Urbanaut Brewing’s “novelty” blender series of paired 250ml cans is fast becoming serious business with Australian supermarket Coles taking a large export order.
The upstart Auckland brewery in the restaurant-heavy suburb of Kingsland is just over three years old but has made a huge impact with their innovative packaging formats.
Their game-changing blender series is two 250ml cans stacked in a single wrapped sleeve. The beers are designed to deliver three flavour experiences – a bit from each can before blending them in different proportions.
The early blenders were as experimental as the concept, such as a Yuzu-lime sour mixed Szechuan pepper Kolsch. Last summer they got traction with a shandy blender, a can of craft lemonade from Karma Cola blended with their Kingsland Pilsner.
Urbanaut founder Bruce Turner thought blending would be a novelty but it’s turned into a huge export opportunity with blend packs going to China, UK and Australia.
Coles supermarkets in Australia were so impressed with the Mango Sour and Blood Orange Kveik IPA blender they asked for more.
“We told them ‘sorry, we’re not doing it any more, it’s run out in New Zealand and we’re not sending it to China or the UK any more because we want to do new ones,’” Turner said.
The initial response was that Coles wanted “that or nothing” but when Turner offered them his latest creation – a Salted Caramel IPA x Baked Pear Sour – they jumped on it and doubled down for their Vintage Cellars bottle shops as a special promotion through July.
Turner was happy to brew the second batches for Vintage Cellars but in general wants to limit the availability of each blend “to keep it new and exciting”.
The other blender due out in New Zealand is a Black Forest Stout x Espresso Scotch Ale.
Turner thinks the future for the blenders is export – China took a container of Blood Orange and Mango Sour before the Covid-19 pandemic and Urbanaut has just shipped 50 blender cases to the UK..
He fully expects other breweries to copy the idea.
“We’re still the only ones doing it but we’re anticipating others will pick it up.”
The attraction of the blender is that people can have a small amount of an experimental flavour without making a big investment.
“You might not want a whole pint of Salted Caramel IPA – but with the small amount and the fact people are usually sharing them it’s about having fun with those flavours and enjoying the experience of blending beers.”
The foray into 250ml cans has led Turner to make a series called “strong beer small can”, with brewery producing single 250ml cans of high ABV beers.
The idea came from Turner’s experience in restaurants.
“Even in those with good beer lists, you’ll seldom get something rare as the price point is usually too high in a 500ml bottle.”
With a 250ml can it means “you can try something different, and it’s a sensible amount”.
They brewed a demo beer – a 7.8 per cent cherrywood barrel-aged Baltic porter – to test the market.
“We took it to a few bars and restaurants and they loved it,” he said.
“But also the supermarkets loved it because they see customers buying a 250ml single to their other beer purchases – the rationale is that for $4.99 it’s no real investment but it’s a special beer.
“We’re tight on our margins at that price but we wanted to see the response.”
The “big beer small can” plans include a 12 per cent barley wine, a 10 per cent Belgian-style Quad and what Turner describes “the world’s strongest hazy IPA” at 14.9 per cent, which is as high an ABV as he can sell in supermarket.
“It’s going to be a scary one to make.”
Listen to Balter Brewing’s Scott Hargrave and Bentspoke Brewing’s Richard Watkins discuss balancing innovation and tradition in craft brewing on the Radio Brews News podcast.