Sweetest craze: Beer floats, beer cocktails, craft sodas are booming
Just as craft beer's popularity has grown in recent years, so, too has the market for niche beers, like Not Your Father's Root Beer by Small Town Brewery and Sprecher Hard Root Beer.
"I don't want to use the word trend," said Nate Fochtman, the vice president of craft and business development with Ace Distributing Co. "It's more of a craze."
Craft, alcoholic root beers, and the beer cocktails you can make with them, are delicious and fun, said Fochtman. But it seems that consumers might be buying them for more than just taste.
"Overall consumership, everyone is into DIY," Fochtman said. "People like to make something their own."
And, more and more, consumers want to know what's in the food and beverage they buy, so craft beers and niche beers play into that concept since craft beers are made in smaller batches, sometimes using locally sourced ingredients.
Ace Distributing Co. carries two of the three major brands of hard root beers, Fochtman said.
Sprecher Hard Root Beer, made by Sprecher Brewing Company in Glendale, Wis., has been available locally since 2013.
Not Your Father's Root Beer, by Small Town Brewery in Illinois, has been available locally since June.
Both are sweet, and taste like root beer. But there are differences.
Not Your Father's Root Beer is a gruitbier. The style was the most common type of beer in the world more than 500 years ago, according to the German Beer Institute. Gruit, which means herbs, is what's used to flavor the beer instead of hops.
The Sprecher Hard Root Beer is a malt beverage made with natural and artificial flavors.
The Not Your Father's Root Beer has an ABV of 5.9 percent (some varieties have an ABV of 10 percent or 19.5 percent, so check the bottle), and the Sprecher's is 5 percent.
Later this month, Ace Distributing plans to bring Coney Island Brewing Co.'s hard root beer to York County.
Fochtman suggests that people drink the root beers the same way they'd drink the soda: over ice.
Consumers can also incorporate the DIY aspect by making hard root beer floats with the beers and some vanilla ice cream.
The use of beers in cocktails has been popular in the United States for about five years, Fochtman said.
"But it's really grown in our market here within the past year or two," he said.
One popular cocktail that incorporates beer is a Moscow Mule. Mix two ounces of vodka, three ounces of ginger beer such as Sprecher Hard Ginger Beer and the juice from half a lime.
Fochtman said some people are skeptical of mixing beer and liquor, but others enjoy experimenting.
"There are a lot of purists with every industry," Fochtman said. "But at the same time, we live in a consumer world. At the end of the day, ... the consumer drives the business."
Paired with the craze of craft beer and beer cocktails is an emerging craft soda market, Fochtman said.
That's also something that Scott Topel, cider maker at Wyndridge Farm, saw when he was living and working in Santa Cruz, Calif., about 10 years ago. He saw a lot of kombucha — fruit and/or herbal-infused drinks, as well as sodas.
When he came to Wyndridge Farm from upstate New York in December 2013, he brought the idea of craft soda with him.
"They're really fun to make," Topel said.
And the ingredients are inexpensive, which makes craft soda a good investment, Topel said.
Wyndridge currently offers two varieties of craft sodas, citrus apple and cream. Ideas for others are in the works, Topel said.
He thinks that some of what is trending now — including the farm to table movement, and the interest in smaller, craft batches of beers and sodas — is driven by Millenials.
"It's quite a bit to do with a younger generation really wanting to explore," Topel said. "There's no limits now."
You can search online to find a variety of DIY beer cocktails to make at home.
But if you want to try one that's made for you, several local restaurants have them on the menu.
Red Robin's Blue Moon Beer Shake
What's in it: A blend of vanilla soft serve, Blue Moon Belgian White beer, Cointreau orange liqueur and orange juice.
Location: 1500 Mount Zion Road, York
Primanti Bros.' Boilermaker
What's in it: The Pittsburgh-based sandwich chain uses Pittsburgh Brewing Company's Iron City Beer and whiskey in this beer cocktail.
Cost: $3.50 during happy hour, which is from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Location: 2151 S. Queen St., York
Racehorse Tavern's root beer float
What's in it: Not Your Father's Root Beer, whipped vodka, and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Location: 738 N. Biesecker Road, Thomasville