Last week, Fox River’s Red Bobber was released at the brewery’s pubs in Oshkosh and Appleton. This Friday, February 15, bottles of Red Bobber will become available at Festival Foods stores. Red Bobber is a raspberry ale. It’s the companion to Fox River’s popular BLÜ Bobber, a blueberry ale. That association alone guarantees a degree of immediate success for the new beer. And then there’s the label. The colorless face of the woman on the Red Bobber label blushes red when the beer is chilled.
A label that turns colors isn’t the sort of thing you see from small breweries. Then again, most small breweries don’t have a beer with the sort of mass appeal that allows them to engage in this kind of marketing. It all stems from the success of Fox River’s BLÜ Bobber. And as an extension of that brand, Red Bobber is as much about branding and marketing as it is about beer. The marketing is clearly working.
The first batch of Red Bobber sold out at Fox River’s Oshkosh taproom four days after it was released (it’s back on again). One of the bartenders told me they’d been pouring it constantly since the beer was released. The beer received widespread coverage on social media and from Gannett newspapers. The Gannett article is almost entirely about the color-changing label and branding. There’s little mention of the actual beer. And here I am, four paragraphs in, having also said almost nothing about the beer.
Red Bobber is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s mild, and easy drinking, with a light accent of fruit flavor. It’s a well-made beer and not one you need to spend a lot of time thinking about. Just as advertised, it’s the raspberry version of BLÜ. If you like BLÜ, it’s a good bet you’ll like Red. And there are a lot of people who like BLÜ.
BLÜ Bobber is the best selling beer made in Oshkosh. In fact, it may be the best selling beer produced in northeast Wisconsin. It’s the one Oshkosh beer you’ll see in neighborhood bars where everything else being poured is made by MillerCoors or AB/InBev. You can find BLÜ in cans and bottles in almost every grocery store and mini-mart in Winnebago County. But BLÜ’s reach extends well beyond that.
Fox River began distribution of BLÜ in 2014. The beer is now sold across the state. Within Wisconsin, BLÜ is the Most widely distributed Oshkosh-brewed beer since the 1950s heydey of Chief Oshkosh. Fox River is currently exploring options for distribution outside of Wisconsin. BLÜ will achieve another milestone this spring when it will be sold at Milwaukee Brewers games in Miller Park. There hasn’t been an Oshkosh beer sold at Brewers games since Peoples Beer in 1971.
It’s rare that a small brewery hits on a beer that gains that kind of momentum. The smart thing as a business is to make the most of it. That’s just what Fox River is doing with Red Bobber. If Red Bobber works out the way Fox River hopes it will, I suspect you’ll see a series of “Bobber” beers follow in its path.
For now, bottles of Red Bobber will be sold exclusively at Festival Foods stores in Wisconsin until the end of February when it will become more widely available. At the end of February, Red will also begin being packaged in cans. In March, it will be Festival Foods’ craft beer of the month. You’re going to be seeing a lot of this beer.