As the head of product development at Boston Beer, Annette Fritsch has been instrumental in the creation of brands such as Truly, a juggernaut in the hard seltzer category. Now, she's hoping her next big success will come from an idea spotted nearly 4,000 miles away in Finland with a 60-year-old citrus drink largely unknown to U.S. consumers.
"We're always looking to do the next Truly — I mean, who wouldn't want to get the next Truly?" said Fritsch, who joined the maker of Sam Adams beer and Angry Orchard hard cider in 2010. "We have to keep ourselves innovative, excited, thinking of new ways to come into beverages, so that we're really hitting the drinker need."
Fritsch said Boston Beer's optimism for the new offering it has branded as Bevy Long Drink comes from the accessibility and unique beverage experience it provides: the easy drinking of a cocktail with the sweet taste and refreshing finish of hard seltzer.
As drinking habits shift away from going out for a beer to finding a drink that fits a particular occasion, Fritsch said Boston Beer "had to start evolving" and look for new offerings and drinking occasions it could tap into. Bevy, she said, "rose to the top."
"Bevy is really unique," she said. "It's not a beer. It's not a seltzer. It's really not even a cocktail because it kind of marries the gap. It's really different from ... anything else out there. I don't have any concerns about us gaining shelf space."
What's old is new again
The long drink's name comes from the fact that it typically has the same amount of liquor as a traditional cocktail but includes more mixer in a tall glass. The beverage traces its roots to the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki when Finland's government commissioned the creation of a refreshing pre-mixed cocktail for bartenders to serve visitors.
The beverage, which traditionally consists of gin and grapefruit soda, was so popular that production continued well after the Helsinki Olympics ended, but it was tightly regulated by the government for more than four decades. It wasn't until 1995 that officials relinquished their monopoly on long drinks, and breweries quickly capitalized by making their own.
Today, it is widely available on store shelves, bars and even at saunas in the European country, with grocery and liquor stores devoting whole sections to it. In 2020, an estimated 50.3 million liters (13.3 million gallons) of long drink were sold by breweries in Finland, according to Statista data, down slightly from the prior year but up nearly 25% from a decade earlier.
"Bevy is really unique. It's not a beer. It's not a seltzer. It's really not even a cocktail because it kind of marries the gap. It's really different from ... anything else out there."
Senior director of product development, Boston Beer
Boston Beer's Bevy takes a slightly different approach to make its long drink, eschewing the more traditional gin in favor of a malt base typically found in beer or a hard seltzer. Wild juniper berries add a subtle hint of the flavor typically provided by the gin. So far, it appears Bevy has been an early success, with Boston Beer expanding distribution of the long drink nationwide from the 20 markets it first launched in early November.
Alcohol beverage companies such as Boston Beer remain on the lookout for the next big drink as consumer preferences change — an evolution that has hit beer makers particularly hard as they cede share to other categories like spirits.
Even hard seltzer, which has been a key source of growth for large beer companies, has witnessed slowing sales. Boston Beer saw billions wiped off its market cap last year after it admitted to overestimating demand in the category. The space also is becoming populated with offerings that include spirits, putting further pressure on brands like Truly, White Claw and Bud Light Seltzer.
Adam Rogers, the North American research director at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, said promoting and using the name "long drink" is largely a marketing tool used by alcohol companies to attract consumers to an existing beverage rather than representing a new category or product. He noted the term encompasses other popular alcoholic beverages such as a highball, rum and cola, or Moscow Mule.
"As all things perceived to be new tend to achieve consumer trial while increasing awareness, we do see brands leveraging the 'long drink' marketing term with increasing popularity," Rogers said in an email.
One of the earliest U.S. companies to enter the space was The Long Drink Company, launched in 2018 by four friends: three from Finland and one from the U.S.
After noticing a market opportunity in the U.S., Mikael Taipale and the other founders — none of whom had expertise in beverages — created multiple iterations of their own long drink for friends to try in a blind taste test and compare with other versions on shelves in Finland. Just three and a half years after pitching The Finnish Long Drink to bars and liquor stores in New York City, the company is preparing for a nationwide rollout in 2022 at U.S. retailers including Walmart and Kroger.
"Initially people laughed at us. They're like, 'What do you mean it's a category? This is just your product," Taipale said. "The biggest pushback was that nobody's going to drink cocktails in a can or nobody's going to want this. But obviously we know now that everybody in the industry, I think all they're talking about is cocktails in a can and seltzer."
The rapid growth attracted the interest of celebrities, including actor Miles Teller and professional golfer Rickie Fowler, both of whom have joined the company as co-owners of the canned cocktail beverage. Last summer, The Long Drink closed a $25 million funding round led by existing investors and investment management firm Neuberger Berman.
Taipale downplayed the emergence of Boston Beer to the long drink market, noting the alcohol maker's interest only reinforces his company's belief that the U.S. was ripe for the category. Bevy, he said, also will draw attention to the nascent U.S. market and contribute to growth in the category. Still, Taipale said Boston Beer's use of a cheaper malt alcohol base instead of premium spirits doesn't make it a "real" long drink and only serves to mislead the consumer.
"I think it's great that there's other people seeing the potential of the category and seeing potential of the drink," he said. "We need to just make sure the consumer knows that it's not the real long drink, and it's sort of a cheap version trying to piggyback on the story."
In response, Boston Beer noted that Bevy Long Drink was inspired by Finland’s classic long drink cocktail and is "all about accessibility."