THE BLOG
01/14/2015 05:29 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2015

CrossBev Is Here to Stay

Moscato infused with a jolt of mango, Stout brewed with espresso and lemon peel, and Bourbon steeped with cinnamon all have one thing in common: they're part of CrossBev, the groundbreaking movement inexorably changing the beverage industry.

If you hadn't noticed, CrossBev is the mixing, flavoring, and marketing of alcohol categories by contemporary brewers, distillers, and wine mixologists, with an end-game of expanding traditional beverage boundaries. Brand consultants have equal stake in CrossBev by developing concepts, packaging and marketing programs. Meanwhile, eager consumers react to the edgy ideas with modest, fickle curiosity.

CrossBev is about challenging the integrity of existing categories and, through trial and error, rethinking our notions of what beer, wine and spirits can taste like. For example, think of Southern Tier Brewery's, 2XPresso, a successful milk stout, but with espresso coffee beans and lemon peel together in one bottle. Or the rhum-based botanical spirit Hum, featuring hibiscus, ginger, and green coriander.

When it doesn't come together, it's a lot like a 1980's bucket of murky college Wapatui, packaged and sold in bizarre bottles. The close-out carts at retail shops are a good barometer of concepts which didn't make the grade.

Thousands of years ago, brewers and wine makers tinkered with flavors inherent in the natural beverages by adding bits of spice, herbs, and chocolate. In recent times, drink combinations like the Correcto, an espresso with grappa or other added spirits became harbingers of today's commingled beverages in bottle. And consumers have mixed their own concoctions at home long before today's mixtures hit the shelves. The Black and Tan, Sangria, and Kummel are examples of various hybrids with a long history.

What is new about CrossBev is the bold embrace of ingredients seldom used together in bottles. It's happening in a beverage climate which reflects grudging acceptance by oldsters who still enjoy gin straight-up - without pomegranate - and an arms-open embrace by avid hipsters who may try anything once, like Mangoscato, a flavored Moscato-based wine from Earl Stevens Selections in California.

Bourbon barrel beer, one of the first examples of CrossBev with staying power, helped open the door to new recipes and flavoring agents in brewing. ChocoVine and Deco Port, chocolate-wine hybrids popular in recent times, reflect consumer interest in amplifying a flavor nuance already present in some red wine and port. Traditional brands like Jim Beam have elbowed in with a series of flavored whiskies using honey, maple, and cherry, taking a late cue from Absolut's exploration into fruity vodka.

Where CrossBev is heading is difficult to gauge. Heavy emphasis on packaging, labels, and names will tug at consumers as mix options become recycled. But there's a huge cellar of untapped ideas for beverage pioneers to seize upon, and in the years ahead, the split between traditional and experimental beverages will likely widen. In a future blog, we'll examine CrossBev prospects in the coming year.