White Claw Enters Spirits Category With New Vodka Brand And Vodka-based RTD

The introduction of White Claw vodka and the brand’s spirits-based canned cocktail raises the stakes in the drinks industry.

Sal’s Beverage World introduced White Claw vodka (display pictured) in its Addison, Illinois in February.
Sal’s Beverage World introduced White Claw vodka (display pictured) in its Addison, Illinois in February.

Seeking to leverage brand recognition and grab spirits volume, hard seltzer leader White Claw plans to make a big splash with the launch of its Triple Wave Filtered vodka. The vodka launched in some retail stores Wednesday, February 1, supported with digital and out-of-home ads, online videos, and experiential events. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to take off because everyone knows the name White Claw, and they are heavily supporting the brand,” says Vince Liotta, owner of the three-unit Sal’s Beverage World in the Chicago suburbs.

Sal’s Beverage World in Addison, Illinois introduced White Claw vodka ($18 a 750-ml.) in end-cap displays on February 1 and unveiled the brand at its Elmhurst and Villa Park locations shortly thereafter. “I do really well with the company’s other two spirits brands—Bearface Triple Oak Canadian whisky ($30 a 750-ml.) and Glendalough Irish whiskey ($27 a 750-ml. for the Double Barrel)—and that’s why I’m excited about White Claw vodka,” Liotta says.

The vodka is scheduled to begin rolling out at major retailers, such as Total Wine & More, Albertsons, BevMo, Spec’s, Kroger, Meijer, and Hy-Vee. It will be available at Walmart stores where spirits are sold in April and May and is hitting the on-premise as well. White Claw is also launching a vodka-based RTD on March 1. With its new vodka products, White Claw will compete against High Noon, which rocketed to the top of the U.S. spirits market last year with estimated 86% growth to 16.4 million nine-liter cases, according to Impact Databank, and second-ranked spirits brand Tito’s, which grew about 5% to 11.6 million cases.

Retailers in New York are anticipating a White Claw vodka rollout in March but are unsure of an exact date. “White Claw is becoming an iconic brand like Red Bull or Coca-Cola when it comes to that category,” says Michael Correra, owner of Michael-Towne Wine & Spirits in Brooklyn, New York and executive director of the Metro Package Store Association. “People walk into our shop all of the time and ask where the White Claw hard seltzer is and we don’t have it. It may give vodka a shot that it needs. Although Tito’s ($26 a 750-ml.) is very successful, the rest of the category is struggling.”

White Claw vodka will be available in 50-ml., 750-ml., and 1-liter bottles and is made with 100% American corn, is distilled five times, and is  filtered three times with water pressurized to 6,000 pounds per square foot to simulate the power exerted by 3-foot by 30-foot ocean wave. The launch includes a straight vodka (40% abv) and three flavored offerings (30% abv)—Pineapple, Mango, and Black Cherry. While the distillery partner is undisclosed, the new vodka is bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky.

White Claw is also launching a vodka-based RTD (lineup pictured) in March.
White Claw is also launching a vodka-based RTD (lineup pictured) in March.

White Claw vodka’s pricing strategy is in line with Tito’s. Owned by the privately held Vancouver, British Columbia-based Mark Anthony Group of Companies, White Claw hard seltzer has a 52% share of that segment and already reaches 13.2% of households in the U.S., compared to Tito’s 9.8%, according to marketing material viewed by SND. About 50% of White Claw hard seltzer drinkers also drink vodka weekly and 77% of them mix vodka with hard seltzer.

In Seattle, Washington, Downtown Spirits spirits buyer Terrence Tompkins is uncertain if the store will carry White Claw vodka. “I don’t have any plans for it at the moment, although if the price and quality are reasonable, then it’s possible,” he says. “White Claw is a very strong brand, but overall, vodka RTDs are not strong movers. Other RTDs, especially Margaritas, are significantly more popular.”

Mark O’Callaghan, owner of Exit 9 Wine & Liquor Warehouse, in the Albany, New York metro area notes the spirits-based White Claw RTD may be confusing to some consumers. In New York, retailers with beer licenses can sell malt-based hard seltzer. Wine and liquor stores in the Empire State can’t sell beer or malt-based hard seltzers but can sell spirits based RTDs like High Noon ($9.95 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans). “It’s really a muddled category right now,” O’Callaghan says. “Some customers are going to ask why they can buy White Claw in the supermarket for about half the price of the one I am selling.”

White Claw’s core hard seltzer reached 96 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2020, according to Impact Databank, before a decrease in traditional hard seltzer in 2021. Last year, the brand dipped about 4% in IRI channels, but remains the dominant traditional hard seltzer brand. Its top competitor has been Boston Beer’s Truly, which also debuted a vodka and vodka-based RTDs (in partnership with Beam Suntory) last year. Truly Flavored vodka hasn’t gained consumer traction, and it remains to be seen if a malt-based hard seltzer brand can break into the vodka market. “I’m introduced to 50 new products a month,” O’Callaghan says. “A lot of them are from the main suppliers. They are putting money behind them to try and build a brand. Sometimes they discontinue it because it doesn’t work. It depends how they want to roll it out.”