Fighting spirit: what's happening in the world of spirit beers
It seems a little unfair to say the shine has gone off a category that is growing at a whopping 36% year on year – but there does seem to be less of a buzz around “speers” these days.
The total market for spirit beers is worth £51 million, up £13.5 million from last year, according to Nielsen. But, nonetheless, the category seems to have lost some of its lustre.
Nielsen senior client manager Rob Zielski tells OLN: “The main driver of this growth is still Desperados, which is up by £10.8 million and accounts for 75% share of total spirit beers.
“New products have potentially not lived up to expectations, with both Cubanisto and Desperados Verde generating around £3 million sales each in the past year.”
But he adds: “Despite this, it seems too early to write off speers as a category that is only ever going to be dominated by Desperados – it may only take one strong NPD launch to reinvigorate it.”
Desperados owner Heineken has got in there already with Desperados Red, a tequila beer with added guarana and cachaça flavours, and is launching two spirit-flavoured versions of Foster’s.
Foster’s Rocks comes in Spiced Rum and Classic Rum flavours in 4x44cl and 10x44cl can packs, targeted at 18 to 24-year-olds.
Desperados Red will be backed with a multi- million-pound marketing campaign, including digital and outdoor ads and a countrywide sampling campaign.
Category and trade marketing director for the off-trade, Craig Clarkson, says the new brew is aimed at high-tempo occasions.
He says: “Desperados Red has been launched to keep the brand fresh and vibrant, keeping pace with the dynamic lifestyles of young adult drinkers and reinforcing the brand’s standing within the category as the go-to beer for younger adult consumers looking to discover new and exciting flavours.
“Research shows consumers have an increasing appreciation of new and intriguing flavours and are willing to spend an additional 10% for a new flavour above the price of the core variant, resulting in additional value for our customers.”
Fellow Dutch brewer Bavaria UK launched tequila-flavoured Claro last year, and managing director Rob Page is quietly positive about it.
He tells OLN: “It is not our main focus but we have noticed a real rise in its popularity. We know younger drinkers are more open to this [sort of thing] and tend to have a sweeter palate.
“And we can attract both male and female drinkers, which is not something the beer industry has been that great at.”
As well as a bottle, listed in Asda and Lidl, Claro has been launched in cans.
Laura Salway, senior brand manager for rum-flavoured Cubanisto and spiritless Corona lager at AB-Inbev, says speers are drawing new, younger consumers to the beer market, as well as growing well in the on-trade.
She says: “With the new, younger consumer being introduced to the market via speers, there is the opportunity to develop and capitalise on this with beer cocktails.
“A better beer selection can help boost a retailer’s bottom line, but as more retailers increase their beer selection, it’s becoming less of a novelty and more of an expectation for consumers. Whether mixing individual beer styles and flavours, or combining beer with alcohol and spirits, beer-inspired drink creations will increase as retailers seek to further diversify their drinks offering.”
The company has worked with mixologist Nick Strangeway to develop some Corona cocktails (see recipes), while oak-ageing specialist Innis & Gun – long at home in style bars – has made its way on to cocktail lists in establishments as swish as Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants and The Ivy.
Innis & Gunn’s beers get their spirit flavours – bourbon, rum and malt whisky – from the oak barrels they are aged in or the company’s Oakerators, which recreate a similar effect.
Sales director for the UK and Ireland Crawford Sinclair says: “We mature our beer using oak that has previously held spirit, so the wood has taken on all the great flavour from whatever spirit sat in the barrels. But the end flavour result is far more subtle, more of a nuance than a straight hit of spirit.
“Beer cocktails – though they were never classified as such – have existed for a long time. The Boilermaker, or Hauf ’n’ Hauf as we know it in Scotland [half a pint of beer and a dram of whisky], is known by other names in cultures all over the world and has been a customary drink for centuries.
“But this resurgence in the popularity of craft beer and spirits has definitely got bartenders curious as to what can happen when you put the two together, and it’s true to say putting beer – and I’m talking craft, not mainstream, here – in a cocktail opens up a whole new area of the flavour spectrum that has never really been explored before.
“As such, beer cocktails are attracting a lot of attention these days.”