Flavored malt beverages (FMB) are in the spotlight this summer in the US, thanks in part to the popularity of hard seltzer brands like White Claw and Truly. And hard teas are another FMB variety finding recent warm weather success.
FMBs come from a malt base, like beer, but is then treated, stripped, sweetened and flavored. It's been a popular alcohol category in the US since the 1990s with the success of 'winecooler' drinks like Smirnoff Ice and Mike's Hard Lemonade. Today hard seltzers and teas are considered FMBs, though hard cider is not.
Building off the success of seltzer
Boston Beer has been a major player in alcohol for 35 years, owning and partnering with leading brands like Samuel Adams and Angry Orchard Hard Cider. But despite the name, the company has always boasted a diverse portfolio of drinks, including beer and hard cider, seltzer, tea and kombucha.
Wild Leaf Craft Hard Tea is its latest project, and second alcoholic tea brand that launched early this year. Boston Beer already owns Twisted Tea, which has been the category leader of hard teas in the US since it launched in 2001.
In 2018, Nielsen reported that Twisted Tea now accounts for 33% of all Boston Beer sales, up from 23% in 2015. It overtook Samuel Adams' share, down to just 27% from 2015's 42%. And while Truly had no presence in 2015, it was up to 13% of company sales in 2018.
The new Wild Leaf brand is designed to appeal to more health-conscious consumers that have been gravitating to hard seltzers in the last few years, which tend to be low-sugar and low-carb. A 12oz bottle of Wild Leaf contains 11g of sugar compared to 24g in Twisted Tea.
Nutrition Facts per 12oz
Wild Leaf: 130 calories, 11g sugar, 12g carbs, 4.5% ABV
Twisted Tea: 204 calories, 25g sugar, 29g carbs, 5% ABV
Boston Beer sources the Wild Leaf tea from Argentina, which it says is “widely recognized as some of the best in the world due to the unique climate where it grows.”
“Given the warm, subtropical conditions in the Argentinian rainforest, tea from the region produces a lighter, crisper and cleaner taste,” Boston Beer told BeverageDaily.
Wild Leaf launches first with two flavors, Black Tea with Lemon & Honeysuckle and Green Tea with Apple & Honey, and Boston Beer anticipates more flavor innovations in the future. It said that its beer alternative products have seen steady growth, and that hard tea could be the next major FMB category.
“We developed these two flavors with a hint of real fruit for a balanced, bright taste that complements the crisp tea,” the company said.
“Brightened by fruits and aromatics, we found Lemon & Honeysuckle and Apple & Honey were combinations that delivered the refreshing profile and subtle sweetness we were looking for.”
Appealing to more tea drinkers
Boston Beer has a wide flavor range in the Twisted Tea brand, including Original Lemon, Blueberry, Peach, Mango, Huckleberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Light and Half & Half.
The hard tea industry in the US is not nearly as saturated as hard seltzers and ciders, but Boston Beer has faced competition from discontinued brands Best Damn Iced Tea and Not Your Mom's Iced Tea.
Vrai Green Tea, Noveltea and Grip It & Sip It all produce a similar alcoholic tea beverage, but not near the scale of Twisted Tea. Boston Beer is hoping this expansion will help broaden the market.
“This is an additional option within the hard tea category that we believe will bring even more drinkers into the space,” the company said.
“While Twisted Tea remains the number one hard tea in the US, what makes Wild Leaf stand apart and what will appeal to new drinkers is that this hard tea has a lighter taste and is slightly less sweet.”
Last month Boston Beer released its second quarter financials, revealing a 16% revenue increase year-over-year. It attributed the success to Twisted Tea’s consistent double-digit volume growth, and to Truly, saying the hard seltzer brand “continues to grow beyond [its] expectations.”