Would You Like Some Biscuits With That Beer?

The once simple landscape for beer selection has become a cornucopia of options, and these days you can't toss a crushed beer can without hitting an esoteric microbrewery. Despite the increase in selection, a substantial number of beer drinkers have migrated to wine and hard liquor, and this fact is making beer manufacturers nervous and forcing them to innovate.

More variety in alcoholic beverages
In response, Molson Coors (NYS: TAP) announced its new beer, called Coors Light Iced T. Coors CEO Peter Swinburn was quite clear about the market being targeted: beer drinkers, sure, but mostly those who "don't normally drink beers, for whatever reason."

Brewers are pushing back against a trend that caused a decrease in beer shipments of 1.5% in 2011, with a similarly dim outlook for this year. All is not doom and gloom, however. Boston Beer (NYS: SAM) reported especially bubbly revenue numbers for the fourth quarter, a successful price increase, and increased shipments. The brewer of Sam Adams beer also sports many flavors and varieties of its basic brew, with its own tea-tinged offering, Twisted Tea, as well as seasonal beers helping to boost its bottom line.

What other flavors can we expect to sample in the near future? Cider drinks are a growth industry according to the LA Times, with sales that have increased over 20% in the past year. Anheuser-Busch (NYS: BUD) will soon roll out a hard cider named Evolve, and Molson Coors recently purchased Crispin Cider, which Swinburn feels will expand the company's offerings to a wider consumer base.

Interestingly, another Anheuser-Busch offering has helped prop up its sales so far this year: Bud Light Platinum. MillerCoors CEO Tom Long said that the joint partnership between Molson Coors and SABMiller must put more effort into "renovating premium lights." The industry is obviously concentrating on the light beer segment, in addition to new flavor concoctions.

Melding the two issues, Anheuser-Busch is currently testing a new brew called Bud Light-A-Rita, hoping to market the product by summer. The brew tastes like a margarita, and here's the kicker: an alcohol content of 6% or 8%, just in time for those lazy days of summer.

Tea for two...or a kick in the can?
Unfortunately, Coors Light Iced T will be marketed only in Canada, at least for the time being. If our neighbors to the north give it the thumbs-up, maybe we imbibers here in the U.S. will get our turn, as company representatives have hinted. In the meantime, there are other tea and beer combo drinks to try, and Anheuser-Busch will toss another one our way come April. The Michelob-branded beer, called Ultra 19th Hole Light Tea and Lemonade, should certainly have enough going on to keep our taste buds busy until the Coors beer passes the taste test up north. Just remember to extend that pinkie as you bend your elbow.

The niche aspect of these beverages won't make them serious bottom line movers, at least not yet. They may help recover lost ground on volume, but in the meantime I wouldn't throw a lot of money behind the idea, especially with people migrating toward liquors and wines.

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