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The latest entry into the flavored vodka arena: peanut butter and jelly.
While that might not be the vodka of choice for your next Bloody Mary, you have to admit you’re curious. That’s what marketers are counting on. Unusual flavors and packaging are helping companies in the alcoholic beverage market stand out in a saturated – so to speak – market. According to the latest data from the USDA Economic Research Service, consumers spent nearly $155 billionon alcoholic beverages in the U.S. in 2010.
So, with a little creative packaging and a lot of innovation, spirits manufacturers are expanding the market. CNBC.com spoke with the founders of some of the most novel start ups to uncover the inspiration behind their products.
Click ahead for some of the most unusual ways businesses are innovating in the world of alcohol.
By Jill Weinberger
Posted 14 May 2012
Price: $16.99 - $18.99 for a 30-pack
Availability: Mostly in Northeast, expanding
Beer pong is a game that has been played by college students for decades. The strategy is simple: One person lobs a pingpong ball toward a cup filled with beer. If it goes in, his opponent must drink the cup of beer in an elimination-style match.
Peter Weil had an “a-ha” moment when he saw customers buying beer and pingpong balls at a local shop. He packaged the two together, and Pong Beer— and a CEO — were born.
While college fraternities and dorm rooms may be the most popular places to see Beer Pong games, Weil says it is a “tradition that people hold on to,” and the game outlives its college years for many. Beer Pong is “instant brand awareness,” he says.
The beer, which comes in a 30-pack that includes two ping pong balls, was brought to market in 2011 and is currently available in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, with plans to expand.
Price: $7.99 - $8.49 for a 4-pack
Availability: 22 U.S. states, the UK, Poland, Malaysia and online
You’ll never be able to look at mom’s Jell-O mold the same way again after experiencing Suck and Blowshots.
Modeled on popular “Jell-O shooters” — gelatin cups that are filled with shots of liquor — these tubes have openings on both ends that allow two people to enjoy a single shot at one time. Why? Because, says Doug Hamer, president of SAB Enterprises, he thought, “it would be cool if two people could get together and do one shot.”
The process is easy: Fill the tube with your favorite beverage, then have one person suck the gelatin from one end, while another blows it toward them from the opposite end. The cleanup might be a little harder.
The company also sells empty tubes that customers can fill with their own favorite concoction. If there is need for inspiration, recipes are availableon the site.
The product is available in six flavors: cherry, wild berry, green apple, watermelon, grape and strawberry.
Price: $24.95 - $29.95
Availability: Coming to the U.S. this summer
This particular vodka may be harder to swallow for some: Every bottle comes with a real, edible scorpion.
Rodrigo Rodriguez, the creator and brand owner behind Skorppio Vodka, has been working with insects and alcoholic beverages for more than 30 years. His latest product came about after he discovered that scorpions are a delicacy in several cultures.
Rodriguez says the scorpion adds a “nutty” flavor to the vodka, and can be eaten straight from the bottle. And he offers a tip for those who have never eaten a scorpion: It’s best not to eat the stinger. Get rid of the stinger and save the rest to pan fry in olive oil with spices.
Skorppio Vodka is not yet available in the U.S., but there are plans for it to be released this summer, with a retail price of $24.95 - $29.95.
Price: $19.99 for a 6-pack; $29.99 for custom labels
Availability: Boutique pet shops throughout the U.S. and online
Jenny Brown, president and founder of Bowser Beer, was already selling her homemade pretzel treats for dogs at a pet expo when inspiration hit: "What goes well with pretzels?” she thought to herself. “Beer."
After observing the number of pet owners giving real beer to their dogs, which can cause health problems,she created an alternative beverage that’s dog-friendly.
Bowser Beer is nonalcoholic. It contains the same malt barley that's in beer, and also contains glucosamine for joint health. It comes in plastic bottles that resemble beer bottles. They look so realistic, says Brown, that some people drink it by accident. However, with one taste, you’ll realize these aren’t your typical beer flavors. The two flavors available are Cock-A-Doodle Brew(chicken) and Beefy Brown Ale(beef).
Who buys fake beer for their dogs? A lot of people, says Brown. "People love to celebrate with their pets. Many people will order them for parties, holidays, or as a treat for the dog.”
Animal-friendly beer may be something that we see more of. Other companies, like Dog Beerin Australia, and Lucky Dog Beerin Belgium, have also come out with their own versions of dog beer.
Price: $17.99 - $19.99 per bottle
Availability: All across the US
One night, Tracy Reinhardt decided to make herself a cocktail. She started with vodka, added a few other ingredients, and pretty soon, it looked like more of a kid’s drink than an adult beverage. She posted it on Facebook with the status "Tracy is enjoying some Adult Chocolate Milk."
The response? “Why didn’t I think of that,” and “I can't believe this wasn’t already done?” One of those people was her eventual partner in the new business. Together, they started bottling and distributing Adult Chocolate Milk.
Realizing that there was a demand for a product like this, she partnered with her friend Nikki Halbur, and started bottling and distributing it.
Adult Chocolate Milk is a 40-proof, cream-based recipe featuring the classic taste of chocolate milk and premium vodka, inspired from Reinhardt’s original mixture.
Reinhardt explains that it's like having a "bartender in a bottle." But if you have aspirations of being your own mixologist, the company offers several cocktail recipes. Halbur recommends “Hearts on Fire,” which contains adult chocolate milk, cinnamon whiskey, brandy and Swiss cinnamon schnapps.
The success of Adult Chocolate Milk has sparked Reinhardt and Halbur to explore other flavors from their childhoods. "The plan is to launch two new flavors every year," Halbur says. Their latest new flavor is Adult Limeade, which debuted in April.
Availability: Most of the U.S.
Tired of all the sugary and fruity vodkas out there (see the aforementioned peanut butter and jelly vodka), Sven Liden and two friends started experimenting with other flavors. After testing recipes for two years, they perfected Bakon Vodka.
The smoky flavored spirit taps into the current craze for all things bacon and livens up a basic Bloody Mary, giving it “a whole new element,” says Liden.
And the judges have been won over. It earned a Gold Medalat the Beverage Testing Institute's International Spirits Competition, and was named a "Publisher's Pick"by Tasting Panel Magazine.
Price: Ron de Jeremy Reserva $29.99; Ron de Jeremy Spiced $15.99
Availability: In Florida, Southern California, Tennessee, New York, and in select countries
It is easy to recognize the familiar face on Ron de Jeremy rum products,although you are likely to associate “The Hedgehog’s” likeness with another industry.
While the packaging and marketing play on Jeremy’s career in the adult film industry — the rum is described as having a long smooth taste, which can be sipped naked or on the rocks — what’s inside the bottle is more along the lines of the art house hit.
Ron de Jeremy Reserva was nominated as the best new Golden Rum in the 2011 U.K. Rumfest Golden Rum Barrel Awards and was named among the Huffington Post’s Best New Spirits of 2011.
Of course, if you’re going to have Jeremy as the face of your product, then you should expect some hijinks. And Jeremy doesn’t disappoint. He told CNBC.com that he became the spokesman for the rum when, “These guys from Finland needed a famous Ron. Ronald Reagan happened to be dead, Ronald McDonald is too busy flipping burgers, Ron Howard is directing movies and Enron is bunch of crooks, so they were left with me.”
Olli Hietalahti, CEO of One Eyed Spirits, the parent company behind the rum, explains that, “in reality, of course Ron Jeremy was our one and only choice.”
Price: $1.50-$1.99 per pouch
Availability: 24 states, Canada, Europe
When businessman Jarrold Bachmann noticed that vendors near his South African farm would set up shop to sell small packages of alcohol to workers each payday, he was intrigued. Could he market a portable, single-serve liquor?
He could, and he did. Pocket Shots, a flask-shaped plastic container holding vodka, rum, spiced rum, whiskey or brandy, is now sold in the U.S. and in Europe, and while the product has received some not-so-welcome attentionfor how easily it can be taken into places where alcohol is prohibited, that was not its intention, says Bachmann.
Instead, it was created for travelers, tailgaters and other outdoor enthusiasts.
“As someone who loves being outdoors, traveling and sports, I saw an opportunity to develop a product to fit my lifestyle and extend across all demographics from the older golfer to the extreme sport generation,” Bachmann says on the company website.
There have been positive reviews, as well. “It offered a potential solution to a problem that had plagued me for years,” writes a reviewer on the website CookManFood.com.
“While I am out and about how can I make a quick cocktail without bringing the whole bottle of booze and looking like a complete lush?”
And, bonus: The packaging is environmentally friendly. Pocket Shots won a silver awardfor Sustainability & Environmental Achievement from The Flexible Packaging Association.
Price: $8.99 - $10 for a six pack
Availability: 17 states including California and New York, and in Washingotn, D.C.
A rebel spirit pervades much of what 21st Amendment Brewerydoes. With names such as Brew Free or Die, Hell of High Watermelon, and Bitter American, the company takes as much pride in its packaging as it does in what’s inside the can.
Can? You heard right. “We can what we drink and we drink what we can,” declares this San Francisco brewery, named in honor of the amendment that ended Prohibition. It stays fresher that way, says co-founder and brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan. “Light is one of the chief reasons that beer goes bad, and unlike with glass, the can does not allow in light,” he said.
Besides, as O’Sullivan and co-founder Nico Freccia state on their company’s website: “When we opened the 21st Amendment Brewpub in San Francisco we swore, if we can’t do things a little differently, we won’t do them at all.”
In addition to its packaging, the brewery has also been recognized for the taste of its beers. It took a handful of awards from “craftcans.com Best of 2011” competition.
Price: $19.99 for a 4-pack
Concealing your beer in a brown paper bag is a time-honored tradition for scofflaws. Doss Blockos beer comes with its own paper bag for the outlaw in all of us.
And, speaking of outlaws, note at the characters on the label, which were “taken from a piece of illegal street-art found in a Melbourne alleyway,” says Benjamin Cairns, brand manager of East Ninth Brewing,the company behind the beer.
East Ninth Brewing prides itself on the artwork it uses for its labels. Its other products include Fog City Cloudy Cider and Lick Pier Ginger Beer. “We like working with artists and try to support creative communities where we can,” Cairns says.
Despite Doss Blockos’ creative backstory about being brewed in an abandoned tunnel below New York, you’ll have to travel a little farther than the Big Apple to enjoy a taste. Doss Blockos is currently made — and only available in — Australia.