Beer Producers Are Betting This Will Be the Summer of Hard Tea

Is hard tea here to stay? Here’s what you need to know about this emerging category.

<p>Stateside Vodka / AriZona Hard / TWISTED TEA BREWING COMPANY / New Belgium Brewing</p>

Stateside Vodka / AriZona Hard / TWISTED TEA BREWING COMPANY / New Belgium Brewing

Americans have a fondness for sweet drinks that has long extended into the alcohol space. And while the Long Island Iced Tea has long held a unique place in the pantheon of cocktails aimed at the just-turned-21 crowd, as drinkers mature, many have shifted their attention to similar tasting but lower ABV hard iced tea.

Classified broadly as a flavored malt beverage (FMB), Twisted Tea has long been the best-selling hard iced tea in the country. It’s produced by Boston Beer Company, the group behind iconic beer brands like Samuel Adams and Dog Fish Head beers, Angry Orchard Ciders, and Truly Hard Seltzer, which is also an FMB.

While there’s seemingly endless competition in the hard seltzer and beer space, Twisted Tea was, for a long time, mostly alone in the hard tea category. But in recent years new entries have emerged, some from established beer makers, and some from well-known regular iced tea makers now dabbling in the booze business.

The new wealth of options on store shelves today has this shaping up to be a summer of hard tea.

“Some people just don't consider themselves beer drinkers, but they do like hard tea,” says Michelle Robertson, the senior brand manager for Voodoo Ranger, a brand under New Belgium Brewing Co., which is owned by Kirin Beverage Group in Japan. “So, it's just another way to reach new drinkers who are looking for something more in that FMB segment.”

Related: Which Hard Seltzers Are the Best?

Voodoo Ranger recently released its Hard Charged Tea, which has a higher ABV than Twisted Tea and others (7% ABV vs. 5% ABV), earlier this year, seeking to capitalize on the trend and earn a part of the growing segment. It released a few flavors including peach, half lemonade, and a razz pop, which aims to mimic the flavors of the classic red, white, and blue bomb pop.

“We identified the whitespace of Voodoo Ranger drinkers that love these drinks that are bold, refreshing, high ABV, and they are sometimes looking for something that's not a beer,” says Robertson. “And so that's why we're comfortable providing Hard Charged Tea to them. We've had this positive response, and we're going to continue having Hard Charged Tea nationwide, because we're definitely seeing the demand for it.”

Voodoo Ranger isn’t alone. Other breweries like Ohio’s Great Lakes Brewing Co. and New Jersey’s Cape May Brewing Co. have released their own hard teas. Familiar convenience store cooler brands like Lipton, Arizona, Dunkin’ have also partnered up with alcohol producers to create adult versions of familiar flavors, often just recreating already popular N/A offerings with added kick.

Related: Arizona Iced Tea Just Dropped a New Alcoholic Beverage

“With a little over a year under our belts, Lipton Hard Iced Tea sales numbers continue to exceed projections,” said Lisa Texido, brand director of Lipton Hard Iced Tea in a media release earlier this year. “With that, we wanted to deliver even more variety to consumers and knew that a Citrus Green Tea flavor made sense since it’s already Lipton’s top-selling flavor. The refreshing new flavor is made with real-brewed Lipton green tea as the base and amped up with 5% alcohol.”

An FMB often uses a base derived from malt or fermented sugar to create a neutral alcohol that can be flavored with whatever adjuncts a maker chooses. Many in the hard tea space will say it is brewed with “real tea” and “natural flavors” to achieve the desired flavor. Most hard teas are either lightly carbonated or lack carbonation.

Others on the FMB scene have opted instead to use distilled spirits. High Noon, known for their seltzers, has entered the space with its release of a vodka iced tea while Surfside, a relative new brand, has been making quick inroads by combining vodka with familiar flavors like peach and half and half.

Hard teas fit into many of the same drinking occasions as hard seltzers, like the beach and pool outings, tailgating, or even bar hangs. There’s a comfortable familiarity to them accompanied by a sugar kick that many crave.

Even as bigger players get into the space, there’s an opportunity for smaller producers to play with different teas and botanicals to create exciting and refreshing flavors that go beyond what is generally available now.

“The reason people, especially brewers are so interested in it is we are seeing it as a product that drinkers are gravitating towards,” says Robertson. “We've seen a lot of success from legacy brands like Twisted Tea that have built this category, and people are looking for a hard tea to drink. And there aren't a ton of players out in the space yet. And it's seeing growth so obviously it's an appealing category for brewers who are in the beer category, which isn't seeing quite as much growth especially craft beer.”

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