Can I interest you in a can of Labatt Blue Citra or a pint of Labatt New England IPA?
When I was younger, back before craft beer became my thing (meaning any kind of beer was my thing), I drank a lot of Labatt Blue. In retrospect, I don’t know why. I recall thinking it went down easy, and something about the blue label appealed to me. (These were the kind of factors we used to choose a beer.) So imagine my surprise when I recently heard about Labatt Blue Citra… as in Citra hops. Yes, Labatt is going the craft route.
In a sign of our craft beer times, Labatt USA has opened the Labatt Brew House — a taproom, restaurant, and small brewery — in Buffalo, New York… and this is not your father’s Labatt. Beyond the previously mentioned Labatt Blue Citra, which as the name implies is a "hoppy session lager," the facility is also selling super hip craft beer styles like a New England IPA and a strawberry gose. Oh, and you can get a Labatt Blue or Blue Light if you want as well.
As an important side note, Labatt USA isn’t your father’s Labatt ownership group either. As part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev merger in 2008, the behemoth was forced by regulators to sell off the Labatt brand in the United States. (AB InBev still owns Labatt in Canada.) As a result, Labatt USA landed in the hands of North American Breweries. But North American Breweries also includes some other brands you might recognize — Genesee, Magic Hat, and Pyramid — all of which are run more like craft breweries. With all that in mind, the fact that Labatt USA has decided to take a crafty approach all of a sudden actually makes more sense.
Along those lines, the Labatt Brew House is being billed as "Labatt’s first innovation brewery in the U.S.," and if you thought you knew Labatt, things have already quickly changed. Labatt Blue Citra — which is made with the popular and intense Citra and Mosaic hops — is the new facility’s flagship beer, and is already being canned at the much larger Genesee Brewery in Rochester, according to New York Upstate. Meanwhile, back at the smaller 10-barrel facility in Buffalo, head brewer Ryan Brady is working on small batch beers that also include craft beer basics like a Labatt Hefeweizen, pale ale, and porter. If things go well, these beers too could see a larger rollout. "The idea is that we're going to get consumer feedback by word of mouth, online ratings and sales numbers for our customers in the tasting room and through the Draft Room, beer bar and eatery in the same building," Brady told Buffalo News.
"The Labatt Brew House brings a new way of brewing beer to Labatt USA," Brand Manager Rob Hertenstein explained further in a statement. "For the first time, we have a destination where we develop beer alongside our most passionate consumers. We’ve worked hard to give them a unique experience of seeing, smelling and learning more about the brewing process."
So what do the customers think so far? "Damn good NE IPA," one user recently wrote on Untappd. Yup, that’s a Labatt New England IPA we’re talking about. Oh, how the times have changed.