Burrito chain Chipotle is about to earn even more indie cred as several locations begin adding craft beer to their drinks lineups.
The burrito chain has long offered Mexican and Latin American imports like Corona and Pacifico at select eateries, as well as American standards like Miller Lite, but now 15 of Chipotle's restaurants in Chicago will serve two beers by 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, a Chicago-area microbrewery.
Here's what's on the menu: a simple golden ale called 5 Rabbit, similar to Corona, and 5 Vulture, a dark ale brewed with chiles and spices not unlike Negra Modelo.
The Chicago Tribune writes that if sales are favorable, Chipotle may consider expanding the offerings to about 75 stores in and around Chicago plus other craft brands.
The publication spoke with Darren Tristano, executive vice president with research firm Technomic, Inc., who explained that Chipotle's embracement of craft beer is a no-brainer:
"Craft beer has become a pretty big driver, and especially for a more affluent crowd," he said. "It's very well in their customer base to add these beverages."
Moreover, 5 Rabbit Cerveceria is a Latin-themed operation -- a natural fit. Its web site explains that its name "embodies the mysticism, color, and playfulness of this rich Latin heritage." It's also growing at an impressive rate, having already snatched up six contracts to produce its beer at breweries in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Chipotle isn't the first fast food chain to be interested in craft beer. Earlier this year, Denver-based burger chain Smashburger teamed with several craft breweries in a handful of markets to introduce beer and burger pairings at several of its eateries.
It's no surprise, either. Even as overall beer sales decline nationwide, craft beer sales were up by 12 percent in the first half of 2012. As of August of this year, there were 2,126 craft breweries in the U.S. -- the highest number since 1890.