Insights into ​Making & Marketing Great Seltzers​, RTDs

Sara Gottleib​ and the Bale Breaker crew​ knew that the ​consumer ​market was shifting and ​the Yakima, Washington company wanted to continue to reach new customers​.

“But we also wanted to hold tightly onto the quality of our product​,” said the brewery’s Marketing Manager. “Realistically, we just didn’t want to put anything out into the market that we ourselves wouldn’t drink​.”

So ​Bale Breaker — along with many breweries across the country — have started to spend​ time in R&D ​finding new ways to attract a promiscuous audience of drinkers that isn’t always beer-centric anymore.

“The seltzer customer is really twofold for us,” Gottleib said. “There’s the existing Bale Breaker customer, who enjoys having a seltzer now and again. Then there’s a totally new, unique customer that hasn’t really delved into Bale Breaker at all in the past, and YOXI is a starting point there.”

In 2021 Bale Breaker rolled out YOXI, a line of craft hard seltzers.

“We started with one variety — Lime Agave Ranch Water, a play on the West Texas cocktail — and have since expanded to four flavors via a Variety Pack now available in stores throughout Washington, Idaho, and Oregon,” Gottleib said.

Across the ocean in Hawaii, Maui was in the same boat. Director of Marketing, Marsha Hansen, told Brewer that CEO Garrett Marrero is constantly challenging the MBC team to develop new product offerings and make them outstanding. That led to the idea of Ready to Drink cocktails from the brand.

“We had been interested in developing spirits well before launching in 2019, but we wanted to come out strong with our Kupu Spirits brand,” Hansen said. They initially launched with three varietals of RTD cocktails: Whiskey Cola, Whiskey Ginger, and Gin & Tonic. Now with bottled spirits including Whiskey, Gin, and Amaro, the restaurants are not only serving up craft cocktails, but they’re also doing quite well with “Kupu Sloshies” – frozen concoctions with local flavor profiles.

Hansen said the brewery also came out with its first hard seltzer in the fall of the same year with the deadline of launching it during the Xterra World Championships held on the island of Maui.

“At the time, we were developing a POG (passion fruit, orange, guava) flavor profile,” she said. “With only that single flavor at the time, we were poised to enter the market with a local hit.

“Over the following months, the team developed flavor profiles using Dragon Fruit, Citrus, Acai, and last year came out with Lemonade. All of these have become fan favorites, especially during the pandemic.”

For Hansen, flavor, nutritional stats, and price make a great hard seltzer.

“The team makes an excellent product — in fact, I’ve had more Citrus Seltzer in my home kegerator than beer over the past year and a half,” she said.

Consumers must agree, as demand has pushed Maui out of stock throughout the past year so much so that Hansen said they needed to partner with a co-packager in Colorado (Sleeping Giant Brewing) to supply the mainland with seltzer and core beers.

“That change allows us to be more price-competitive because our freight costs from Hawaii are outrageous,” she said. Additionally, the company has invested in a completely new canning line that will maximize production capabilities in Hawaii by September of 2022.

​For Bale Breaker, ​Gottleib said ​a great hard seltzer is crisp, flavorful, and made with real ingredients.

​“​Unfortunately, most commercial seltzers are fermented hot and fast in a process which doesn’t support healthy yeast physiology; then, they’re pumped through a carbon filter to remove any (usually unpleasant) yeast flavors and any remaining color​,” she said. “Those filters are very expensive, create waste in the filtration process, and create a flavor profile that we honestly don’t like with boozy, artificial notes.​“​

As ​a craft ​brewery, Gottleib said they are used to reusing ​brewers​ yeast up to 20 times per pitch and ​she said the brew team has lots of knowledge about how to support yeast health, reducing bad flavors, and increase positive flavors in the process.

​“​Our hard seltzer philosophy is to create clean, dry seltzers by optimizing yeast health and to use real fruit and pectin enzymes to make them crisp​,” she explained. “Then, we might add in herbs for flavor or color.​“​

All of ​Bale Breaker’s seltzers use a centrifuge instead of a filter to remove yeast so that the seltzer is clear with a hint of color but has all the flavor from real ingredients.​“​

Since the YOXI experiment, ​Bale Breaker has also expanded to a whole new world – cannabis seltzers. ​The brewery ​started a secondary company​ — ​Sungaze Cannabis Company​ —​ partnering with an established cannabis brand in ​the Yakima area​, Painted Rooster.

“Right now these seltzers are available in select dispensaries around the state​,” Gottleib said. “We’d love to be able to sell these in grocery stores in the future, but know that may be a long road.​“​

Outside-the-Box Thinking

The development process for ​Bale Breaker’s seltzer flavors was ​​very collaborative, incorporating ideas and feedback from ​the whole staff​. It especially ​leaned on the taproom crew who ​Gottleib said ​are the real seltzer drinkers in the brewery​.

“We started with an open ideas session where anyone on our staff could mix and match a neutral seltzer base spiked with individual natural flavors to create their own flavor combinations and then ran those through our sensory panel to see which flavors were best liked​,” she explained.

​​Some of ​the favorite variety pack flavors — including Spicy Mango and Strawberry Citrus —​ came out of ​that collaborative process.

​“​We also collaborated with Callison’s, the folks who make our natural flavorings, to develop some new flavors that are integral to our variety packs​,” she said. ​

Maui’s overarching marketing strategy is focused on the full portfolio of brands, or as Hansen said they call it, ‘the Brand ‘Ohana’ (brand family).’

“The more visibility we have on one product, the more the sales team is typically able to introduce another product in order to gain additional handles and/or shelf space,” she said. “We’re fortunate to be able to include our beautiful surroundings as well as highlight UGC for our social posts.

“That doesn’t downplay the valiant efforts from our Marketing Coordinator on social media, in videos and photography, and limited advertising that we create.”

There’s a handful of ways ​Bale Breaker has been hitting new customer​s, including influencer marketing​.

“It has been a big one for us, working with influencers outside of the beer marketing space​,” she said, saying these people often have a larger​ — ​often younger​ —​ and more female-leaning following.

​“​We’ve also relied heavily on our taprooms to introduce existing Bale Breaker fans to YOXI​,” she said. “We have ​one​ tap handle at both taprooms always dedicated to a rotating flavor of YOXI, to give customers a chance to try the flavor before jumping into the Variety Pack.

​“​The fact that our YOXI release coincided with us opening a new Seattle taproom has definitely been a plus.​“

Photo Courtesy Bale Breaker Brewing

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