Liquor makers turn to Finland’s national drink in search of the next hard seltzer

As head of product development at Boston Beer, Annette Fritsch was instrumental in creating brands like Truly, a juggernaut in the hard seltzer category. Now she hopes her next big hit will come from an idea spotted nearly 4,000 miles away in Finland with a 60-year-old citrus drink largely unknown to American consumers.

We’re always looking to make the next Truly – I mean, who wouldn’t want to get the next Truly?” noted Fritschwho joined maker of Sam Adams beer and Angry Orchard hard cider in 2010. “WWe need to stay innovative, enthusiastic, thinking of new ways to get into beverages, so that we really meet the needs of drinkers. »

Fritsch said Boston Beer’s optimism for the new offering it has dubbed Bevy Long Drink comes from the accessibility and unique drink experience it offers: the ease of drinking a cocktail with the sweet taste and the refreshing finish of hard seltzer.

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Courtesy of Truly Hard Seltzer

As drinking habits shift from going out for a beer to finding a suitable drink for a particular occasion, Fritsch said Boston Beer “needs to start evolving” and looking for new offerings and drinking occasions that it could exploit. Bevy, she said, “has reached the top.”

“Bevy is really unique,” she said. “It’s not a beer. It’s not seltzer. It’s really not even a cocktail because it kind of hugs the gap. It’s really different from…anything that exists. I have no concerns about us saving shelf space.”

What’s old is new again

The name of the long drink comes from the fact that it is typically at the same amount of alcohol as a traditional cocktail but includes more mixer in a tall glass. The drink has its origins in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, when the Finnish government commissioned the creation of a refreshing pre-mixed cocktails for bartenders at serve visitors.

The drink, which traditionally consists of gin and grapefruit soda, was so popular that production continued long after the Helsinki Olympics ended, but it was tightly regulated by the government for more than four decades. It was not until 1995 that the authorities gave up their monopoly on the long drinksand breweries quickly capitalized by making their own.

Today, it is widely available on store shelves, bars and even in saunas across the European country, with groceries and liquor stores that devote entire sections to it. In 2020, around 50.3 million liters (13.3 million gallons) of long drink were sold by breweries in Finland, according to Statista datadown slightly from the previous year, but up nearly 25% from the previous decade.

“Bevy is really unique. It’s not a beer. It’s not seltzer. It’s really not even a cocktail because it kind of hugs the gap. It’s really different of…everything that exists.”

Annette Fritsch

Senior Director of Product Development, Boston Beer

Boston Beer’s Bevy takes a slightly different approach to crafting its long drink, eschewing the more traditional gin in favor of a malt base typically found in beer or a hard seltzer. Wild juniper berries add a subtle hint of the flavor typically provided by gin. So far, it appears Bevy has been an early success, with Boston Beer expanding distribution of the long drink nationwide from the 20 markets it first launched in early November.

Alcoholic beverage companies such as Boston Beer remain on the lookout for the next big drink as consumer preferences change – a development that has particularly affected beer manufacturers as they lose share to other categories like spirits.

Even seltzer water, which has been a key source of growth for major brewing companies, has seen sales slow. Boston Beer saw billions wiped from its market capitalization last year after admitting it overstated demand in the category. The space is also populated with offerings that include spirits, putting additional pressure on brands such as Truly, White Claw and Bud Light Seltzer.

Adam Rogers, North American research director at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, said the promotion and use of the “long drink” name is largely a marketing tool used by alcohol companies to lure consumers into an existing drink rather than to represent a new category or product. He noted that the term encompasses other popular alcoholic beverages such as highball, rum and cola or Moscow Mule.

“Like everything that is perceived as new have a tendency to achieve a consumer test while increasing awareness, we see brands leveraging the marketing term “long drink” with growing popularity, ” Rogers said in an email.

Growing competition

One of the first American companies to enter space was The Long Drink Company, spear in 2018 by four friends: three from Finland and one from the United States

After noticing a market opportunity in the United States, Mikael Taipale and the other founders – none of whom had beverage expertise – created several iterations of their own long drink for friends to blind try. and compare them with other versions on the shelves in Finland. . Just three and a half years after launching The Finnish Long Drink in New York bars and liquor stores, the company is gearing up for a nationwide rollout in 2022 at U.S. retailers including Walmart and Kroger.

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Authorization granted by Long Drink

“People laughed at us at first. They were like, ‘What do you mean by a category? It’s just your product,'” Taipale said. “The biggest hurdle was that nobody would drink canned cocktails or nobody wanted to. But obviously we now know that everyone in the industry, I think all they talk about is canned cocktails. can and seltzer water.”

The rapid growth attracted interest from celebrities, including actor Miles Teller and professional golfer Rickie Fowler, who both joined the company as co-owners of the canned cocktail drink. Last summer, The Long Drink has closed a $25 million funding round led by existing investors and investment management firm Neuberger Berman.

Taipale played down Boston Beer’s emergence in the long drink market, noting that the liquor maker’s interest only reinforces his company’s belief that the United States was ripe for the category. Bevy, he said, will also bring attention to the nascent US market and help the category grow. Yet Taipale said Boston Beer’s use of a cheaper malt alcohol-based in the place of premium spirits does not make it a “real” long drink and is only used to to trick the consumer.

“I think it’s great that other people see the potential in the category and see the potential in the drink,” he said. “We just have to make sure the consumer knows it’s not the real long drink, and it’s kind of a cheap version trying to piggyback on the story.”

In response, Boston Beer noted that Bevy Long Drink was inspired by Finland’s classic long drink cocktail and was “all about accessibility”.

About Michael Brafford

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