,” says Collin Kennedy, Director of Marketing at Two Roads Brewing. “Bottled spirits are available only at the brewery for the time being. This might change, but for the time being we’re not looking to significantly broaden the availability of our bottled spirits.”
How do the margins compare?
“This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, as our bottled spirits are sold direct to consumers from our tasting rooms, thus we enjoy a higher margin on these,” Kennedy says. “Our margins on Daybreaker are affected by the fact that we’ve committed to using only 100% real fruit juice with no use of “natural flavors,” an industry norm we like to avoid. It’s more costly for us but delivers a better product for our consumers.
How does your distilling and RTD capacity compare to your beers? Have you possibly cut back on those in any way in order to pursue these new lines of business?
“As a top 30 brewer in terms of total production volume, we have capacity available to grow into. Beer (and beer innovation) continues to be our main focus and volume driver. We’re fortunate enough to be able to support the growth of our RTD line without having to scale back our beer production.”
Are there other things to consider when pursuing RTDs? Like, does the canned cocktail allow you to take up more room in different areas in retail spaces?
“That is definitely the case.” Kennedy says. “We have evolved into a craft beverage company and not just a maker of beers, offering NA’s, RTD’s, niche barrel-aged rare beers from Area 2, and we have several R&D products in the works to further expand our portfolio and deliver high-quality beverages for our consumers. We’re able to sit on a different shelf and still have our Two Roads brand and high-quality products in the hands of customers. Our broader portfolio also helps us to be of value to our distributors, giving them additional tools in their arsenal to sell to retail and grow their businesses too.”
Canned cocktail as creative outlet
New Belgium Brewing officially entered into the emerging “hard beverage” space with Wild Nectar Hard Juice this week. New Belgium defies the RTD, FMB and hard seltzer labels — hell, it might not even fit the premise of this post. It is a slightly sweet and lightly carbonated, light viscosity hard juice (that has a pulpiness to it) that comes in three flavors: Passionfruit Lime, Strawberry Guava, and Passionfruit Orange Mango.
“Consumers are looking for more options in the hard beverage space, so we created an exciting new product in this new category that delivers a unique flavor experience,” said Jared Spagnola, Brand Manager at New Belgium Brewing. “Wild Nectar is incredibly easy drinking without sacrificing on big, fresh fruit flavor.”
Compared to hard seltzers that feature just a hint of flavor, drinkers can expect a more fruit-forward and flavorful experience with Wild Nectar. At 5% ABV, gluten free, only one gram of added sugar, and 130 calories or less, Wild Nectar offers a new hard beverage made with ingredients elevated to a higher standard.
MadTree has been doing canned cocktails for just over a year (with three flavors available in 4-packs and a variety pack with 4 flavor), and Sway by MadTree canned vodka sodas now make up 12% of its distribution portfolio. “It will be 10.6% of our total produced product for this year,” they tell us.
MadTree plans to keep growing this brand because “it is a great way to reach new consumers or give an additional offering outside of beer. There will be more flavors coming this year as well as a new variety pack.”
MadTree celebrated International Women’s Day by releasing Dolly in their Sway by MadTree vodka soda category. This pays homage to the iconic singer and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. This is MadTree’s fourth year of creating a product to honor and celebrate a woman the team looks up to — but the first one that goes outside of the beer category. And when you look at it, it just makes sense: the design, colors and flavor combo of the canned cocktail is a beverage tribute befitting Dolly.
“We chose Dolly this year because of her amazing philanthropy work within her local community, country, and beyond,” said Brittany Frey, Production Manager. “She has shown the world she wants to build a better place for future generations by providing many different scholarships, helping rebuild her community after the wildfires, expanding her Imagination Library and her support of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
RTDs as a path to more collabs
SanTan Brewing has branched off into SanTan Spirits, which has a deep roster of vodkas, gins, whiskeys and more, recently partnered with Casa Maestri Tequila and Sun Orchard Beverages to create a new line of canned margaritas. These are made with authentic tequila, SanTan’s house-made triple sec and Sun Orchard’s natural lime juice.
Anthony Canecchia, founder + brewmaster of SanTan Brewing Company and SanTan Spirits said they wanted to go this route because most store-bought margaritas are low alcohol, lackluster and fizzy — and carbon dioxide bubbles don’t really belong in a margarita.
“Liquid nitrogen is added immediately prior to canning in order to remove all oxygen from the product and keep our craft cocktail as fresh as the day it was shaken,” says Anthony Canecchia, founder + brewmaster of SanTan Brewing Company and SanTan Spirits.
SanTan interviewed several distilleries in Tequila, Mexico to find the right partner for its margaritas, and Canecchia said the best product came from Casa Maestri.
SanTan Margaritas are high proof at 10.5% alcohol, with no bubbles in order to give the cocktail connoisseur exactly what they would make themselves at home — just pour over ice, and the margaritas are ready to drink.
Urban South Brewery netted a collaboration with rapper Juvenile to create Juvie Juice, a hard version of a half lemonade, half iced tea. New Orleans native, Terius Gray, better known as Juvenile, worked closely with the brewing team to develop Juvie Juice.
“We are really excited about our collaboration with Juvenile. Juvie Juice is inspired by his favorite drink, an Arnold Palmer,” said Jacob Landry, Founder and President of Urban South Brewery. “This is also the brewery’s first time releasing a hard iced tea, and we are excited about how the formula turned out”
Juvie Juice is 5% ABV, available in 12 oz and 19.2 oz cans. It’s now available at Urban South’s taproom, online for pick up at the taproom, and in restaurants and grocery stores across New Orleans.
Then again, beer can also go ‘beyond beer.’
Tucker Brewing did just this by canning its Roaring Twenties Radler. Radler is a popular style beer in Germany enjoyed during the summer months. The name literally means “cyclist” in German.Utilizing Tucker Lager as the base and adding in fresh-squeezed lemons, Roaring Twenties Radler drinks light and refreshing with clean aromatics of vivacious lemon peels.
“We love making this beer, which is inspired by tradition, like all the beers that we brew,” said Tucker Eagleson, Brewmaster of Tucker Brewing. “Radler is the perfect nod to summer in my opinion. With a lively and tart lemon flavor, it is both crisp and invigorating, the perfect beer for a warm day.”