Hard root beer is gaining popularity, and brewers are increasingly using sponsorship to stake a claim to the quickly growing category.

Among recent deals, Coney Island Brewing Co. is sponsoring next month’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on behalf of its eponymous hard root beer, while Anheuser-Busch InBev promoted Best Damn Root Beer as part of a new multi-brand partnership with last month’s South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive conference.

In addition, Small Town Brewery earlier this month sponsored Baconfest Chicago on behalf of Not Your Father’s Root Beer.

Industry sources point to the 2015 national launch of Not Your Father’s as kick-starting demand for hard root beer. The product is distributed by Pabst Brewing Co., which also owns an equity stake in Small Town Brewery.

“The category didn’t exist 18 months ago. It emerged out of the blue,” said Rob Kreszswick, director of sales with Coney Island Brewing, which is owned by The Boston Beer Co.

Demonstrating the beverage’s growing popularity, Coney Island Hard Root Beer is among the 12 best-selling craft beer brands in the U.S., he said.

“To be in the top 12 is a pretty good milestone.”

Coney Island partnered with Bonnaroo to reach young adults developing a taste for alcoholic beverages, said Kreszswick.

“They’re coming into alcoholic beverages and looking for things they grew up with. The sponsorship allows us to tap into that core drinker in an environment where they’re willing to try something different.”

The brewery will sample root beer floats at the festival to play up the beverage’s nostalgic positioning, he said.

Coney Island also gains pouring rights at the festival, said Alex Machurov, senior director of new business & partnerships with Superfly, the producer of the Bonnaroo music fest.

“There’s a buzz around hard root beer. It’s a tasty, refreshing craft beer that will complement the overall under-the-sun experience.”

Bonnaroo represents Coney Island Brewing’s first partnership outside its New York City home turf. Local ties include the Brooklyn Music Festival, SummerScreen and the summer concert series at MCU Park—home to the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Best Damn Finds Success At SXSW
Anheuser-Busch promoted Best Damn Root Beer at SXSW Interactive with the “Best Damn Billboard Bar,” an on-site footprint that, in addition to featuring a billboard that served beer, also offered live music, food trucks and games.

The program paid off on multiple fronts:

  • 2,500-plus attendees (92 percent of KPI)
  • 3,000-plus samples (102 percent of KPI)
  • 93 percent positive social sentiment

A-B, which launched Best Damn Root Beer in late 2015, also used the Bill-bar to promote the March launch of Best Damn Cherry Cola.