Hard Root Beer Explodes onto the Scene

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Just as you’re wrapping your mind around flavored moonshine and ciders, there’s another booming beverage alcohol to consider: hard root beer.

A brand called Not Your Father’s Root Beer has become one of the fastest-growing products in U.S. retail beer since being taken on by a major distributor, and skyrocketing to the sixth best-selling craft brew for the four weeks ending July 12, according to a report from IRI, accounting for $8.1 million of the $245.8 million in craft sales during the period. And now Boston Beer starts shipping this week its new Coney Island Hard Root Beer nationwide by mid-August.

Other craft brewers, like Forbidden Root Brewing Company, Chicago’s so-called botanic brewery, launched three curiously flavored brews in New York this summer, including a sarsaparilla-inspired Forbidden Root made with more than 20 extracts including wintergreen, cassia, cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, licorice, balsam of Peru, vanilla, sandalwood, cardamom and black pepper; and the gingery wheat beer Sublime Ginger.

Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a 5.9% alcohol by volume brew, got a significant boost when Pabst Brewing signed a distribution deal for the brand earlier this year. Numerous bars are reported to have taken it on, especially those already into mixing beers with other ingredients, including hard floats and shakes, and distributors are struggling to fill orders.

That’s a gap Boston Beer will look to fill, as it expands distribution of Coney Island Hard Root Beer first hit shelves in the Northeast last month. Meanwhile Not Your Father’s Root Beer is planning to expand to 10 more states, a total of 40, by September.

Not all beverage trends make sense for chain restaurants, especially when emerging products don’t have full national distribution and reliable supply. And some trends, like that of white whiskey or moonshine, haven’t really managed to make much of an on-premise dent chain-wise, though some concepts are a natural fit. Still, sweet flavored spirits or every type have had a long run, and the lusher red blend and sweet moscato wines have made a dramatic impact on on- and off-premise sales and thinking. Potentially, hard root beer floats could mark the return of the after-dinner drink, albeit in dessert form. Something to think about before the root beer salesman comes calling.