Hard seltzers are the most recent stars of the beverage industry, with revenue rising from $500 million in 2018 to more than $4 billion in 2020, thanks to companies like White Claw.
Ann Arbor-based HOMES Brewery upped the ante in 2020, introducing a thick, pulpy hard seltzer smoothie, by adding large amounts of legit fresh fruit to the crystal-clear alcohol base, and sparking a new trend.
Founder Tommy Kennedy says the team at HOMES, which has created fruit-forward smoothie beers, tossed around the idea of a hard seltzer in summer 2019, when the bubbly drinks were popping off, but it wasn’t until the downtime of the pandemic that they’d sit down to develop it. “We really wanted to differentiate ourselves in the market,” Kennedy says.
The dairy-free, gluten-free seltzer called Smooj has an ABV of 5 percent. Sales of the brewery’s two flavors— pina colada and strawberry banana — are equally popular with consumers and have taken off since their initial small rollout in 2020. And so have the clones, particularly in the Midwest. Fair State Coop of Minneapolis offers a pineapple-orange-banana seltzer called Fruity Boom. Phase Three Brewing Co. of Chicagoland produces a peach-pineapple smoothie seltzer.
“We knew others would follow, says Kennedy, adding that the brewery’s experimental beverage arm, Troobado, picked strawberry banana and pina colada flavors, because they represent the extremes, he says, with pina colada Smooj being versatile enough to be mixed into a cocktail. Troobado is testing a Tropical Vacation smoothie, which combines passionfruit, mango, guava, coconut, a bit of banana, and a tease of tangerine for acidity.
Smooj, which is available in Philadelphia, New York, California, and Michigan, will soon be available in Chicago. It’s earned a spot among the top-rated “breweries” in the world on the beer ranking app Untappd.
Meanwhile, the brewery faces a fight over the name of the brand. Imprint Beer Co. is suing Smooj over trademark infringement. At the core of the Pennsylvania company’s lawsuit is that its company has become synonymous with its “Schmoojee” line of beers.
Kennedy called the lawsuit unfortunate and said the Ann Arbor brewery had no plans to change its name. “We believe the lawsuit to be baseless but we’ll continue to work through the legal process,” he tells Eater.