Dan Fox
The views expressed in db Reader do not represent the views of the drinks business.

How long before every craft brewer is selling root beer?

Forget double IPAs, stouts, porters, pumpkin ales and hundreds of other craft-beer varieties. Right now, the hottest-selling craft-beer six-pack is root beer.

“Not Your Father’s Root Beer”, from the Small Town Brewery in Wauconda, Illinois, brings together many a kid’s favorite soft-drink flavor – root beer – with 6% alcohol, half again as much as a light beer.  As for a fast start, the new ale’s short-term share is already a third the size of of Boston’s Sam Adams, according to Beer Marketers Insights.

How hot is it?

Using craft brewer cues, small-batch brewing, evocative ingredients, hand-packaging and fancy glassware here’s how the Small Town Brewery (a craft name if there ever was one) describes its product…

This remarkable overnight success, arguably the first game-changing innovation in the craft-beer segment, has turned a few heads in the beer business. After launching the likes of Miller Fortune, the Ritas, and Mixxtail cocktails with the aim of stealing business from hard liquor, Big Beer is now paying close attention to this seemingly softer angle. MillerCoors has strongly hinted it’s well on its way to launching a similar product, possibly as soon as the fall. And what do we call these new beverages? Hard soda? Craft-co-pops?

Even more interesting, how will the craft community respond?

So far, Not Your Father’s Root Beer has drawn little commentary from the craft beer world, at least if our Twitter feed is any sign. It’s almost as though these beer geeks are refusing to take a root beer seriously, or they figure it’s a passing fad in the same way that Big Beer felt about craft beers back when. If that’s the case, they might want to reconsider.

Bitter. Hoppy. Heavy. Thick. Complex. Isn’t it possible that one important weakness of many craft beers, their less-than-pleasant taste (and after-taste) experience, has opened up an opportunity? In particular, the darker, heavier craft beers often overwhelm the senses. While craft-beer cognoscenti may wistfully savor over-the-top flavor notes, many ordinary folks can barely stomach one serving. But what if you could pour a dark beer in your glass telling everyone you’re something of a beer connoisseur, but have it deliver a more pleasant taste?

Could this root beery concoction be the first really tasty and drinkable “dark craft beer?”

How soon will other craft brewers follow? When will their legion of fans get out their snifters to appraise the taste notes of an alcoholic root beer float? Or will they choose to mock this new segment as a fad unworthy of their talents? If so, they’re taking a big risk.

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Watch for Big Craft Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada to react first. (Edit: Indeed, as was pointed out by Twitter friend “@L_Staff,” Sam Adams already has, sort of. They’re selling Coney Island brand root beer via their shadowy Alchemy & Science subsidiary.) Neither can afford to miss a root beer growth spurt. Sam Adams once famously ran an ad (now scrubbed from the internet) proclaiming they’d never brew a light beer. Saying “never” is a mistake they’re unlikely to repeat.

In a business with way too many offerings already, something tells us, craft brewers may soon be adding even more.

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