In January, Chicago’s Hopewell Brewing released a helles lager with a clean, crisp flavor and mellow 4.7% ABV. Lil Buddy would’ve been a pleasant, if unremarkable, addition to the brewery’s lineup, if it weren’t for one thing: it’s so gosh darn cute. True to its name, this lil’ beer comes in a lil’ 8 oz. can dolled up with a pastel palette. Its squat, snuggly container fits neatly in your hand or can cozy up to a bunch of its buddies in a cooler.
“My husband and I are in our thirties. Sometimes we can’t or don’t want to finish a whole can at night and you end up dumping perfectly good beer,” says Samantha Lee, co-founder of Hopewell Brewing. They aren’t the only ones who feel that way. “We hear a lot of parents say they can’t slam a whole beer before reading a bedtime story to their children, but they might want a little beer.”
American millennials and members of Gen Z are drinking less booze across the board. Some are turning to alternative beverages or non-alcoholic beers, leading to a dramatic rise in both sales and the quality of available options. Others are simply enjoying smaller quantities of alcohol rather than teetotalling altogether. It’s the latter that are leading to more modest portion sizes from places like Hopewell Brewing and Penrose Brewing, which recently released four-packs of “shorties” with their Haze Down Under double IPA and Overfrüt, a kettle sour.
“People are less restrictive about what they’re consuming, but they’re aware. Like instead of dry January, maybe lighter January,” Lee says. “You want to have the taste and you want to have a good time, without overdoing it. It helps me consume the right amount.”
Smaller serving sizes of beer are nothing new. Petite “ponies,” or 7 oz. bottles, and “nips,” or 8 oz. cans, have been around just as long as their formidable 64 oz. growlers cousins. Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Co. in Cincinnati has been selling tiny bottles of its Little Kings Cream Ale since 1958 and in the 1970s, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing used to sell its Old Foghorn barleywine in 6.3 oz. bottles. For years, however, the diminutive format was largely associated with mass-market beers like Bud Light, which comes in slender 8 oz. "mini" cans, or Miller High Life, which began selling “stubby” 7 oz. options in the 1970s.
It’s appropriate as a single serving, but if you went for a second one, it wouldn’t put you over the edge. The eye is drawn to them. They’re cute, they’re small, they're dainty.”
While these bitty beers are still far from common, today consumers can expect to see a whole lot more of them. In many cases, brewers use them as a means for offering appropriate serving sizes of potent beers. Saint Errant recently began offering nips of Anomia, an 11% ABV coconut stout, while Saint Flat12 Bierwerks sells 8 oz. versions of its 10.5% ABV Pinko! Russian Imperial Stout.
“It’s appropriate as a single serving, but if you went for a second one, it wouldn’t put you over the edge,” says Brandon Albaugh, chief operating officer at Flat12 Bierwerks’ company Books & Brews. “People tend to point them out, especially when they’re looking at our packaged beer cooler. The eye is drawn to them. They’re cute, they’re small, they're dainty.”
Ultimately, that inescapable cuteness might still be the biggest selling point of Lil Buddy and its equally adorable counterparts. Hopewell Brewing turned to what they call a ‘70s design aesthetic when creating the perfect can for their little lagers.
“We like to have fun with our design. It’s tongue in cheek. It’s just a Lil Buddy,” Lee says. “It definitely stands out on a shelf. We wanted to communicate that light-hearted, unpretentious approach to beer.”