Thirsty much?

Barb Sweet
Published on August 12, 2012
Marketing co-ordinator Justin Fong surveys the stock of Iceberg beer at the Quidi Vidi Brewery in St. John's. - Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

It was a good year to introduce a summer seasonal beer. Quidi Vidi rolled out a new summer brew this year - Continental Pilsner - and what a summer it has been. Quidi Vidi's coolers are empty of the product and there's hardly any of it left in liquor stores.

But the St. John's microbrewery, which has several all-year brands, isn't the only outfit enjoying brisk sales of alcoholic thirst quenchers.

With more days of sunshine and heat this year than in most people's memories, the drinks are flowing in backyards, cabins and campgrounds.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp., sales at 24 liquor stores and more than 120 liquor express operations provincewide are up. Ready-to-drink sales are up 18.7 per cent year to date.

The corporation attributes the boost to the weather and new brands and flavours, including Palm Bay, new Bacardi Breezer flavours and SkinnyGirl cocktails.

"Last year the category didn't grow and last summer the category was down. As soon as the summer hit this year, this trend turned around and we immediately saw significant growth," spokesman Greg Gill said.

Beer sales are also up 12.7 per cent year to date across the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.'s outlets, with new brands from Coors, Michelob and Bud and beer promotions. And that's not counting beer sold in convenience stores and at brewers' agents.

Spirits are up 5.5 per cent so far this year. Rum is up 4.5 per cent. Gill said light rum and spice rum are driving the growth.

"Spiced rum has become a big trend in Newfoundland, and is currently growing at 21.6 per cent. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and George Street Spiced Rum dominate this category, but we have also introduced other brands ... which are doing well.

"Vodka is also growing significantly at 10.4 per cent, which is significant growth on our third biggest category. Brands like Iceberg Vodka and Smirnoff Vodka are continuing to grow," Gill said.

At the Topsail road liquor store, manager Donna Lynn Greeley said the location is constantly busy and the beer and cold drinks cooler is staffed the entire day with someone constantly restocking shelves.

Wine is also flying off the shelves, with several dozen bottles lined up in a chilled wine section guaranteed to sell out each day.

"There's a steady flow of traffic," she said, adding tastes have changed over the 24 years she's worked for the liquor corporation. People are looking for more choices and going for higher end products.

"There used to be a downturn. You don't see a downturn anymore," she said of year-round sales.

And the weather has certainly been a game changer this summer, she said.

Briar Wells, manager of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada, said weather always plays a big role in beer sales.

"The great summer weather St. John's has been enjoying, combined with the launch of a number of new Labatt innovations including Bud Light Lime Mojito, Michelob Ultra and Budweiser Shot, has resulted in a positive impact on our sales," said Wells. "We're looking forward to more warm weather and sunshine for the rest of the season."

Molson is also noticing a big difference.

"It was such a terrible summer last year weather-wise, and this year has been the complete opposite. We've had nothing but warm dry weekends, and beer sales always seem to spike in the heat," said Jason Hull, Molson Coors' district sales manager for Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Warm weather brings on most of the best beer drinking occasions, things like backyard barbeques and camping. We're seeing a great summer sales wise, with a lot of interest in our new widemouth bottles. They were just launched and are perfect for outside activities."

On a fishing stage in Quidi Vidi Village this week, Dave Snow of Mount Pearl was enjoying a cold ale after being out on the water for the food fishery with friends. Nearby, Wayne Baker was fileting the fresh-caught cod.

The weather has not only made people thirstier, it's made for an incredible food fishery, said Snow, who moved back after more than three decades operating car dealerships in Montreal to open the Kozy Kitchen restaurant on Topsail Road.

Snow said he's not been sipping more beer, but he's enjoying his preferred summer drink - gin and tonic. Last year, Snow said he convinced his son to move to Newfoundland and warned him the summers aren't the same as in Montreal.

"It was embarrassing," Snow said of the dismal, wet, cool weather. Now he's smiling.

"You couldn't ask for better," he said.

At the brewery, Quidi Vidi marketing co-ordinator Justin Fong is smiling too, about beer trends. But he isn't convinced it's just about the increase in barbecues, camping and other events people have been able to enjoy this summer.

When Quidi Vidi rebranded a couple of years ago, sales at the now 16-year-old brewery began an ascent. In 2009, Quidi Vidi Brewery sold 68,000 dozen beer, followed by 73,000 dozen in 2010.

The company switched to a more simple labelling and packaging that branded the brewery as a whole. And its switched its Iceberg beer from a clear bottle to a blue bottle.

"That absolutely exploded after we put it in a blue bottle," Fong said.

"The problem was it was always a really great beer, but it was lost in a sea of other beers. There were so many other clear bottles out there, people weren't really trying it."

The blue bottle proved so popular that people held on to it last year for decorations, but they are being returned more often this year.

In 2011, Quidi Vidi sold 91,000 dozen, a 24 per cent growth. This year it expects sales will be up by 35-40 per cent.

Seasonal brews have also helped sales, with a British IPA earlier this year, as well as the Continental Pilsner commanding a gold medal at the world beer festival in Chicago.

"It's a great time to be a microbrewery because with peoples' taste changing like that, we can obviously do these one-off batches every few months whereas if you are looking at (large mainstream breweries), they couldn't really put out a seasonal and do something new and different," Fong said.

The brewery is hoping to put on a special Oktoberfest beer this fall and make an event of it. Traffic is usually jammed up around the Quidi Vidi location, a former fish plant, and tours are most popular in the summer.

Space is tight at the brewery and the company is contemplating a second plant with the green building maintained as its flagship, Fong said.

"We had two new tanks come in a few months back and we are already at the wall again with that," he said.

Other operations who brew locally were contacted for comment on summer sales, but did not respond.