The hottest product in some local stores is officially called Not Your Father’s Root Beer.
But at 5.9 percent alcohol, this sweet sensation of a drink definitely isn’t your kids’ root beer, either.
It’s known as a hard root beer, and it just won’t stay on the shelves at New Jersey liquor stores.
Owners and managers say that as soon as they started stocking Not Your Father’s Root Beer last month, it went right out their doors.
“I’ve been in the industry since 1991, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Scott Valentino, a co-owner at Joe Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlets in Egg Harbor Township. Those two stores each received 10 cases delivered one day last week. Both sold out within two hours — even when they limited customers to one six-pack a person.
Jennifer Barr, a Stockton University marketing professor, has heard about the phenomenal stir hard root beer is causing, both online and in lines, at liquor stores. Barr, attributes it to modern communications spreading the word about must-have items.
But there were business fads and must-haves long before there was a Facebook or Twitter to pass them along.
“Social media are a powerful force in society today, but a lot of times, products (become a hit) because of conversation,” she said. “When a product is on fire, often the ideas are spread through word of mouth.”
Tickle Me Elmo came along in 1996, when the only creatures tweeting were birds. Cabbage Patch Kids were a rage in 1978, before anybody invented an Internet. Barr knows fads can feed on themselves.
Why do we need and want these fads?
“It’s the sort of thing where you want to be part of what people are talking about — and to be part of what they’re talking about, you have to try the product,” she said.
Meanwhile, Patricia Taggart, a part-time Villas resident in Lower Township, was happy to get to Joe Canal’s Fire Road store in Egg Harbor Township in time to get the last six of those bottles.
“We were drinking it before everyone else was. I shouldn’t have told anyone,” Taggart said. “We bought cases of it, and it was really reasonable. ... After that, we couldn’t get it anymore.”
Valentino says his stores sold it by the case at first — until they couldn’t get it either because of limited production by Small Town Brewery, which makes the stuff in a Chicago suburb.
But all this demand for a beverage with the kick of beer but the taste of root beer is generating more supply. Coney Island Brewing, a subsidiary of Boston Beer Co., the Samuel Adams brewers, just released its own version in New Jersey late last week.
The Coney Island Hard Root Beer, with 5.8 percent alcohol, is distributed locally by Kramer Beverage Co., of Hammonton. Guy Zompa, Kramer’s social-media specialist, says the Coney Island product is getting much the same reaction the Not Your Father’s brew is — and forcing liquor stores to use that same limit of a six-pack to a customer.
But Zompa said he expects that soon, “most accounts will be getting a decent amount. And next month, it will also be available in cans and kegs, so bars can also get in on it,” partly because Coney Island is about to open another brewery to keep up with demand.
Passion Vines Wine & Spirit Co., which has stores in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township, posted a message on Facebook this week to let customers know it got a delivery of both hard root beers.
“It is absolutely a phenomenon, no question about it,” owner Michael Bray said, of the Not Your Father’s craze. “It has truly taken the beer community by storm.”
It can be expensive to try Not Your Father’s Root Beer. Passion Vines is selling it for $11.99 a six-pack, but Bray said he has heard of other businesses going as high as $20 for six high-test root beers.
That’s for a product from a brewery Bray “had never heard of until May of this year. Then I tasted it in Chicago. It just got into New Jersey,” with the first delivery in early June.
At Joe Canal’s, Valentino expected his root-beer buyers to be customers who normally drink hard lemonade or other “malternatives,” as sweeter, fruity spiked drinks are called in his business.
“But I do have my craft-beer regulars wanting it and buying it,” Valentino added. “I’ve had everyone from 21-year-olds up to 60-year-olds asking for it.”
Those early customers included himself — “I bought a six-pack, and my first sip, I thought, ‘This is dangerous’ — because it tastes exactly like root beer,” he said.
Locally, the fast-growing Cape May Brewing Co. in Lower Township, does make its own craft root beer, but it’s a regular, no-alcohol soda. Co-founder Ryan Krill said Cape May also makes a ginger ale, but he has no plans to get in on the kicked-up soda craze.
“I guess we could,” Krill said, “but I feel like we’d be jumping on the bandwagon if we did.”
But after he bought his first six-pack of Not Your Father’s the other day — along with four co-workers who rushed out when they heard it was back in stock, briefly, at Joe Canal’s — Newfield’s Gil Handy admitted he was just seeing why that bandwagon got rolling in the first place.
“I heard about it,” he explained, “from other people who haven’t been able to find it.”