Everywhere Debbie Tracy turned, people were talking about Not Your Father’s Root Beer, so she set out to find it.
Her first stop was Premier Gourmet in Amherst, but they were sold out. She called three different Wegmans stores, two Tops stores and Consumer’s Beverages’ headquarters with no success.
“Finally I made one last call to Tops on Harlem Road,” she said. “They had it and saved it for me.”
But since she is donating the drink to a charity golf tournament, she hasn’t been able to try it herself, and the suspense is killing her.
“I hear it’s delish,” the Amherst resident said.
The sweet-as-candy hard root beer hit the Western New York market for the first time early last month and has had consumers buzzing about it ever since. Its soda pop taste hides a high alcohol content of 5.9 percent. It’s even sometimes served over ice cream as a root beer float.
And it’s selling like mad.
“We’re getting in trailer load on top of trailer load and we can’t keep it on the shelves,” said Brad Menza, marketing manager at Consumer’s Beverages. “It’s going right from our trucks into people’s shopping carts.”
Menza said the store is considering putting a per-person limit on purchases, because people are buying several cases of six-packs at a time and it can only stock the shelves as quickly as the brewery can produce the beer.
“It’s definitely the hottest drink of the summer,” he said. “As soon as we get more in, it will be gone within 48 hours.”
Tops Markets is working hard to keep it in stock, too. Tops beverage manager Bill Steggs said the product has had “an unprecedented product launch.”
Wegmans is trying to keep up, too, despite limited supply. Its store on Amherst Street sold out within hours Monday.
“I can tell you that in every market where we have stores, this product has been a huge seller. It has been selling out as fast as it hits the shelves for the past few weeks,” said Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokeswoman.
Dash’s Markets was one of the first grocery stores in the market to order the product, which is distributed by Certo Brothers.
“We sent the samples home with some of our employees and the feedback was so good we committed to it before we even tried it ourselves,” said Mark Mahoney, Dash’s director of operations.
The company’s stores get calls about the product all the time.
“I was just at the Colvin store. A woman asked for it and she said, ‘I want to buy every single thing you have in stock right now,’ ” Mahoney said.
It’s also a popular drink at bars, such as the Century Grill on Pearl Street.
“It tastes like birch beer, and there’s just a little bit of alcohol taste in the finish,” said owner Kelly DiDomenico. “It’s yummy.”
Not Your Father’s Root Beer is popular among non-beer drinkers and beer drinkers alike. It has a 96 rating from Beer Advocate, which, on its scale of 100, classifies it as a “world-class” beer.
It is brewed in the spirit of the gruit tradition, which was a way of flavoring and bittering beer before the widespread use of hops. It’s spiced with wintergreen, sassafras bark, oak, vanilla and anise.
Originally brewed by Chicago-based Small Town Brewery, it is now contract brewed in Wisconsin. It recently expanded its distribution from eight states to 30, and partnered with Pabst Brewing Co. in March to keep up with its sky-high demand and rollout nationwide.
Small Town has two other varieties of Not Your Father’s Root Beer, which have alcohol contents of 10.7 percent and 19.5 percent, but they are not yet available here. Both scored 98 ratings from Beer Advocate.
Hard root beer is not new. It was a popular drink in the 18th century before falling out of favor and virtually disappearing. But if the early success of its reintroduction is any indication, it’s about to see a tremendous renaissance.
“This is going to be the start of a whole new category, like the hard tea and the hard cider,” Mahoney said.
Indeed, Boston Beer, which is known for producing such “malternatives” as Angry Orchard and Twisted Tea is getting ready to launch Coney Island hard root beer, and Berghoff Beer will release Rowdy Root Beer in the Chicago region where Small Town Brewery got its start. Sprecher Brewery in Milwaukee also brews a variety of hard root beer.
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