Is America Ready for Tequila-Flavored Beer?

Desperados Debuts in Florida, Georgia in Advance of National Launch

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A Spanish-sounding, tequila-flavored beer that is brewed in Amsterdam and is a major force in France is coming ashore in South Beach.

Desperados, which is owned by Heineken, is making its U.S. debut after being sold overseas for more than 15 years. The brewer's U.S. importing division began selling bottles in Florida and Georgia earlier this month and has plans for national distribution next year.

Desperados billboard
Desperados billboard

The ad campaign, which debuts next week, will target urban markets. That includes party hot spots like Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood and Miami's South Beach, where Heineken will market the beer to young-adult drinkers. "We are trying to deliver on that high-energy, nightlife type of scene," said Raul Esquer, the Desperados brand manager for Heineken USA.

The importer will use the same campaign that is rolling out internationally for the brand, which is sold in more than 60 countries. The agency is Dufresne Corrigan Scarlett, an independent shop based in Paris. The campaign, called "At Dusk, We Rise," includes two TV spots (above) that are full of music and dancing. A big chunk of the spending will be on digital and out-of-home ads.

Desperados is the latest example of beer marketers relying on flavors and higher-alcohol products to lure millennial drinkers. Anheuser-Busch InBev, for instance, began seeking more party-drinkers with the 2012 launch of Bud Light Platinum, and has continued to expand its line of Bud Light Lime branded margarita-inspired flavored malt beverages. Earlier this year, MillerCoors launched Miller Fortune, with advertising that touts the brew for "spirited nights."


Heineken USA refers to Desperados as a "spirited beer." It has 6% alcohol by volume, which equals the alcohol content of Platinum, but is lower than Fortune's 6.9%.

Heineken USA has also launched Dos-A-Rita, a Dos Equis line extension that weighs in at 7.2% ABV. The importer refers to it as a "ready-to-serve lager margarita made with 100 percent real Agave nectar" and Dos Equis beer. On the other end of the ABV scale, Heineken USA has launched Amstel Radler at 2% ABV, which is comprised of 40% Amstel lager and 60% lemon juice.

Desperados is a made by combining lager that is aged in tequila barrels for a few months, then blended with beer that is mixed with tequila and lemon flavors. While the product has trace amounts of tequila, it is technically classified as a malt beverage.

Tequila-flavored beer is not unprecedented in the states. Anheuser-Busch several years ago marketed a brand called Tequiza, which burst out of the gate in 1999 backed by significant advertising spending, but later floundered.

Heineken USA is bullish on Desperados partly because of its barrel aged positioning, which Mr. Esquer said speaks to "the craftsmanship of the product." Barrel-aging is trendy in the states, with craft beers and liquor brands playing it up in marketing. (The Desperados formula sold overseas does not include the barrel-aged process.)

Desperados is especially popular in France, where as of 2012 it was the fifth-ranked beer brand with 3% market share, up from 2% in 2006, according to the latest available data from Euromonitor International. According to Mr. Esquer, Desperados now has 4% of the beer market in the country, and is the No. 1 alcohol brand among millennial consumers.

Desperados ad in France
Desperados ad in France

Due to France's strict alcohol advertising rules -- which forbid tactics such as TV ads and showing people in ads -- the Desperados marketing playbook is limited in the country. The newest campaign features bottle shot photography. It resonates because it avoids the "frill" graphical elements other French alcohol brands use that take "weeks of photoshop" but are "inevitably fake," Yv Corbeil, digital and integrated creative director for Dufresne Corrigan Scarlett, said in an email.

By contrast, Desperados ads use "rough images" with "no retouching," he said, resulting in a "whisper rather than a scream."

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