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08/16/2017

Going Beyond Beer to Harness Headwinds: Oskar Blues, Lagunitas See Spirits, Cannabis Oppys

All the macro-level hand-wringing about spirits stealin’ share of alc bevs and potential negative impact of cannabis legalization be damned! Some brewers look to make these changes work for them instead of against them. Constant experimenter across food and bevs, Oskar Blues recently rolled out 6pks of canned Moskow Mule cocktails from its Spirits by Oskar Blues (SOB) label in CO this summer. Then longtime pot proponent Lagunitas launched special offering in OneHitter series called SuperCritical, using flavors derived from cannabis, but no psychoactive agents. Co worked with AbsoluteXtracts to intro pair of SuperCritical-branded cannabis oils using hop flavors at same time.

Without reading too much into new or limited-release products, the moves at least signal a different attitude toward what many in the beer biz deem “headwinds.” They also clearly underscore core brand images and ideas for both companies, regardless of where the projects lead. Notably, both companies did deals and then started to build stables of craft brands, expanding their reach within beer. But these moves go well beyond beer.

New packages, including canned cocktails, have been key to the recent rise of both spirits and wine. So Oskar Blues continues to assert its can-supremacy in a new alc bev type, while lots of other craft brewers now package core and specialty products in aluminum. SOB’s Moskow Mule clocks in at over 7% ABV and employs ginger beer from Oskar’s B. Stiff & Sons non-alc soda line. Back in 2012, the co announced plans to make whiskey. But that never materialized. Earlier this yr, Oskar launched cans of nitro cold brew coffee under Hotbox Roasters brand. It still has downtown Denver music venue on tap, beyond assorted brewpubs and restaurants, plus retail at its 3 breweries (CO, NC, TX). So it’s building quite the bev-based empire a couple yrs after selling majority to Boston-area PE firm Fireman Capital Partners. Recall, that led to formation of Oskar Blues Holdings, under which Perrin, Cigar City, Wasatch and Squatters now all operate.

Similarly, Lagunitas US Holdings also continues to grow after Heineken acquired the brewery, with recent addition of Short’s Brewing to Independence, Moonlight and other Lagunitas-branded locations. It’s so far remained much more beer-focused than Oskar Blues. And SuperCritical release is quite limited (“for now”), only available on tap at select bars in California. It uses terpenes (flavor compounds found in plenty o’ plants) taken from “some of Northern California’s Finest Cannabis,” according to Lagunitas, plus the usual hop additions. The beer has no THC, so no worries about legality. Recall, that’s similar process used by Thorn Street Brewery out of San Diego when developing OG HighPA (see vol 7, no 43). But pair of SuperCritical vape oils released by AbsoluteXtract do have THC, flavored with terpenes taken from hops.

The laundry list of headwinds responsible for dampened beer demand these days almost always includes both spirits and cannabis. Spirits have gained share of absolute alcohol consumption in the US for years now. Tho harder to quantify, most onlookers suspect legalized marijuana has some effect on total alcohol and beer consumption. Asked about the interaction between beer and weed at annual Beer Institute meeting earlier this summer, Lagunitas founder Tony Magee explained that he’s “done a lot of research over the years. They are very complementary.”

Tony’s quip revealed an attitude toward these issues he shares with quite a few folks, particularly in craft. (Recall tone recently taken toward spirits by occasional guest-columnist Diogenes.) These new and limited launches somehow express that attitude in the marketplace. Rather than fall victim to encroachment from fast-growing competitive products or industries, let’s grow along with them, they imply. Beer remains core to both Oskar and Lagunitas, natch. But like other experimenting craft brewers, the brands now transcend beer. The category continues to combat woes at least in part brought on by famously fickle consumers who frequently switch between flavors, beverages, venues and highs. Diversifying to attract those folks can insulate brands that cut across category lines. The trick will be in the balancing act that follows. 

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2017
  • Volume: 8
  • Issue #: 72
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