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Pabst has inspired a new hipster trend: hard soda

AP Photo/Johnny Clark
By Chase Purdy
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Big Beer is getting creative with the latest generation of drinkers.

There’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer (Pabst), Coney Island Hard Soda (Boston Beer), Best Damn Root Beer (Anheuser-Bush InBev), Henry’s Hard Soda (MillerCoors) and Seagram’s Hard Soda (Seagram’s). And the flavors are just as diverse: hard cherry cola, grape soda, lemon and lime, and orange cream soda—all of them spiked with alcohol.

Pabst Brewers, whose cheap, under-advertised Pabst Blue Ribbon beer gained a cult following among American hipsters over the past decade, was the first major company to introduce the product to consumers, a departure form the company’s usual territory of selling its regionalized beers, including Stroh’s (Michigan), Lone Star (Texas) and Old Milwaukee (Wisconsin).

Pabst’s hard soda is off to a good start.  In parts of New Jersey, people reportedly craved Pabst’s new hard sodas so much it was flying off shelves faster than stores could keep them stocked. One shop owner in Manahawkin, New Jersey told The Star-Ledger he had to limit customers to one six pack per day.

The company needs new wind in its sails. As more beer drinkers have acquired a taste for heftier (and pricier) craft brews, PBR’s sales growth has slowed. But Pabst’s hard soda is already facing stiff competition from other major companies piling onto the hard soda craze. The top nine alcoholic root beer brands accounted for more than $116 million in sales in 2015, and some analysts have said they expect that number could double in 2016.

Hard soda also isn’t likely to have the staying power of beer—its sales may peak and then decline, said Linda Montag, an analyst at Moody’s. That means Pabst will need to keep finding other niche areas to fuel growth. Luckily, hipsters always need something to show they’re staying on the edge.

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