Across Canada and in some northern cities of the United States, liquor store aisles and coolers are being stocked with a range of sweetened alcoholic beverages with brand names such as Hard Root Beer and Hard Cream Soda. These adult beverages contain high levels of liquor and saccharine; they are sometimes brewed by means of the infusion and cold-filtered methods used to make beer, but that is as close as these drinks get to Budweiser or Molson.
According to a recent article written by Calum Marsh for the National Post in Canada, marketers are pushing hard to make hard sodas and premixed cocktails the official drinks of summer. Major brands such as Pop Shoppe and Crazy Uncle are essentially reviving a trend that was last seen in the 1980s and 1990s. In the U.S., the trend started with wine coolers and evolved into strange brewery products such as Zima, a translucent and fizzy beer with very unusual taste.
In Canada, Smirnoff Ice was the standard bearer of the malt liquor fad that started in the early 21st century and lasted a few years. An interesting aspect of this trend is that women were far more receptive to Smirnoff Ice, a beverage with an alcoholic content higher than most beers. The fact that women were more attuned to Smirnoff Ice made Canadian men uncomfortable, which might be the reason why the current wave of hard sodas features masculine themes in terms of marketing.
The image projected by Crazy Uncle and Dusty Boots evokes rugged masculinity. These are brands that are trying very hard to appeal to younger men who would normally shun such drinks because they may consider them feminine; in fact, these are drinks that liquor stores tend to place next to similar beverages sold by Girls’ Night Out, a brand that specializes in alcoholic iced teas.
As far as the taste of these trendy drinks, they tend to deliver on what their labels promise. A Hard Root Beer tastes as it should, a fizzy licorice concoction that packs a punch in terms of alcohol content. There is a problem, however, with the marketing intent insofar as positioning these drinks among young people who may be fooled by their sugary and fruity sweetness, which belies their high alcoholic content.
Hard sodas will certainly make a splash in North America over the next few years, but they are not likely to reach the status of beer.