As they battle for bar-goers' attention, brewers are looking beyond flashy tap handles and neon signs to something more fundamental: the beer glass.
Branded glassware has been around forever, of course. But this basic marketing technique is gaining new relevance as brands look to stand out at bars where the brew options are ever growing.
Consider MillerCoors' Blue Moon, which along with its distributor network this year is spending about $2 million to fill bars with its signature slender wheat-beer glasses emblazoned with the Blue Moon logo. That's substantially more than the brand has typically spent on glassware. Recent market research showed that glassware helped lift the brand's same-bar sales volume nearly 40%."It was really kind of 'dumb-beer-guy math' to look at it and say this thing hunts really hard for us, [so] we need to make sure that we are investing to the right levels," said Blue Moon Brand Director Kevin Reilly.
In addition to being a cheap advertising vehicle, special glassware is touted for its functional benefits, like making beer taste better. The foam, or head, on the beer matters, for example, because it traps the volatiles, compounds that, when they evaporate, give a beer its smell.
Heineken, which redesigned its branded glassware four years ago, takes pains to educate bartenders on why its glasses are superior. Sales documents point out that the 20-ounce "Star Glass" has a wider top diameter to "give the beer space to develop a proper head," while curved walls allow the beer to "flow perfectly and swirl in the glass." The glass also uses "nucleation," which involves etching microscopic holes in the bottom that are meant to produce more-lively bubbles. "What you taste is what you see," said Patrick Libonate, Heineken USA's commercial marketing director for on-premise. "If you see something that looks good, your senses in your brain are going to say 'This is going to taste good.'"
Other brands are trying out unconventional glass shapes and sizes. Miller Fortune, a higher-alcohol line extension meant to compete with spirits, is distributing branded "rocks glasses," a shorter glass typically used for cocktails. Anheuser-Busch InBev is filling the market with more than 1 million branded mason jars to accompany its family of Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita flavored malt beverages. The 16-ounce jars allow room for ice and "mixology-recipe ingredients," a spokeswoman said.