Following the news that Foster’s is the latest major beer brand to launch a “speer” (a spirit/beer hybrid), with its rum-flavoured Foster’s Rocks brand extension in the UK, Mintel’s Global Drinks Analyst Jonny Forsyth traces how this area of innovation has become increasingly important for major brewers…

The birth of speers

Foster’s is owned by Heineken, the world’s third largest brewer, which pioneered the birth of speers through its launch of Desperados in France back in 1995. Back then, it was a product ahead of its time. However, over the past few years Desperados has excelled not just in France, but the UK and wider Europe. It has even become one of Heineken’s global priority brands.

Last year, AB InBev (ABI) sought its own slice of this growing pie, launching a rum-flavoured beer brand called Cubanisto, initially in the UK and France. This was ABI’s first foray into the speer segment within Europe, but in North America it had already overseen the launch and phenomenal success of the cocktail flavoured ‘a-Rita’ range.

A move into more easy drinking

Desperados and Cubanisto have many things in common. Both have a 5.9% ABV, which is very high for a modern mainstream positioned beer in Europe. This higher strength, the leveraging of rum and tequila – two Latino and party-style spirits – as well as their sale in 330ml glass bottles all indicate that they are going after more “high tempo” occasions. Foster’s Rocks is a bit different. No doubt keen not to cannibalise Desperados in the UK, Heineken has made Foster’s available in 440ml cans at a much more “sessionable” 4.5% ABV. In other words, it marks the next step in the speers revolution: a move into more easy drinking territory.

Speers and the young consumer

Both Desperados and Cubanisto claim to be spirit-flavoured rather than actually containing spirits in alcohol form. In fact, Desperados thankfully tastes little like actual tequila, but “tequila” is a much cooler and more original way to sweeten the flavour profile of beer. For example, while prejudices against young men drinking fruit flavoured beers in the UK have dissipated a little, tequila flavoured beer offers much more street cred than a radler, even if the taste difference is negligable.

Mintel’s research shows Cubanisto’s core target of 18-24 year-old UK beer purchasers emphatically crave such products. Such consumers are both keen on flavoured beer and are also big spirit drinkers, with 46% of UK 18-24 year olds agreeing that spirit beers appeal to them, compared to 26% of all adults. They also tend to drink spirits in nightclubs and late night bars and this is a chance for beers to better penetrate these “high tempo” occasions. As well as reaching out to younger men, spirit beers can also subtly position themselves as more female-friendly without being either patronising or putting off male drinkers.

Looking outside the UK, France’s longer exposure to spirit beers means French 18-24 year-old beer purchasers are the keenest on the spirit beer concept in Europe, with 69% agreeing that spirit beers appeal to them. However, Mintel research also shows popularity is widespread across younger European drinkers.  For example, 54% of German 18-24 year olds also agree with the statement, as do 43% of Italian 18-24 year olds, 53% of Spanish 18-24 year olds and 65%  of Polish 18-24 year olds.

Speers in the beer market… the future?

With major brewers increasingly under attack from the explosion of craft beers, spirit beers offer them a strong route to growth. This segment is currently driven less by niche craftsmanship, and more by exoticism and aspirational marketing investment – something big brewers excel in and have leveraged to drive the growth of “world beers” such as Peroni and Tiger.

The mainstream is shifting from wanting standardised beers to more unique, flavoursome and exotic brands but not necessarily wanting these factors from craft microbreweries.

Jonny Forsyth, Global Drinks Analyst at, was previously responsible for researching and writing all of Mintel’s UK drinks reports. He brings ten years of experience working in the marketing industry, with roles at Starcom Mediavest, AB-Inbev, and Trinity Mirror. He is a regular contributor in global and national media outlets such as BBC, CNBC and Bloomberg.

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