Taco Bell is set to debut its first ever branded beer in Southern California, the result of a collaboration with Four Sons Brewing of Huntington, Beach. As the OC Register explains:
“Dubbed Beach Bell, the Mexican-style amber lager was developed with a ‘unique flavor profile to enhance and complement Taco Bell’s food and flavors.’” The beer, a 300-gallon batch, all kegged, is exclusive to the fast food chain’s Newport Beach Cantina, which just opened today.
This isn’t entirely new terrain for the fast food giant, as it began serving booze back in 2015, helping to kickstart the trend of other casual eateries like Chipotle and Pizza Hut adding alcohol to their arsenal. (The latter, in fact, is experimenting with delivery.) Furthermore, this isn’t the first time such an establishment has partnered with a craft brewery to produce a house libation. Indeed, this news is blessed upon us just more than two months after Dunkin’ Donuts made a similar announcement, introducing Dunkin’ Punkin’ Brown Ale, its own house brew concocted by North Carolina’s Catawba Brewing.
So, what to make of this? Fast casual restaurants are dealing with relatively flat traffic, according to a recent report from the market research firm NPD, and certainly partnerships like this can work to excite local demographics and bring in new diners, if on a hyper local level. Similarly, Four Sons will be afforded the opportunity to reach a new audience while basically owning a restaurant’s beer menu, a rare luxury for a small producer. Deven Dufresne, one of the eponymous four sons in charge of sales and operations, says as much when reached by GBH.
“It’s giving us a chance to reach non-craft beer drinkers,” he says. “Taco Bell is not known for beer, let alone craft beer. That’s what intrigued us originally, trying to reach a new audience who otherwise would not have known about our brand.”
Dufresne says the partnership came together when the fast food company approached his team and explained its own vision for the cantina, which he says is designed to appear a little more upscale than the typical establishments. Whether they continue making the beer for the chain is yet to be determined.
"They wanted to see the feedback of pairing a local brewery with one of their cantinas,” Dufresne elaborates. “We don’t do too many collaborations, but we were interested in the concept and we did a lot of tastings with their team."
All that said, we’d be remiss not point out that a beer made “to enhance and complement Taco Bell’s food and flavors” is, uh, kinda contradictory to this whole thing most craft producers are trying to accomplish. This isn’t lost on Four Sons, either. Asked about the general discrepancy between the respective reputations of fast food and craft beer, Dufresne emphasized the company was interested in the arrangement because, as mentioned above, the cantinas are designed to be a little more upscale (though the food is that which you know and love), and further because of the opportunity to reach, and perhaps convert, new drinkers.
Still though, it’s difficult to ignore that these kinds of partnerships—whether Catawba with Dunkin’ or Four Sons with Taco Bell—are a bit of a headwind in the face of the craft beer industry’s purported foundation of offering a better, more considered, and thoughtful product. Then again, Dufresne speaks of his company’s Taco Bell beer with the same care any other small brewer talks about the products they labor over. Indeed, Pliny the Elder himself could tattoo a pair of golden arches on his ass, and we’d be here just the same. It’s worth acknowledging, though, because the industry self-defines as a small group of Spartans fighting the good fight against a world army directed by hegemony. So perhaps it’s time to reconcile with the fact that, in craft beer, most folks are just trying Live Mas in whichever ways they can.