Craft Brew Alliance Launches Square Mile Cider Company

An apple a day couldn’t keep Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) away from the cider business.

CBA – which already markets the Kona Brewing, Redhook Brewery, Widmer Brothers Brewing and Omission beer brands – today announced the launch of Square Mile Cider Company.

Square Mile, according to CBA, will test-market two products – The Original and Spur and Vine – across California, Oregon and Washington beginning on May 6.

Andy Thomas, CBA’s president of commercial operations, said the introduction of Square Mile highlights the continuation of a broader portfolio strategy centered around offering consumers more choice.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but occasion-based segmentation and thinking leads you to understand that today’s consumers drink across beer, wine and spirits categories,” he said. “Beverages that help them span that bridge, like cider, help keep us from losing occasions.”

Since joining CBA in 2011, Thomas has helped to launch the company’s first gluten-free beer, Omission, and repositioned its Redhook and Widmer Brothers brands to better reflect their place in the market.

“Consumers are looking at what will make them the most satisfied during each occasion,” he said. “The timing is right to be looking at different beverage categories.”

CBA isn’t the only company to recognize an uptick in consumer demand for cider. Last December, C&C Group — the maker of Magner’s and Hornsby’s — finalized a $305 million acquisition of Woodchuck Cider maker, Vermont Hard Cider Company. Last April, Boston Beer Company (BBC) rolled out its Angry Orchard cider line nationwide, a decision which helped contribute to BBC’s 12 percent depletion growth in 2012. And last February, MillerCoors purchased Crispin Cider through its craft and import division, Tenth and Blake.

Although cider volume only makes up less than 1 percent of the total U.S. beer market, growth is promising. According to Symphony IRI, dollar sales were up 84.5 percent across all multi-outlet and convenience retail channels in 2012. And while the category only generated an estimated $450 million of retail sales in 2011, Thomas said that similarities between cider and craft beer are what drew his attention.

“As we continue to fight for tap handles in bars, we are increasingly fighting for spots with cider,” he said.

Thomas highlighted other similarities, such as the craft beer consumer’s familiarity with cider and cider packaging, as well as CBA’s ability to activate the Anheuser-Busch distribution system as key factors in the decision to launch Square Mile.

Lorin Gelfand, CBA’s manager of innovation and emerging brands, said that the ciders are fermented with lager beer yeast and then blended with apple and pear juices to create a finished product that is sweet-tasting. He described The Original as a more classic American hard cider while Spur and Vine, which is dry-hopped with the Galaxy hop varietal, is more experimental.

Both products are 6.7 percent ABV and made with three apple varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest. Square Mile ciders will be made available on draft and in 22 oz. bottles for a suggested retail price of $6.99.

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