Like many people approaching 40 years of age, it appears Hello Kitty is having a midlife crisis.
No, she hasn’t run out and bought a Harley or had a steamy tryst with the plumber (sorry, Mario). Instead, the Japanese pop icon has engaged in a decidedly adults-only undertaking – brewing her own beer.
That’s right; Hello Kitty beer is a thing, at least in Asia.
There are six Hello Kitty beers, which come in easy-drinking fruit flavors like peach, lemon-lime, passion fruit, and banana. They have about half the alcohol content of mainstream American beers - a Budweiser runs 5 percent alcohol-by-volume, where the Hello Kitty brews range from 2.3 percent to 2.8 percent.
“The beers were introduced in Taiwan, and are now also available in China, where flavored beer is a new trend in the market,” a spokesperson in the marketing department of Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, told TODAY.com in an email. Sanrio confirmed it licensed the beer, brewed by the Taiwan Tsing Beer Company.
Blogger Eric Jou lives in Beijing, and reviewed the brews for the video game blog Kotaku.
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“They're so ridiculously smooth and tasty that one can barely tell they're drinking beer,” Jou noted. “It's almost like drinking fruit juice, even if the cans do say ‘beer’"
These sentiments were echoed on the beercentric social network Untappd, where one reviewer said the passion fruit variety “tastes like Fanta with a beer aftertaste” while another said the fruity beer “goes down like a wine cooler.”
With their light fruity flavors, low alcohol content and cute cartoon labels, the question has to be asked: Do these Hello Kitty beers also say “hello” to kiddies?
“Hello Kitty will be 40 years old in 2014,” Sanrio's spokesperson responded. “Customers have grown up with Hello Kitty, literally.”
Older Americans might remember Joe Camel, the ruggedly handsome cartoon character used to pitch Camel cigarettes in the U.S. in the ‘80s and ‘90s. R.J. Reynolds, who sold and marketed Camel cigarettes, insisted that they weren’t targeting children with their illustrated mascot, but parents and Congress applied enough pressure on the tobacco giant that Joe Camel was snuffed out in 1997.
Would this line of Hello Kitty beers cause a similar uproar in the United States, especially since products featuring the cutesy kitten are largely aimed at pre-adolescent females in America?
In 2010, a Hello Kitty wine hit the American market, albeit with the tagline, “Our favorite girl has grown up,” showing the icon in black and white.
“[It was] done intentionally to indicate that Hello Kitty … has crossed over from being a children’s brand to being a brand for children and adults alike,” Drew Hibbert, of CEO of Innovation Spirits, which markets the wine in the U.S., told LA Weekly in 2010.
Halfway around the world, where the beers have been released, Hello Kitty is clearly not just for kids -- last year, she even dressed up like a Hooters Girl for a Valentine’s Day promotion in Japan.
The beers would likely have to be labeled and marketed with a more grown-up look in the U.S. to avoid controversy, but Sanrio said there are no plans to sell them stateside.
That said, don’t be surprised if the fruit-infused beer trend doesn’t take hold in America. This past summer saw an explosion of new shandies, a sweet and refreshing mixture of beer and lemonade, hitting the store shelves across the nation. There’s also the growing popularity of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which comes in fruity flavors such as strawberry lemon and blood orange. Light and fruity beers might indeed become a trend in the States.
I guess the real question is what American cartoon characters would we use to sell these fruity delights? Perhaps a “Family Guy” themed Stewie’s Strawberry Shandie, or maybe a little help from the boys in “South Park.” Cartman Cantaloupe Cooler, anyone?
Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.