Forget the frat boys: Keith’s and Coors are now trying to woo the wine-cooler crowd.
Two of Canada’s biggest breweries just came out with new drinks, and the launch parties were unusually elegant affairs. At one, a chef was hired to create perfectly paired canapés, cheeses, and sweets, while a sommelier named Zoltan led tipplers through the tasting; at another, guests were given gift bags generously stocked with the drink and several accessories—an ice scoop and bucket, fancy glassware, and amber flip-flops that matched the shade of the brew.
This time around, neither Alexander Keith’s nor Molson Coors are soliciting the 20-year-old frat boy. Instead, their newest beverages are designed to woo back the oenophiles and cocktail crowd. In March, Statistics Canada released a report confirming what commercial brewers already knew—that beer sales are down, again. In the last decade, beer’s market share has dropped from 52 to 45 per cent of liquor sales in Canada, while wine has shot up from 23 per cent. Spirits make up the remainder.
But to compete, commercial brewers aren’t launching high-alcohol brews that rival the best Barolo. They have in mind simple, sweeter drinks that resemble something closer to a wine cooler than a traditional beer.
In fact, one of these brews isn’t a beer at all. Alexander Keith’s, owned by Labatt, is looking to capitalize on Canadians’ thirst for cider—last year alone, Ontario cider sales were up 15 per cent. Alexander Keith’s Original Cider has a frothy white head with a green-apple Jolly Rancher nose. The sparkling cider starts out sweet and bubbly, then gives way to a citrus tang in the middle and a long, sweet, white wine–reminiscent finish. The drink is brilliant with fatty, barbecued pork.
Molson Coors also opted for a flavoured brew. To create Coors Light Iced T, brewmaster Steve Stradiotto spent three months travelling the world, studying tea and sampling lemons, before devising a few combinations he thought Coors Light drinkers would like. The final choice was made after 1,500 consumers tasted the results and chose their favourite.
And it’s not bad. On the nose, there’s lemon and peaches, and in the mouth it’s like drinking a lightly steeped, cold black tea with lemon and a little sugar. There’s barely a hint of the bready barley or bitter hops present in most beers, so beer nerds will probably hate this brew. But cottagers who want to sip something refreshing all day long without falling off the dock—and drinkers who tend to complain about the taste of beer—might just love it.
As for the sophisticated wine drinker or cocktail hound? “Whenever wine judges finish a long day of tasting, or a day out in the vineyard, we always reach for a beer or a cider—never wine,” says sommelier Zoltan Szabo, who headed the Keith’s launch. Canada’s big breweries are banking on the fact that, this summer, patio-worshipping Torontonians will do the same.
Beer and cheese? Food pairings for these two tipples
Coors iced T (from brewmaster Steve Stradiotto)
1. Snappy cheeses like provolone
2. Spicy Indian curries
3. Gingerbread cookies
Keith’s cider (from Elle Cuisine chef Lauren Mozer)
1. Aged cheddar
2. Chorizo sausage
3. Cinnamon ice cream
Alexander Keith’s Original Cider, $16/six bottles; Coors Light Iced T, $11.50/six bottles.