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Beer Milkshakes—the Latest Weapon in the Burger Wars

Tuesday, 11 Sep 2012 | 1:06 PM ET
Samuel Adams Octoberfest milkshake
Courtesy of Red Robin
Samuel Adams Octoberfest milkshake

Hamburger chains are hoping to capture a piece of the craft beer momentum.

Smashburger, which opened its first restaurant in Colorado in 2007 and now operates 160 locations in 27 states, is rolling out burger-and-beer pairings in its Colorado restaurants.

The burger chain has long carried beer and wine in its restaurants but is now taking things a step further. It is partnering with fellow Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing, the No. 3 craft brewer in the U.S. to offer suggested pairings for some of its menu items.

According to Westword.com, the Smashburger menu will highlight seven burgers and two chicken sandwiches that have been paired specifically with five different New Belgium beers.

The company hopes to introduce the "burgers and beers" concept in locations in other states, including Illinois, where it has partnered with Chicago's Goose Island Brewing.

Smashburger founder Tom Ryan tells the Denver Post that he estimates three to five percent of Smashburger's revenue comes from beer sales. While it may be a small amount, he sees better beer options as a "tiebreaker" for diners choosing burger chains.

Also looking to ride the craft beer wave is Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. It is relieving craft beer lovers of the need to choose between a cold beer or a milkshake with their meal, as they can now have both in one.

The company, which operates more than 460 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, is partnering with the Boston Beer to offer Samuel Adams Octoberfest Milkshakes through early November.

bbq, bacon, and cheddar
Photo: smashburger.com
bbq, bacon, and cheddar

"Nothing says Oktoberfest like a beer, so I incorporated the fun spirit of Red Robin into this innovative milkshake" says Donna Ruch, master mixologist with Red Robin. (Read More:Nein! German Group Protests Oktoberfest Prices)

SmashBurger and Red Robin aren't the first hamburger chains to want to hop aboard the beer bandwagon.

Sonic Burgersells beer at two locations in Miami and in 2010 Burger King announced plans to sell beer at select locations called Whopper Bars.

But acquiring liquor licenses has proven problematic for Burger King in Florida and New York, the first states to roll out the Whopper Bar concept.

Burger King is litigating the liquor license issue in Florida but says it has given up plans to sell beer in its New York City Whopper Bar.

-By Tom Rotunno, CNBC Senior Editor

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Tom Rotunno on Twitter @tomrotunno.

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