BlogWhy did a South Georgia Brewery Decide to Launch a Hard Seltzer?

August 26, 2019by Omaha Brewmaster0

In an exploding market of national brands, local, craft hard-seltzers remain generally untapped. Island Rain fills that void.

Something to jolt your mind: According to Nielsen, hard-seltzers are currently growing faster than every craft-beer brand outside of Blue Moon Belgian White (Although not independent, Blue Moon is owned by MillerCoors).

We’re talking about brands like White Claw and Truly; the boozy La Croix that sips simple and refreshing.

Rain dance, anyone?

In the first six-months of 2019, consumers in the U.S. spent $389 on hard-seltzers, up 210% from the previous year (Nielsen). It’s staggering, but the consumer drives the market. And why do they want something like a “Perrier that does squats?”

It’s refreshing, effortless, low calorie, low sugar and sometimes gluten free. It’s a beverage beyond a trend and even wine and cider drinkers can find an oasis among this sparkling booze. For the active-lifestyle, it’s friendly and offers a much lighter alternative to beer.

Although the market is dominated by mostly national brands as mentioned above, local-craft is starting to find its opportunity. Canarchy, a collective owning independent craft breweries such as Oscar Blues and Cigar City, launched Wild Basin earlier this year, a line of hard-seltzers with flavors such as cucumber-peach and lemon agave hibiscus. Platform Brewing in Cleveland and Denver Beer Company have also launched hard-seltzer brands, among a slew of other independent craft brewers across the country.


Welcome OBC to the Craft-Seltzer Market

OBC has recently launched Georgia’s first hard-seltzer brand, Island Rain. Officially on the market in June, the first flavor available is coconut-lime. During the R&D period, coconut-lime was a fan favorite in the tap room, but also gives the retailers an open slate as a mixer (Maybe with vodka? Gin? Not that we would know…) as it is also available on draft.

“We did go back and fourth on that for a while,” said owner of OBC Robert Lee, about offering a hard-seltzer. “There’s not much to look at, especially in Georgia, with market research or data. We knew what the national brands were doing, but figuring out where the craft-seltzer fits in to our portfolio was going to be key to our growth.”

Being first to market is an advantage, but not a long-term strategy, Lee said. “It took us almost 14 months to figure out what we wanted the end-product to be, so being first in Georgia obviously wasn’t on our radar. I’m a little surprised still, but I’m sure it won’t be long until one of our Georgia brewers launches one.”

OBC owner Robert Lee on a beach somewhere obviously enjoying Island Rain.

When asked about the potential stigma of being an independent craft brewery and producing a hard-seltzer, he mentioned that not long ago craft-breweries were the stigma in an evolving beer landscape, and pointed at a quote he has mentioned on the OBC Island Rain official website:

“If you think people look at us different because we’re a microbrewery and we decided to brew a hard-sparkling water, you should have seen their reaction when we told them we decided to open a brewery in one of the poorest counties in one of the smallest cities in Georgia 6 years ago.”

OBC had never brewed a gluten free product, yet according to tap-room data, consumers were asking for one frequently. A gluten-free beer was a possibility, potentially made with sorghum, but OBC wanted a product that was sustainable and reliable year around. Something that could grow with OBC’s audience.

“Island Rain is also zero carbs and zero sugar,” Lee said. “A lot of them are low in those categories, but we wanted it to be zero and a little less ABV.”

Sitting at 4% ABV, future flavors will follow the same recipe, but be adjusted with various organic flavors.

“We haven’t announced the second flavor yet officially, but were getting really close,” Lee said. “I can’t tell you what the flavor is yet, but I will say it’ll be very relatable to ingredients commonly found in the South.”

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