Booze innovation is just shitposting now
The online-to-offline drinks development pipeline, State of the Boozeletter™️, Radio Free Fingers recap + more!
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I depend on readers to underwrite the labor that goes into producing this newsletter. Thanks for reading!—Dave.
Editor’s note: This being the end of the month, down below I’ve collected some highlights from throughout the past month as well as a brief State of The Boozeletter™ for the curious. The email will definitely cut off in your inbox, so you can always read it online here. If you feel like your Fingers intake (yikes) was lacking in March 2022, here’s your chance to get caught up!—Dave.
P.S.: This morning, the workers at Amazon warehouse JFK8 won a historic victory, becoming the first union inside the house that Bezos built despite spending $4.3 million last year on anti-labor misinformation like this. Incredible story with lots of implications for the labor movement in virtually every industry, including probably beverage alcohol. Stay tuned.
🤷 Booze innovation is just shitposting now
As has become annual tradition in the consumer packaged goods badlands, The Brands spent April Fools’ Day posting their best attempts at humor to the timeline in hopes of… I don’t know, “driving affinity” or “sparking engagement” or whatever the “key performance indicator” du jour is within America’s mighty beverage alcohol marketing departments. For example:
And so on. Maybe related to April Fools’ or maybe simply because it’s Four Loko we’re talking about here, that brand chose today to debut the “world’s first drinkable NFT.” It’s an orange can of Four Loko with an image of a Bored Bigfoot Billionaires NFT on it. I dunno man, sure whatever.
I don’t really care about any of these spoofs individually. As Friend of Fingers and Hugging the Bar Courtney Iseman put it on Twitter, “as long as they're not tone-deaf missteps from unapologetically racist breweries or something, I don't really care who wants to like be a little silly.” (Looking at you, Founder’s!) But I do think it’s interesting that after the past 12 months of blurring category lines in the booze business, the spoofs rolled out today look more like actually viable IRL beverage offerings than ever before. As Good Beer Hunting’s Bryan Roth pointed out about the pickle spritz gimmick, this is already a lucrative market segment in Texas! “This RTD would make real money,” he wrote. Agreed! You could probably make a similar data-driven go-to-market case for pretty much every spoof I’ve come across today. Bud Light is making “Afternoon Tea” hard seltzer? Cool, hard tea is a massive and growing category, that tracks. Budvar is putting out a comedically tall tallboy? Yup, packaging trends are headed that way; 1500mL single-serves seem excessive but on the other hand the seas are rising, so why not?
This year’s April Fools’ Day, in addition to being fairly tame compared to last decade’s overeager corporate mayhem, has demonstrated more than ever before that beverage-alcohol research and development is basically indiscernible from shitposting now. Think of the goofiest, most strainingly plausible concoction you can, doctor up a label for it, and voila: you’ve got a trial balloon for a timeline that can easily be reverse-engineered into an actual liquid IRL if it gets enough traction online. I’ve written about this before in the context of the “candy corn conundrum,” stunt crossover booze, and the coming CPG singularity, and I’ve got a big reported piece for VinePair on a complementary angle coming in a couple weeks. Not to beat a dead Jagermeister deer but I think it’s going to keep happening! The online-to-offline pipeline in beverage-alcohol is symbiotic with the very real category crossover happening at the product development level. Both phenomena stand to benefit from increasingly fractured online landscape, which today’s broader April Fools Day dullness revealed to be, well, fractured as hell.
“It feels like April Fools internet is happening, for the most part, within its own filter bubble,” mused Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day. “A lot of the pranks I have come across so far… are so niche that they don’t make any sense to anyone not following those communities.” I concur! This is bad news if you enjoyed the over-the-top branded disinfo ops of April Fools Days past (which, if you did, seek help), or if you’re a brand that needs to come up with corporate-approved palaver for an impossibly broad audience. But if you’re a savvy beverage alcohol brand looking to go deep with some drinkers rather than wide with all of ‘em, this spells opportunity. After all, “American drinkers who want new and weird shit to sip on” are a huge niche, and a few shitposts barely cost a thing.
📬 Good post alert
👯 Notes on the contemporary online nostalgia for late-’00s drinking culture
Speaking of Garbage Day! Last week I teamed up with Ryan for a split email dissecting the remarkable resurgence of Aughts drinking culture amongst very-online Zoomers. I took on the modern speakeasy’s secret life on TikTok, and he tackled Gen Z's more-sanitized, maybe-second-coming of indie sleaze, and a key ingredient that's conspicuously missing from it: a low-cost, high-octane booze of choice to rally around/turn into a drinkable meme. You can read both pieces right here:
I rarely bump old editions so soon after their original publication date, but this one was a ton of fun, and the Fingers Fam has picked up a lot of new members in the intervening week who might be wondering what this “boozeletter” is all about. This is a pretty good showcase imo! Hope you enjoy.
📈 State of the Boozeletter™️: “March 2 Solvency” recap edition!
For the past month, I’ve been offering 15% off annual subscriptions as part of a subscription drive to encourage/cajole/guilt-trip more free readers into becoming paying Friends of Fingers. After all, this being an independent boozeletter, I depend entirely on individual readers who value my coverage and commentary on drinking in America to step up and underwrite it with their cold-hard cash. Your fearless Fingers editor cannot live on pageviews and kind words alone!
Anyway, the March 2 Solvency came to an official close last night at midnight. Here’s how it went 3/1-3/31 here at HQ:
Net new paying subscribers: 28
Net new total subscribers: 81
Additional gross annualized revenue: $2,552
Average open rate: 46.88%
This is pretty amazing! I’m so grateful to every single reader that stepped up to support this project this month (and to all those Friends of Fingers who already had, of course!) This project literally can’t exist without you, thank you so much.
That said, I’m a large adult journalist with bills to pay, and to make the boozeletter you know and love sustainable long-term, I need to keep building on this growth. My total net income from Fingers since turning on paid subscriptions in September 2021 still works out to… like… under $5/hour after platform fees (not to mention taxes lol) when compared to the work that I put into researching, reporting, and writing these stories.
That’s OK: I always knew this would be a slow burn. But if you’ve been holding off on buying a subscription because you figured everybody else already had me covered, please consider not doing that! If I can’t grow that income to a viable rate at some point in the near-ish future, I’ll have to abandon Fingers in favor of more lucrative work. I think that’d be a bummer! If you do too, and you haven’t yet bought a subscription, I hope you will today:
I’ve extended the March 2 Solvency through the weekend so you can enjoy the same discount as everyone who’s purchased an annual subscription over the past month. At 15% off, a year of Fingers works out to less than $6/month. If that sounds worth it for independent coverage and commentary about drinking in America, now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Thanks for reading!
📻 March 2022 on Radio Free Fingers
This past month was a big one for anybody who likes listening to independent coverage of drinking in America as opposed to reading it. Some audio options from March 2022 for your aural enjoyment, below!
An interview with Kristen Hawley of the excellent restaurant tech newsletter Expedite on B2B booze platform Provi’s federal antitrust complaint against national wine & spirits distros Southern Glazer’s and RNDC
The Fingers Podcast with Low Culture Boil's Rax King, author of Tacky
An episode of The VinePair Podcast about the craft beer industry’s shifting fortunes
Plus a pair of recordings from Beer Byliners, the live Twitter Spaces I cohost with Kate Bernot (Good Beer Hunting, Craft Beer & Brewing) and Jess Infante (Brewbound) about the stories shaping/causing shitshows in the beer business
🧾 Settling Up for March 2022
Each Friday in 🧾 The Settle-Up, I round up a bunch of stories from the booze business and beyond that caught my eye, but that I didn’t feel merited full-blown coverage in that particular edition of the newsletter. Then, I editorialize the shit out of them for your amusement. Directly below in bold are headlines from this past week, plus all the other ones I ran in March, from most-to-least recent:
Don’t miss out, follow Fingers on Instagram today. It’s free, and your feed will thank you. (Not really, that would be weird. But you know what I mean.)