Boston, MA– For many people, marrying two singularly New England brands would seem like a match made in heaven—particularly if that marriage was consummated with alcohol. And in theory, that match should work. Not only would it work, but in the case of the Harpoon Brewery and Polar Beverages collaboration, it would produce dozens of hopped up little babies finding their way from the refrigerator door into your happily sated stomachs.
There’s just one problem. That marriage would be a flavored malt beverage.
If you can’t (or would simply prefer not to) remember the trend of flavored malt beverages from earlier in the last decade, it was a marketing push on behalf of some of the most terminally bored ad executives from liquor distributors to unveil what could only be described as ponderously surreal concoctions on an unsuspecting American public who were looking for an alternative to Friday nights with a 40 of Olde English malt liquor. And it sold. It trended. In the most outlandish manner available. And then… it fizzled. And while there’s no doubt that you can still find cans of Lime-A-Rita in some of the finest liquor stores in your neighborhood, the flavored malt beverage still stands as a mute testimony to overzealous marketing ambitions, changing tastes and the fact that they were, quite literally, undrinkable.
Harpoon Brewery and Worcester’s Polar Beverages are hoping to change that perception.
The companies are teaming up to produce their own variation on flavored malt beverages in what may be a bold business move for the two entities. The hard seltzer, known as Arctic Summer, will consist of four flavors—Ruby Red Grapefruit, Pineapple Pomelo, Raspberry Lime, and Black Cherry—and is scheduled for a test run in the Northeast and New England markets by late May.
“We had an opportunity to work with the leading seltzer brand in our market,” Harpoon CEO Dan Kenary told Brewbound earlier this month. “We are using their flavors in these seltzers, and they will be more highly carbonated—something that Polar is known for.”
“There is an opportunity for branding, and it is going to be about flavor and story,” he continued. “We believe people will give it a shot because they really like Polar, and that is what will allow us to be successful.”
While the market for flavored malt beverages faded out just as quickly as it crept into public consciousness, that doesn’t appear to be the case with spiked seltzer. According to the Wall Street Journal, domestic sales of hard seltzer in 2018 totaled $295 million for the year ending July 14, up from $106 million the previous year, and only $11 million two years ago.
“For anyone who works in the alcohol beverage category, if you’re not seeing what’s happening in the non-alcoholic space, then you’re not ready for consumer trends when they happen,” pointed out Wachusett Brewing Company president Christian McMahan to beer blog Good Beer Hunting last year. “Based on what you hear, learn, and see, there are implications to other categories and what we should think about.”
“We are beer people to our bones,” said Kenary. “But we started paying closer attention to the space about two years ago when all of a sudden our kids and friends were talking about hard seltzer and bringing it to parties.”