Beer gets new twist: It's fruity

February 23, 2005|By Cary Darling | Cary Darling,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Beer. On the rocks.

The trend-spotting folks at Anheuser-Busch have introduced B-to-the-E, the new fruit-flavored Budweiser beer shot through with the natural stimulants caffeine, herbal guarana and ginseng.

Aimed at the 21- to 27-year-old "experimenters" and "multi-taskers," B-to-the-E (also called B.E. and Bud Extra) proved so popular in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and other test markets last fall that Anheuser-Busch pushed up its national rollout a few weeks to late January. Still, the Homer Simpsons of the world, crying in their run-of-the-brewery-mill beer, are asking why tamper with tradition.

"Bringing out innovative brands is important to us in terms of our long-term success," says Dawn Roepke, Anheuser-Busch's new-product development brand manager. "Today's contemporary adults are looking for choices in everything, including their beverages."

Julie Bradford, editor of the beer-enthusiast magazine All About Beer, puts it in blunter terms: "The mainstream beers have taken a hit from spirits and wine manufacturers who are doing a better job with some of the youth market."

So Budweiser did "tons of focus groups" and, voila, concocted the blackberry-raspberry-cherry B-to-the-E geared to the gin-to-the-juice, vodka-to-the-Red-Bull crowd. At 4.5 percent alcohol by volume (about the same as a light beer, according to Anheuser-Busch), with 54 milligrams of caffeine (about the same as a 12-ounce Mountain Dew, according to Roepke), and 145 calories (the same as a 12-ounce Bud), B-to-the-E is certainly not watered down.

But, according to some, it's not really beer either.

Roepke concedes B-to-the-E "has its own category," "is outside the barriers of taste from beer," and should be shelved in stores alongside other specialty beers. "[But] it's definitely beer and it's labeled as a beer."

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