As craft beer continues to disrupt the industry, established brands and new players are inventing fresh ways to delight customers. From cascara to cannabis, here’s what’s new in the beer world.
Guinness: Cascara & Beyond
Guinness has been around for 260 years—a heritage that’s unique in the beer industry. With its new Open Gate Brewery and Barrelhouse in Baltimore, the company is honoring its history and creating innovative recipes. Since the completed facility opened in August 2018, more than 280,000 visitors have come through its doors.
“What we’ve built here in Baltimore is pretty remarkable,” says Ryan Wagner, Guinness Brewery Ambassador. Only two of Guinness’ 50 breweries are dedicated to developing innovative, creative beers. “Our brewers are charged with really pushing the envelope,” says Wagner—both in terms of ingredients and brewing technique.
Open Gate’s seven brewers use two different brewing systems. One is a 100-hectoliter brewery, which produces Guinness Blonde for the entire United States. The innovation center is the smaller, 10-barrel brewhouse, which creates new beers featured in the tap room.
The brewers have experimented with a wide variety of beers, ranging from Dopplebock and Pilsner to sour styles like Gose. Guinness’s Gose is not a “true” Gose but uses sea salt and grapefruit, mimicking the greyhound cocktail.
Among his favorites, Wagner highlights “some of the things that blow you away because they’re so different.”
One example is a beer made with an unusual ingredient: cascara. Cascara is the fruity flesh surrounding the coffee seed (more commonly known as the coffee bean). Open Gate’s brewers added it to a Belgian triple and then barrel aged the beer. The new recipe was a hit at last year’s Great American Beer Festival.
“Then our brewers took cascara and took it a step further. They brewed a typical kettle sour, but added cascara,” says Wagner, explaining that this beer has the lightly lactic character expected of a sour, but with a fresh gardeny flavor and a hint of smoke. “Our cascara beer is one that I love introducing people to.
“When they try it for the first time, they’re not really sure what to make of it. They like it, but there’s so much going on in that glass. It really opens their eyes to what beer can be.”
Guinness has also produced an IPA with just 2.7% ABV that preserves an IPA’s characteristic aroma and body. Wagner notes that health-conscious beverages with lower calorie counts have become more popular. They’re compatible with what he calls “the spirit of the pub.” With a low alcohol beer, guests can extend their experience in a brewery, bar, or tap room, spending more time with family and friends.
Each staff member at Open Gate is trained to impart knowledge informally every time they serve a customer. The Open Gate has four different bars, including an outdoor space with a beer garden. Visitors can see the 10-barrel brewery and take a guided tour, which ends with a tasting of four beers: two classic Guinness beers, the Draft and the Blonde, and two innovative beers from the brewery. “We want people to feel like they’re getting a beer education every time they sit at the bar,” says Wagner.
HEINEKEN USA: Innovation
HEINEKEN® also makes a point to keep its brand fresh with new recipes. “Innovation is critical to driving consumption,” says Jenna Behrer, Vice President of Innovation and Activation at HEINEKEN USA.
Some of that innovation is inspired by craft beer. “Craft beer has certainly given a boost to the beer category and is driving consumer demand for authenticity, variety, and quality,” says Behrer. “HEINEKEN has put its focus over the years on these very principles, and so we welcome the renewed interest in beer and the heightened appreciation of great beer taste and premium quality.”
HEINEKEN has rolled out new beer products over the last several months. The Dos Equis Mexican Pale Ale debuted in 2018. “With unique citrus hops and a hint of spicy heat on the finish, Dos Equis MPA is a traditional Pale Ale with a Mexican twist,” says Behrer.
Another new beer is Tecate Titanium, which capitalizes on the growth of Mexican imports and the increased demand for higher-ABV products.
In keeping with the current interest in health and wellness, HEINEKEN also recently released Strongbow Hard Cider “100-Cal” slim cans, which come in a 12-can variety pack with three flavors: Rosé Apple, Original Dry, and Pear Secco.
Non-alcoholic beverages are also a trending product, influencing the development of Heineken® 0.0, an alcohol-free malt beverage with 69 calories per bottle. “The non-alcohol beer segment is growing globally,” says Behrer. “We’re getting out early with a premium product to satisfy consumers who appreciate beer taste and want a beer for occasions when they don’t want to consume alcohol.”
For bar owners, HEINEKEN offers various brand promotions that can engage customers and help sell more beer on-premise. They offer brand ambassador bar nights with product sampling, social media outreach, national sweepstakes, and soccer game viewing parties. HEINEKEN has also developed the Star Bar program, an educational program for bar owners and staff to help elevate quality and service, thus improving return on sales.
Cannabiniers: CBD & THC
No discussion of innovations in the beer market would be complete without a look at cannabis. Kevin Love, Vice President of Market Activations at Cannabiniers, joined the company to build its portfolio of brand-based cannabis products. Its brands include Just Society, a line of cannabis-infused coffees and teas; Baskin, which includes topical products; and Two Roots, its line of cannabis-infused beer.
Based in California, Cannabiniers is currently selling products in California and Nevada, with plans to expand nationally as it continues to scale its operations. The company forecasts rapidly growing demand for cannabis products. In Nevada, Cannabiniers owns a 70,000-square-foot cultivation as well as a 22,000-square-foot production facility, which it uses to manufacture its products sold at dispensaries across the state. The company has the top four bestselling edible cannabis products in Nevada. Cannabiniers’ 45,000-square-foot California facility is licensed for cultivation and production, with final approval for its dispensary license expected to follow shortly.
Under the Two Roots brand, Cannabiniers brews a variety of THC-infused beers, including lager, IPA, wheat, stout, and blonde ale. “We wanted to have a portfolio that was well-rounded,” explains Love, who says lager is a favorite beer of customers everywhere, while Californians love West Coast-style IPAs. “We look from a regional perspective at consumer preference. We want to ensure that we aren’t just providing one style of beer to consumers on a national level, when there are clearly distinguishable taste preferences in each sub-market.”
Per regulation by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), THC-infused beers are de-alcoholized. Two Roots beer is brewed in southern California and then treated with a vacuum-pressure de-alcoholization process. Love says the beer maintains its taste profile, including the top note flavor. “We’re maintaining and securing that flavor profile,” he says. “The most critical thing for us is that when the consumer drinks it, they truly believe there’s alcohol in it.”
Two Roots is a unique cannabis product in that it is sessionable. It offers customers a micro-dosage that allows them to understand how they’ll react to different levels of THC. “In the cannabis market right now, there isn’t a baselining opportunity because everything affects differently based upon the way it’s dosed,” says Love. “There’s not a standardized dosing mechanism.”
Other products on the market offer a heavier dosage such as 100 milligrams, meaning you can only realistically consume a single shot or beverage. In contrast, a can of Two Roots only has up to 5 milligrams per serving. “As you’re consuming it,” says Love, “you’re actually realizing where your benchmark is. You have maybe one the first time, you get an understanding of what it feels like. Then the next time, maybe you have three. That’s your benchmark.”
This allows for a more social drinking experience. “With Two Roots…you consume a couple at a time,” says Love. “You can be in a social environment.”
While individual customers can purchase Two Roots beers at various dispensaries across California and Nevada, the law currently does not allow for bars and restaurants to purchase and sell THC-infused beer.
“Legally, there’s a difference between consumption, and legality to possess and purchase,” emphasizes Love.
Many states are still working out how to regulate cannabis consumption in public spaces. Love compares it to alcohol: you can buy and consume alcohol at certain locations, but not consume it in the open.
Love expects that the next evolution of the industry will allow people to consume THC-infused beer in bars or restaurants. Some cities, such as West Hollywood, have even started awarding consumption licenses to hotels and event centers, in anticipation of state-level legalization of consumption. But for now, he says, “We err on the side of caution and don’t get involved with the presumption that it’s legal until there’s a hard and fast rule.”
However, bars that want to explore cannabis beer have another option: CBD-infused beer. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, so it is regulated differently. It is derived from industrial hemp, which was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Products containing CBD must still adhere to state-level regulations, as well as regulations under the TTB and, if the product is marketed for medicinal uses or is being put in food or drink, the FDA. (Note: As of press time, the FDA had recently held its first public hearing on CBD, and it is still working on regulations.) CBD-infused beer is not psychoactive, so it does not create the sensation of being high. However, like other CBD products sold for medicinal purposes, it is purported to have anti-inflammatory properties, and to help reduce anxiety and stress.
“People love the idea of CBD-infused beer,” says Love. “It’s a really powerful way to drive business.”
He also views it as an educational opportunity. Vendors who build trust with thoughtful and responsible CBD products will build their customer base for when THC becomes a retail option. Cannabiniers plans to bring CBD-infused beer to the market sometime this year.
By Emily Eckart
Photos (top to bottom): Guinness, HEINEKEN USA, Cannabiniers