For Central Standard, new Hard2O drink is about pushing innovation

Central Standard Hard2O
Pat McQuillan and Evan Hughes, Central Standard co-founders

Last updated on August 27th, 2019 at 04:13 pm

The alcoholic beverage market has done nothing if not become more competitive in recent years. More craft breweries and distilleries have emerged plus consumer tastes continue to evolve with the growth in popularity of hard seltzers. That leaves Milwaukee-based Central Standard Craft Distillery with a challenge.

“We try to be really, really innovative as a company and we try to push all of our team members to think big and think innovatively,” said Evan Hughes, co-founder of Central Standard.

Hughes said that even as hard seltzers and other flavored malt beverages have grown in popularity, the feedback Central Standard got was that there was an opportunity for a still beverage.

This week, the company launched Hard2O, a still-vodka water that has 40 calories per 12 ounces, zero sugar, zero carbohydrates and is gluten-free. It has 5% alcohol by volume and comes in berry, mango, citrus and dragonfruit-pear flavors.

“This was a product, an opportunity for us to set ourselves apart, to differentiate ourselves as a craft distillery and really to create a disruptive product that can compete on that hard seltzer, clear malt beer base category,” Hughes said.

He pointed out some people may not like bubbles in their beverage or quickly get full drinking carbonated beverages.

Central Standard is also emphasizing the beverage’s low calorie count and recyclable packaging.

“It’s a lifestyle brand. It is for the active person. It is extremely mobile. Any time you’re doing anything with a cooler… any of those applications are perfect for this,” Hughes said.

He noted that the initial iterations of the drink had higher calorie levels but the company worked to bring them down.

We also knew that we needed to innovate and really compete on the health side of things,” Hughes said.

Part of Central Standard’s launch of the Hard2O brand included billboards near Anheuser-Bush facilities in St. Louis and New Jersey and samples to anyone in the U.S. with the name Michael, Michelle or Mickey Ultra.

“Whenever we do anything like this … we try to have fun with it,” Hughes said, adding “our friends in St. Louis” have done well with their products targeting a similar demographic.

The plan is to initially distribute Hard2O in Wisconsin this year and then expand nationally in 2020. Hughes said the distillery is in the process of narrowing down its national partners.

“When we’re releasing new products and creating new brands, we’re so fortunate to live in a state and in an area that people, they take local really serious and they’re very supportive,” Hughes said. “Without the support of Wisconsinites, we wouldn’t be able to have the success that we’ve been able to have over the past five years.”

He also said the launch of Hard2O does not mark a departure from the more traditional spirit products Central Standard is known for.

“We’re going to push the envelope, we’re going to continue to innovate, we’re going to continue to listen to the consumer and bring things to the market that are not only fun but delicious,” Hughes said.


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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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