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Breweries jump into hard seltzer scene

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Something new is bubbling up at two of Springfield’s breweries.

Both 4 by 4 Brewing Co. LLC and Mother’s Brewing Co. are new players in the alcoholic seltzer marketplace as of 2020. Taking the first step was 4 by 4 Brewing with its Jan. 27 release of Basic Batch, a hard craft seltzer. Watermelon mint and orange mango are the first two flavors – found at retailers, including Brown Derby, Macadoodles and Price Cutter.

“The idea was spurred by continually seeing the growth in it from big companies,” said 4 by 4 Brewing co-owner Derek Shimeall, referring to such brands as White Claw and Truly. “We started getting a lot of requests about it at the bar itself. It seemed foolish not to provide something of our own.”

A similar thought was in play for leadership at Mother’s Brewing, said Kyle Jeffries, brewery liaison.

“We decided there was no reason we couldn’t offer a hard seltzer at least as good as the popular brands on the shelf,” Jeffries said.

Mother’s Brewing announced plans earlier this month to release Ready Hard Seltzer in March. At 100 calories per can, one carb and 5% alcohol content, the product will debut in two flavors: blackberry lemon and cherry limeade. Similarly, 4 by 4 Brewing’s Basic Batch has 95 calories per 12-ounce can, 5% alcohol content, zero grams of sugar and zero carbohydrates. 

Shimeall said the push to hard seltzer came from his wife Danielle and the spouses of the other brewery owners, Chris Shaffer, Justin Steenburgh and Steve Dobbs. Admitting that “none of us are seltzer people,” Shimeall said product research and taste testing was conducted as part of a four-month planning phase. He said the company usually takes at least six months for new beer products.

“We rushed it a little because we saw the opportunity,” he said of being the first local hard seltzer. “We wanted to get it to market by January or February and work out the kinks afterwards.”  

Jeffries said there’s plenty of room in the local market for hard seltzers, noting the alcohol category is likely not a trend but a shift in drinking habits – particularly among younger generations.

Hard seltzer and other “seltzer-like” products had a market share of 2.6% of all U.S. beverage sales in 2019, up from 0.85% in 2018, according to a December report from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Consumer research firm Nielsen noted hard seltzer sales exceeded $1.3 billion for the 52-week period ending Nov. 2, 2019, and it predicts the number of companies in the market to double in 2020.

Once the Ready Hard Seltzer is released in early March, Jeffries said Mother’s Brewing would distribute throughout Missouri. Future expansion of the product, priced at $8.49 per six-pack, is under consideration in Arkansas and Kansas, he added.

Shimeall said most retailers are selling a six-pack of Basic Batch for $8.99, while 4 by 4 Brewing offers the drink on tap for $5 a pint at its brewery, 2811 E. Galloway St., Ste. A. Several Springfield-area bars and restaurants, including Bricktown Brewery and Best of Luck Beer Hall, also serve the 4 by 4 seltzer.

After a few weeks of serving Basic Batch at 4 by 4, Shimeall said he’s been surprised so far by the early audience – he assumed it’d be around 80% women. “We’re seeing a broad mix of males and females,” he said, noting men represent 40% of the seltzer purchases at the brewery.

Overall sales have been brisk, Shimeall added. The brewery initially supplied retailers with 400 cases, for $36 per case – and the stores report only 50 cases left after three weeks of sales.  “That far exceeds what we expected,” he said.

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