Westporter Nick Shields isn't going to let his family history in the brewing industry -- four generations of brewers before him -- go to waste. Shields, 40, is a master brewer himself and has introduced a new beverage which he says is like no other.
Shield's company, Boathouse Beverage LLC, debuted the new drink, SpikedSeltzer, in October at the Greenwich Food and Wine Festival where he said it got a positive response -- two barrels gone in four hours.
Shields describes SpikedSeltzer as a citrus-flavored, low-carb beverage that has an alcohol content of 6 percent and is technically a beer. The beverage has a light and crisp texture and flavor, he said, and is "a mix in flavor of champagne and a vodka-soda-lime with a sparkling wine aroma. We're breaking new ground in the definition of beer," the brewer said.
Shields holds a master's degree in food science from Cornell University and is a graduate of Yale University. After several years working in the beverage industry for Nantucket Nectars and Pepsi and his family's beer brand, Haffenreffer Private Stock, he got together with friend and business partner David Holmes of Rowayton to form Boathouse Beverages, named after the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport, where Shields rows.
Shields handles the brewing part of the business and Holmes, who worked in hedge funds, handles the financial end. The brew is made in Utica, N.Y., and the company's offices are in South Norwalk. SpikedSeltzer is now in 40 retail locations in Fairfield and New Haven counties, including Whole Foods markets and Fairway Market in Stamford, according to Shields.
SpikedSeltzer is unlike traditional beers because it does not contain barley, wheat or hops, which means it is gluten free, according to Shields. It can be served by itself or as a mixer with cocktails, he added.
"People are shifting away from heavily sweetened drinks," Shields said. "This is a low-carb drink -- 5 grams of sugar per 12 ounces."
According to beverage analyst Esther Kwon of S&P Capital IQ, Shields has chosen a fast-growing segment of the beer industry. Despite a decline in the sales of beer in general, "the craft industry has been growing in the double-digit range," she said. "There's lots of interest, but lots of competition."
Kwon defined a craft beer as a beer that was produced in small quantities -- a craft brewery is a brewery that produces six million barrels or less, she said. The beverage analyst added that she had never heard of a gluten free beer before, except in alcohol-free beers.
Shields brewed the first 70 batches of SpikedSeltzer in his Westport garage, and is now branching out to more outlets in Connecticut and New York State
"It's very exciting for this to be developed. There's really nothing like it on the market right now," Shields said.
SpikedSeltzer is distributed by Anheuser-Busch and is available in Westport at: Ninety 9 Bottles, 9 Bridge Square and Whole Foods, 399 Post Road West. Fairfield retailers include Harry's Wine & Liquor Market, 2094 Post Road; Mo's Wines & Spirits, 957 Post Road, and Whole Foods, 350 Grasmere Ave. Visit www.spikedseltzer.com for more information.