When I was in college, I had several friends who enjoyed the sugary-liquor concoction known as the Long Island Iced Tea—LIIT for short. I have fuzzy memories of a bartender filling a shaker pint glass up with ice, then grabbing four bottles—two in each hand—and upending them, spilling the contents into the glass for a good, solid five count. Then he’d top it all with a squirt from the soda gun. A quick stir with a straw, and it was down the hatch for my pals.
I still don’t know what was in them, but I know the next afternoon my friends would swear it would never happen again. I largely stuck with beer in those days.
I was reminded of those heady times when Bud Light added a new extension to its line this past week called MIXXTAIL. Unlike other breweries that have tried to enter the cocktail space with just beer—like Miller Fortune—these are actually cocktail-flavored beers, using Bud Light as a base.
The threat facing the bottom line of the country’s larger beer manufacturers is not just the so-called craft segment, but also the number of cross drinkers coming into the marketplace. Rather than just sticking with beer, or wine, or spirits, these drinkers—usually millennials—are mixing their drinks during nights out.
So while some beer companies used to be able to rely on loyalty, they are now seeing a dip in overall sales as drinks jump between categories. There have been big gains, however, in the cider category and the Flavored Malt Beverage (FMB) arena. That’s where Anheuser-Busch (AB) thinks it can gain back some ground.
There are three flavors in the MIXXTAIL collection, and last week in New York with AB representatives I tasted the trio, available in 11.5-oz re-sealable aluminum bottles. For the curious, I treated this as I do other tastings, taking into account, appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression. Each was poured into a pint glass and served over ice. Here is my take on the MIXXTAIL flavors, though I make no claim to be schooled in the world of FMBs.
Long Island (malt beverage with natural flavors, caramel color, and artificial sweetener) is 6%, and has an amber shade that is not unlike blended scotch. There is no visible head, and only low-to-moderate carbonation. With aromas of vanilla, cream soda and ginger, it doesn’t taste overly sweet. That is to say it doesn’t coat the teeth in a film in the way some other sugary drinks do. The carbonation adds some life to each sip, and there’s a bit of a snap at the end, similar to fresh ginger, but ultimately it finishes dry.
Hurricane (malt beverage with natural flavors, certified color and artificial sweetener) is 8% and pours from the bottle as an alarming shade of red. Based on the New Orleans famous cocktail of the same name, this is an adult version of Hawaiian Punch or red Kool-Aid. There are candy fruit flavors present: lime, cherry, even a bit of melon. There is some citric acid in the finish that gives it a bit of needed character.
Firewalker (malt beverage with natural flavors and caramel color) is 8% and smells like a Yankee Candle of apple and cinnamon. Today’s drinker of a certain age will tell you that the “it” drink of the moment is Fireball, a cinnamon whiskey, best served in shot form. This is the beer maker’s attempt to re-create that. The aroma is powerful—like a scented candle—and it spreads well beyond the boundary of the glass. It can be detected from the other side of a table, it’s that odorous. The color of filtered, fresh-pressed cider, it smells like a green apple Jolly Rancher candy and has vanilla and sweet cinnamon flavors.
These are clearly not designed for the die-hard beer geeks, or even just the casual lover of ale and lager. The drinks fit a specific category, and with a big advertising campaign being rolled out, expect to see these pop up in coolers at your next big gathering with friends. MIXXTAIL is a bridge between club cocktails and beer not one everyone will cross, but the drinks will likely get some traction … until the next new thing comes along.
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine.