It all started in 2015: the summer of rosé. Fueled by warmer months and an Instagram-friendly hue, the berry-like style of wine took off. Though it was initially embraced by Millennials (hello, brosé!), rosé soon grew into a wide-ranging cultural phenomenon. Now, the beer industry is catching on.
Pink/blush wines, which make up most of the rosé market (along with what’s separately categorized as “premium-plus rosé”), accrued about $1 billion in sales last year, and while U.S. volumes are steadily rising—domestic rosé production expanded from 17.5 to 18.7 million cases between 2015–2018—it's also coming in strong from abroad. America's number of rosé imports is expected to hit 3 million cases next year, five times more than what was shipped a decade ago.
“Rosé is not a trend,” said Tyler Balliet, entrepreneur and owner of Rosé Mansion (a rosé-themed venue in New York), in a Fast Company article last year. “It’s an entirely new product category.”
Naturally, it was only a matter of time until this light, fruity style came for beer. Today, rosé-inspired beers are offering brewers—who may have previously experimented with beer-wine hybrids—a chance to jump into one of the fastest-growing alcohol sectors in the country. But like all new styles—if you want to call it that—Rosé Beer’s lasting impact is uncertain, and it’s unclear if it will have a longer lifespan than flash-in-the-pan, formerly trendy styles like Black IPA.
Brewery Ommegang is one of many to enter the category: its Saison Rosé blends oak-aged and hibiscus Saisons that are co-fermented with chardonnay grape juice. Firestone Walker’s Rosalie is also co-fermented with chardonnay and other wine grape varieties, and dyed with hibiscus. Victory Brewing Company, building off the success of its popular Golden Monkey Tripel, is among many breweries eyeing brand extensions as a way to innovate and stoke interest. The latest iteration in its growing Golden Monkey lineup is Rosé Monkey, which sees the flagship brand aged in chardonnay barrels with cherries.
Last year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company experimented with Roze (which "blurs the lines of what beer can be") before launching its new, nationwide seasonal last month: Saison de Rosé, brewed with grape must and hibiscus. Shiner, a company that has been treading water in recent years alongside other Gambrinus brands, also has a Rose Palé Ale.
The fact that these legacy breweries are all hopping on board this new fad raises the obvious question: is Rosé Beer innovative or just a way to move product? It's no secret that larger, longer-tenured breweries are having a tough time, and this kind of move allows them to expand their portfolios and make up for lost volume. Regardless of the underlying reasons, pursuing trends like Rosé Beer demonstrates good business sense for those in need of it most.
Older breweries with older brands are working to release new products at a fast pace, and with good reason: according to the Brewers Association, new brands accounted for 4.5% of all BA-defined craft beer volume in grocery, convenience, and other stores tracked by market research firm IRI in the first six months of 2019. That may not sound like a lot, but without those new releases, the BA-defined craft category as a whole would be down 2.8%. BA chief economist Bart Watson has also emphasized this; in an analysis of the first half of the year’s store sales, he wrote that “regional craft brewers have opportunities to introduce new brands, which they increasingly need to do to offset existing brands.”
Danny Oberle, production coordinator at Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, described his brewery's Sour Rosé (fermented in oak with raspberries and blueberries) to CraftBeer.com as "approachable" for a wide swath of drinkers. Others are more direct.
“It helps us go a little deeper into demographics as we’re especially marketing it to women,” Jacob Landry, founder and president of New Orleans' Urban South Brewery, says in the same story, adding that the company's Carpé Rosé cider/ale blend has an opportunity to reach new customers in Louisiana, and allows the brewery to focus sales efforts on its home turf. “If it looks like a beautiful rosé wine in a glass and comes across very wine-like on the palate, we can target some non-traditional craft beer drinkers.”
These beers aren't directly marketed to women, but Landry's sentiment does hit on the overdue trend of breweries looking beyond white, male customers. A recent survey by market research company Nielsen showed that in 2019, 31% of women consider themselves "craft beer drinkers" (consuming Brewers Associated-defined "craft" beer several times a year or more), up 6% from five years ago. But like any new style entry, Rosé Beer’s future impact remains to be seen.
Glancing at sales data from IRI, it's clear that 2019 is a year of experimentation for Rosé Beer. Florida's Grayton Beer Company (30A Rosé Gose), Calicraft Brewing Company (Rosé Ale), 21st Amendment Brewery (Sparkale Sparkling Rosé Ale), and plenty more have dipped their toes in the pink-hued water, but nothing is selling like gangbusters. For the most part, cider and hard seltzer have had the most success with rosé-inspired products, while many breweries have tucked Rosé Beers into their seasonal SKUs (the scan codes used to designate specific brands).
This is a particularly telling move, and echoes a phenomenon seen with another recent innovation: Brut IPA. For a moment in time, the dry, effervescent style seemed like the Next Big Thing. Breweries across the country quickly made their own takes on the Brut IPA, which was created by Kim Sturdavant, formerly of Social Kitchen and Brewery (you can listen to him talk about it in this GBH podcast).
But instead of behaving like the New England IPA, which experienced similar rocketing popularity on its way to becoming a mass phenomenon, Brut IPA stalled out. IRI data reveals that few actually ended up as standalone brands, and many breweries, including Sierra Nevada, ended up placing their Brut IPAs within their "seasonal" SKUs. One takeaway? There wasn't enough trust that the style would actually stick.
So far, there are only two true Rosé Beer success stories. Rhinegeist has easily led the pack with its Bubbles Rosé Ale, which was originally a cider (legally classified as a “fruit wine”), before evolving into a beer. Through July 21, it amassed $2 million in sales in IRI stores and also inspired a spin-off, Little Bubs. That brand extension has also been one the the most successful versions of this style. (Bubbles isn’t in the chart above because its dollar sales are so much higher than others it would skew the visuals of peer brands.)
Another leader is Karbach Brewing’s Daymaker Brut Rosé Ale, which made almost $460,000 through July 21 in IRI stores, about as much as Golden Road Brewing's Wolf Among Weeds IPA. Just eight brands crossed the $100,000 line in IRI sales through July 21.
From what can be seen from IRI, at least, Rosé Beer doesn’t seem like a guaranteed hit. But that doesn’t mean breweries won’t stop trying.
In a nod to two beer industry trends, Avery Brewing Company is releasing year-round Rocky Mountain Rosé this summer, taking inspiration from the wine as well as tapping into the “better-for-you” space. The beer checks all the boxes of what's seen as on-trend right now: it’s 100 calories, has three grams of carbohydrates, measures 4.4% ABV, and comes in 12oz cans, all “leading to the ‘crushability’ of the thing,” says Fred Rizzo, head brewer at Avery.
“As brewers, we love to drink wine outside of work and love rosés,” he says. “Obviously, it’s a market trend we weren’t ignoring, and we’re not the only ones jumping on this.”
What Rizzo feels separates Avery’s launch is the company’s history of beer-wine hybrids, though in the past they’ve almost entirely been barrel-aged. The brewery has been producing these kinds of beer for almost a decade, so using institutional knowledge related to co-fermentation proved helpful in honing the recipe. Over the years, many limited-release batches from Avery have included both grapes, like cabernet sauvignon and riesling, and wine barrels, both of which offer a way to intertwine the two beverages.
Rizzo and his team spent about three months dialing in ingredients and creating experimental batches. Their efforts yielded a pale ale (pale in terms of color, rather than the style, Pale Ale) made with two-row malt and wheat. For every barrel brewed, nearly three gallons of a white wine grape juice blend is used.
Avery is betting big on Rocky Mountain Rosé. The brewery produced 400 barrels for the first batch that went to market, which is about the same quantity that New Holland's Mad Hatter IPA or Allagash's Tripel Reserve sold in IRI-tracked stores through July 14. Market demand has the potential to move any final volume numbers for 2019, but “we’re ready for it to be a huge brand for us should it catch on,” Rizzo says, noting that the brewery has the potential to produce up to 2,000 BBLs through the end of the year. “We’re ready to make it as big as it wants to be.”
Should it reach that level, Avery’s entry into beer’s rosé race would immediately vault it into the top ranks among its stylistic peers. For context, selling 2,000 BBLs of Rocky Mountain Rosé would be roughly equivalent to what Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils and Ithaca Beer Company’s Flower Power IPA sold last year in IRI stores.
“Creating something like this gets you to stretch your legs a bit as a brewer, but this combo of beer and wine is a cool trend I hope sticks around,” Rizzo says.
Given that 2019 is the first year so many breweries have fully embraced all things rosé, the jury’s still out. But at this stage the market is still open, and lacks a true category leader. Karbach and Avery could soon be going head-to-head for that title with brands available beyond the spring and summer, although there’s no telling whether interest in the style will ultimately dry out.
For now, at least, it’s rosé all day.