A lot of products have hit the market since Cheers launched as the premiere beverage business magazine for full-service restaurants and bars back in 1990. As part of our look back for our 25th anniversary, we have identified the top 20 beverage alcohol product launches of the past quarter century. Here they are.
When brewmaster Keith Villa unveiled Blue Moon in 1995, few American consumers were familiar with Belgian-style witbier. Beer back then was all about pale lager, primarily the light variety, and most craft brews were red or amber.
Made with barley malt, wheat and coriander, along with Valencia orange peel that gives the brew a slight sweetness, the unfiltered, cloudy Blue Moon was unlike anything most consumers had ever seen or tasted. Villa even had bartenders hang an orange slice on the glass to bring out the orange flavor; what it really brought out was curiosity, which generated me-too orders.
As part of MillerCoors’ craft beer division Tenth and Blake, Blue Moon has come under fire in recent years for not being a true “craft” beer. But the parent company’s marketing and distribution muscle did help make Blue Moon one of the best-selling beer brands in the U.S. More important, it exposed people to Belgian white and got them to try it, which paved the way for other beer styles and fueled the current craft brew boom.
Del Maguey mezcal (1995)
After discovering mezcal while traveling in Oaxaca, artist Ron Cooper founded Del Maguey 20 years ago to introduce consumers to the smoky flavors of the agave spirit and the region’s culture. The brand imports artisanal, single-village mezcals from a separate Oaxacan villages, so each has a unique character and flavor.
Mezcal wasn’t that widely available in the U.S. prior to the mid 1990s, and what was here was pretty rough. The spirit was also misunderstood: Many consumers didn’t know the difference between tequila and mezcal (tequila is technically a mezcal made specifically from the blue agave in select regions of Mexico). Worse, some believed mezcal contained mescaline and that the worm several low-end producers put in the bottle would make you hallucinate.
As the first higher-end mezcal brand in the U.S., Del Maguey helped change all that and repositioned the category from shooter to sipper. Cooper and Del Maguey deserve credit for making higher-end mezcal more popular and more widely available in the U.S.
A craft spirit before craft distilling was considered a good thing, Tito’s Handmade Vodka was ahead of its time as a small-batch, local-flavor offering. Founded by the appropriately named Bert “Tito” Beveridge, a former geophysicist, Austin-based Tito’s became Texas’ first legal distillery in 1997.
The six-times distilled brand, owned by Fifth Generation, has grown quickly in the crowded vodka market, racking up numerous awards along the way. Competitive pricing, strong word-of-mouth publicity and a good brand story further boosted sales. Tito’s further raised its profile when it became the exclusive vodka brand served on all United Airlines flights in 2013.
Production has shifted from the moonshiners-inspired still that Beveridge built himself in the 1990s. That’s brought some growing pains, namely recent lawsuits from consumers that challenge the brand’s “handmade” claim, given that it’s now selling more than 2 million cases a year.
The publicity from the lawsuits hasn’t seemed to slow Tito’s momentum much, plus similar lawsuits involving other beverage alcohol brands have been dismissed.