Gay Water, a new canned cocktail, wants to be the anti-Bud Light

In a sea of ​​canned cocktails, Gay Water wants to stand out.

A brightly colored canned vodka and soda drink launches Thursday that proudly shows who it’s for, rather than recanting support for the LGBTQ2S+ community like other companies have done in recent months. In other words, where Bud Light has caved to pressure as bigotry against the LGBTQ2S+ community grows, Gay Water creator Spencer Hoddeson wants his new alcoholic brand to be the antithesis of that.

“The key problem that Bud Light tapped into was the fact that they didn’t understand their core audience and didn’t know enough about them,” Hoddeson, a gay man, told CNN about the controversy that began when beer brand Anheuser-Busch sent a can of beer to influencer Dylan Mulvaney. “They just went silent and I think in 2023, you have to communicate because people communicate themselves if they don’t hear from you.”

Gay Water, however, is out and proud. The canned cocktail is named after a colloquialism given to the popular mixed drink (vodka and soda) that the gay community orders in bars. It’s also one of the few openly queer-owned alcohol brands, which Hoddeson said he pushed him to create because he wanted more representation in the category.

“We are creating a brand that creates representation, particularly in spaces where representation is lacking like liquor stores, bars, restaurants and supermarkets,” he said. “Putting a product with the word gay in the title is the representation itself,” which he hopes will reclaim the word from the negativity it is sometimes associated with.

He thought of creating Gay Water about a year ago while on vacation with a friend who had gotten a job in the beverage industry. The two chatted about the limited amount of gay people inside him, and with Hoddeson exhausted from his traditional tech job, they began the canned cocktail.

big online

Hoddeson built up a massive social media following on TikTok and Instagram during Covid-19 and is using some of the money from that (as well as from friends and family) to help fund Gay Water. He worked alongside a queer designer to create the colorful packaging, which draws inspiration from Nickelodeon shows and ’90s pop art.

“I wanted to build something that is queer and part of the community, but not necessarily the rainbows and unicorns that you see around pride,” she said. “Gay is a general term and the idea behind the brand is to be as inclusive as possible, which means we want allies, we want straight people to be part of this community that we’re building.”

For now, Gay Water is sold primarily online (with some retailers) and comes in four sugar-free flavors—watermelon, lime, peach, and grapefruit—at launch. Six-packs with a single flavor are $18.25 and 12-packs with a variety of flavors are $36.50.

Although fortified sodas have gone cold among drinkers, liquor-based drinks such as High Noon have gained popularity. And despite the hundreds of brands on the shelves (after all, a canned vodka soda isn’t a unique thing anymore), Hoddeson said it’s “exactly the right time” to join the space.

“When I look at a lot of brands coming into the market right now, what they’re missing is the idea of ​​who their audience is and who their community is going to be rather than what their product is,” he said.

Canned cocktail boom

Sales of pre-mixed cocktails rose about 36% last year, making it a $2.2 billion industry according to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Gay Water may not have the deep pockets compared to its competitors such as White Claw, but “even on a small scale, companies of many sizes are finding success making spirits and pre-mixed cocktails,” Bryan Roth, an analyst at Feel Goods Company and publisher of spirits newsletter Sightlines+, told CNN.

“There is a lot of room in the spirits category for Gay Water to play in, especially if the brand can offer a cultural or emotional connection that feels more exciting than the prospect of another pineapple-flavored vodka from national or international corporations,” Roth said. “It’s a heavyweight category where you can create niches in a similar way to craft beer.”

Of course, other drinks use the word “gay” as well, including Gay Beer and So Gay Rosé, Hoddeson noted, which are also trying to reach out to the queer community and offer them an alternative in the straight-dominated space.

Hoddeon said there are a lot of “direct code brands trying to acquire an audience and that’s what Bud Light did. Clearly there’s a desire for people to have queer customers, they just don’t know how to do it.”

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