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The Emperor's New Beverage is Ready-To-Drink

By Christopher Chan

If you're old enough to remember Bartles & Jaymes, Seagram's Wine Coolers, and Zima then you are probably chuckling at the latest tsunami of ready-to-drink beverage offerings and the rise of the beverage entrepreneur. In 2011, US wine consumption increased by 50 million gallons and was poised to crush every other alcoholic category by major margins in sales, consumers, and pop culture. Also, in this last decade, Hard Apple/Pear Ciders became fashionable as consumers looked for "gluten-free" and "natural" alternatives in alcohol options. Then in 2016, the creator of Mike's Hard Lemonade created yet another new category capitalizing on the "calorie counting" "no-more-sweetened" demands of consumers and launched White Claw Hard Seltzer and…. BOOM!

Have you ever tasted a hard seltzer? They're not very interesting. Sure they look exciting and new, but basically it's a vodka soda made sexy for a 20-something Gen XYZ MillenialSchmennial. And yet, $4 billion in sales later it has become the straw that stirs the alcohol industry's creative and corporate positioning. At this very moment we have new and existing beverage companies clawing for traction in the hard seltzer cooler case. New brands such as Truly, Nauti, High Noon, Bon & Viv, Volley and Vizzy, as well as brewery conglomerates: Bud Light, Michelob, Corona, Coors, and Henry's pouring on the category pressure. Finally, the distilleries woke up with Jim Beam, Glass, Hornitos, Smirnoff, and Deep Eddy jumping into the crystal clear and bubbly waters. This is another chapter in the book of golden age advertising and marketing. At almost $2 a can (retail), this category is "robbing the cradle" as young drinkers flock and flaunt their tall and skinny cans draped in white and vibrant colors promising natural essences and flavors that are data-driven to address every focus group's survey criteria. Talk about expensively cheap ingredients?!? Are they worth it? In my professional opinion, a good old one-liter bottle of vodka and 24-pack of Safeway Black cherry seltzer will cost the same and provide twice as much fun - but then that isn't instant gratification, is it?

It seems as if every era has their own gateway product in the world of vices. For my parents, it was Mateus and Riunite. For me, it was white zinfandel and bluish wines, and then came wine-coolers, followed by micro-beers - remember Widmer, Red Hook, Hale's, Grant's, and Pyramid in the 1990s? Then the flood of flavored vodkas, flavored rums, cinnamon anything, and sweetened everything in the liquor cabinet battled it out until almost extinction, and from one-end-of-the-sweet-spectrum to the other, we now have a battle royale of sparkling kombuchas, agua frescas, and hard seltzers. Interestingly we are now seeing the same hard seltzers transition into hard-iced-teas, hard-lemon and limeades, hard-cranberry and pomegranate drinks with added sugar, flavors and calories. So, the alcoholic product pendulum continues to swing back-and-forth in perpetuity as new-aged drinkers latch onto the next cool and hip beverage dressed up sexy, shiny, and new. How long will this "emperor's new beverage" trend last? My bet is it will last as long as a Seattle summer and when the cold and wet weather descend upon us, those young ones will find their way into a glass of bygone summer and a smooth Merlot blend or a buttery California Chardonnay.

Christopher Chan is an Advanced Sommelier, Founder & Executive Director of the Washington State Wine Awards and current Director of Food & Beverage at Seattle's historic Women's University Club where he continues his 40 year career in hospitality. As an entrepreneur, special events producer, and wine/spirits educator, Christopher's reach includes Seattle International Cider Awards, Oregon Wine Awards, Idaho Wine Awards, Seattle International Spirits Awards, SommSummit, Holiday Wine Fest, Coral Wines,, and his latest launch: TikTokTasting.

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