There’s Something in the Water

Hard sparkling water gives drinkers an option on the lighter side.

Hard seltzer is the shiny starlet perched on the red carpet. It’s the new technology everyone wants. It’s the chart-topping pop song you secretly stream. 

It’s just so hot. 

That’s likely because hard seltzer, or hard sparkling water, is truly a reflection of modern tastes and dietary trends. It’s gluten free, low calorie, low sugar and 100 percent sessionable. It’s light and uncomplicated and different. And in those ways, it’s the antithesis of craft beer, which is complex and bold and not at all low in carbs.

Hard seltzer may conjure memories of short-lived fads like Zima, but over the past 24 months, sales in the category continue to soar and surprise. You can blame the millennials for it. Millennials turned La Croix into a household name and an Instagrammable brand while giving big soda a run for its bubbles. They have also revolutionized the alcohol industry, putting a focus on variety, quality and health. At the apex of the data points, you get White Claw, Truly, Henry’s and other boozy sparkling water products. 

“We have seen skyrocketing growth in the hard seltzer and hard soda categories in the last several years starting with the incredible popularity of Small Town Brewery’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer in the summer of 2015,” says Paul Dykema of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins. “As far as staying power is concerned, I anticipate these types of beverages are here to stay.”

Those boozy sodas and sparkling waters now take up two full cooler doors of shelf space at the large liquor store. 

The trend has also attracted the attention of Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont. The innovative Colorado craft brewery launched Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water in late 2018 after researching potential lines of new beverage. 

“Our research shows that this category could more than double in 2019,” says Patrick Daugherty, chief marketing officer of CANarchy, the collective of breweries that includes Oskar Blues. “So we are putting forth a significant investment, but when we run our numbers and we see the opportunity from a national standpoint, we see that it more than pays for itself with the right liquid and brand and story.”

It makes sense for the trendsetting Oskar Blues, which was the first craft brewer in the country to put their beer in cans and the developer of the crowler. They now tout Wild Basin as the first national craft hard seltzer. 

“We saw that as an awesome opportunity for Oskar Blues to put our stamp on hard seltzer and do it our way,” Daugherty says.

That stamp would include unique, “culinary-inspired” flavors like cucumber peach, melon basil and lemon agave hibiscus, as well as a classic lime. The cans are bright and colorful, featuring images of mountains, forests and a sparkling lake. The branding was developed to appeal to drinkers with an outdoorsy, active lifestyle. The kind of people who get up early on a Saturday, their cold brewed fair trade coffee in hand, to summit a 14er and then drive their Subaru down to their neighborhood brewery for an IPA … or a lemon agave hibiscus boozy sparkling water. 

Oskar Blues doesn’t see this new product—nor the rose ale it will launch in 2019—in competition with its own beers. Wild Basin is complementary to the bold beers for which Oskar Blues is known, they say. And yes, they admit, it does help them tap into a more female-friendly market, but developing Wild Basin is more about making their portfolio of products accessible to diverse tastes and occasions. 

“You’d be surprised to find out how many craft beer buyers are buying hard seltzer: 60 percent of beer buyers are buying hard seltzer in the same trip,” says Kyle Ingram, Wild Basin marketing director. “Maybe they are buying it for significant others. Maybe in place of wine. Yes, consumers are predominantly women, but men are drinking it too.”

That’s exactly what the Oskar Blues team is banking on: Their already-loyal customers will pick up Wild Basin while they grab their Dale’s Pale Ale. 

“Why not give them an option from a trusted brewery they recognize?” Ingram says.  

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