BEVERLY — The difference between beer and root beer has always been obvious. That was before a pair of alcoholic root beers swept into the Chicago market.
Not Your Father's Root Beer landed on store shelves in November and sold out fast. Chicago-based Small Town Brewery has a contract to make 12-ounce bottles of its malt beverage in LaCrosse, Wis.
Sprecher Hard Root Beer is a product of Milwaukee-based Sprecher Brewing Co. The microbrewery also has a line of sodas, including a traditional root beer that inspired its "malternative."
Town/Armanetti Liquors received its first shipment of Not Your Father's Root Beer just before Christmas through its Budweiser distributor, said Rob Berkery, manager of the store at 10000 S. Western Ave. in Beverly.
"We had an allotment of it in the beginning of December, and it went pretty quickly," he said.
Since selling out, Berkery's received frequent calls about the availability of Not Your Father's Root Beer. He said he was surprised to receive a small shipment on Thursday.
A six-pack of 12-ounce bottles of Not Your Father's Root Beer at Town/Armanetti Liquors costs $10.99. And it's rather potent at 5.9 percent alcohol by volume. A typical Budweiser is 5 percent alcohol by volume.
"I give these young kids credit. They want variety," Berkery said.
Pat Brophy, beer buyer for Binny's Beverage Depot, said he's also seen strong demand for Not Your Father's Root Beer at his company's 31 Chicagon area stores.
"We definitely run out and had to limit it [Not Your Father's Root Beer] when it first came out. Limits varied by store, but were anywhere from one six-pack to a case per person. Whenever we have highly allocated and in-demand products like this, we try to spread the love," Brophy said.
Cork & Kerry at 10614 S. Western Ave. in Beverly began carrying 12-ounce bottles of Sprecher Hard Root Beer two weeks ago, said Devra Brenn, event manager for the bar.
"The bartenders, they had the root beer and told us about it," Brenn said.
Cork & Kerry charges $5 per bottle for the specialty beverage, which boasts a more moderate 5 percent alcohol by volume. That's the same price the bar charges for a microbrew from Lagunitas Brewery.
Both Sprecher Hard Root Beer and Not Your Father's Root Beer taste similar — like root beer soda. But the sweetness coupled with the alcohol keeps consumers from slurping up the products as quickly as they might a traditional root beer.
In fact, Sprecher Hard Root Beer is an offshoot of its root beer soda. The company, founded in 1985 by former Pabst Brewing Co. supervisor Randal Sprecher, also makes cream soda and cherry cola, along with a variety of microbrewed beers.
Sprecher Hard Root Beer is aged in oak bourbon barrels. It's made in a limited batches and was introduced in March of 2013.
Sprecher Brewing Co. isn't afraid to dabble with other recipes as well. Beer-flavored potato chips and root beer-flavored popcorn are among the products available through its online store.
Not Your Father's Root Beer offers its alcoholic beverage year-round, according to the company's website.
The alcoholic root beer first began popping up in the Chicago market in early 2013. It was initially available only on tap at select bars and restaurants in northern Illinois. Small batches of 22-ounce bottles also were produced.
The 12-once bottles that began showing up on store shelves in November are tame by comparison to the draft and bomber versions made in Small Town Brewery's facility in Wauconda in the northwest suburbs. These seasonal varieties of Not Your Father's Root Beer boast 10.7 percent and 19.5 percent alcohol by volume.
The high-alcohol varieties of Not Your Father's Root Beer remain available on tap at select taverns, according to the company's online locator.
"As much as everyone talks about how we're in the golden age of craft beer, we're also seeing tremendous growth in the sweetened, flavored, soda pop-y, beer segment. Things like shandys, hard root beers and hard ginger beers have been on fire for the past couple of years," said Brophy, who speaks for all Binny's Beverage Depot locations, including the five stores in within the city.
He said that Not Your Father's Root Beer typically lasts about a week before it sells out. However, he expects a more steady supply as Small Town Brewery gets on its feet and can better anticipate the market.
"There's always been demand for alcohol that doesn't taste like alcohol, whether that's something like flavored vodka or Mike's Hard Lemonade," he said. "As ubiquitous as craft beer has become, and as popular as bourbons and other whiskies have become, we need to remember that the majority of drinkers are still drinking light beer and vodka. Beers that don't taste 'beer-y' are what a lot of those drinkers go to."
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