Mainers apparently have a thing for the mixture of coffee and alcohol.
Pabst Blue Ribbon began testing “Hard Coffee” this month in five states up and down the East Coast. One of them is Maine, a state whose decades-long affinity for coffee-flavored brandy is well known. And according to the Portland Press Herald, some local liquor stores are having a hard time keeping their shelves stocked with PBR’s new caffeine-infused malt beverage .
“It is kind of like a Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee, with alcohol,” Tony Olmstead, a general manager for the Maine liquor store chain Roopers Beverage and Redemption, told the paper. “It has done extremely well for us.”
Roopers isn’t the only one; the Press Herald reported Wednesday that several Maine retailers say they’ve seen surprisingly strong sales of Hard Coffee in the first weeks of its rollout. PBR — known for its eponymous flagship lager — says the buzzy drink is currently a limited release in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida. The Wisconsin-based brewery’s online product finder shows that it’s widely available at retailers across the New England state, from Kittery to Millinocket to Bar Harbor.
While the limited release is still in its early stages, PBR officials say they’ve sold more Hard Coffee per capita in Maine than in the other test-market states. According to the Press Herald, overall sales in all five states have also “far exceeded” the company’s expectations.
“We’re really happy with the positive reception,” John Newhouse, the brand manager at PBR, told Boston.com in a statement. “We knew we had a great tasting product, but you honestly never know with new innovations.”
Hard Coffee, which was released July 1, is the only non-beer product listed on the 175-year-old brand’s website. The 5-percent alcohol-by-volume beverage is sold in four-packs of 11-ounce cans. Unlike existing beers that are brewed with coffee, PBR’s malt liquor-spiked creation is made from coffee concentrate from real beans, natural and artificial coffee and vanilla flavors, milk (“creamy American milk,” to be exact, according to a press release), and sugar.
Some customers reportedly told Olmstead that they like to add a shot of whipped cream-flavored vodka for an added kick.
Maine has a reputation — for better or worse — for its love of alcoholic coffee beverages. Up until last year, Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy was the state’s top-selling liquor dating back to the 1980s (it is now second to Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, thanks in part to the growing popularity of nips). According to federal data released last year, Maine ranks 12th in the nation in terms of alcohol consumption per capita, behind only Vermont and New Hampshire (which were sixth and first, respectively) among its New England peers.
Asked why Maine was chosen as a test market, PBR officials noted that the Northeast also generally consumes more coffee than other regions of the country — as well as enthusiasm from local distributors in the state.
“Our Maine distributors were very excited to carry and sell Hard Coffee, so we added them,” Newhouse said. “Distributors are key partners, so we take their input seriously.”
If it turns out that the popularity of Hard Coffee has staying power and isn’t uniquely a Maine phenomenon, PBR says they will roll it out nationally in 2020.
“We’ll continue selling in test markets, monitoring performance metrics, then in the Fall we’ll make a decision on whether we expand nationally,” Newhouse said.