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A Beer Expert Weighs In on Lululemon's Curiosity Lager

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This summer, Lululemon beer became a real thing, sold in stores — but not US stores. It was just out of reach. We can buy the Zone In tights, and track down super rare Lululemon running shorts, but Lulu fans who don’t live in Canada or who didn’t attend the brand’s Seawheeze Half Marathon still don’t know what a Lululemon craft brew tastes like.

That’s why Racked recruited Portland-based craft beer writer and Certified Cicerone® Lucy Burningham to try Lululemon’s limited-edition Curiosity Lager and give us her review. Lululemon developed the beer in partnership with a fellow Vancouver company, Stanley Park Brewing. It’s actually the second time the two have partnered up, having created a wheat beer last year for the Sunset Festival, Lululemon's Seawheeze Half Marathon’s after-party. This year, their Curiosity Lager was sold not only at SeaWheeze’s on-site beer garden but also in stores throughout British Columbia and Alberta. Some 80,000 cans were said to be available.

Image: Lucy Burningham

"The focus was always to bring the SeaWheeze event mantra — yoga.run.party. — to life and the collaboration with Stanley Park Brewing was a way to celebrate and support the Sunset Festival location through partial sale proceeds going to the Stanley Park Ecology Society," a Lululemon press rep told Racked.

The idea of the yoga/activewear giant putting out something as seemingly off-brand as a beer grabbed headlines, of course. Comments by the Stanley Park Brewing marketing director Doug Devlin fueled the idea that this beer is a tactic for Lululemon to get in with male customers. "Just because you're a yogi, doesn't mean you won't have an occasion for beer, and we're certainly interested in talking to that crowd," said Devlin told CBC News. "I think Lululemon, by extension, is interested in talking to a more male beer-drinking crowd. It's a nice way for each of us to take what it is we do to a new consumer. Meanwhile, the Lululemon Men account tweeted out a photo of the beer with the caption: "Beer, it's the new yoga pant."

Is this really a yoga bro’s beer? Is a Lululemon lager any good? For insight, we turned to Burningham, who’s written about beer for publications like Saveur, Bon Appétit, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and is currently working on a book about her quest to become a certified beer expert. She tried the beer while eating a dinner of salmon and rice al fresco. She was not wearing yoga pants at the time. "I thought about it," she said. Here are her thoughts about Lulu’s foray into craft beer.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The can itself is one thing we can judge from afar. It’s the friendliest-looking beer can, with a cartoon-y design by illustrator Karston Smith inspired by Vancouver and Stanley Park where Seawheeze takes place. "It’s a really cool can, it’s very colorful," Burningham said. The can’s inclusion of a cartoon totem pole, however, drew online backlash from Twitter and Instagram users who deemed it culturally insensitive.

The can’s design made Burningham question whether this is really a product geared toward men. The can does feature an adorable cartoon whale leaping out of the water, silhouetted against a white background scattered with colorful polka dots, after all.

"It’s a really cool can, it’s very colorful."

"One of the things I first started thinking about when I heard about this beer is who is this beer for?" Burningham said. "Are they targeting women who wear yoga pants? Or are they trying to be more inclusive and bring men into the fold? [The can is] kind of leaning feminine for me."

There’s also got to be a reason Lulu packaged the beer in a can and not a bottle. "Cans are easier to transport. Perfect for popping in your yoga bag, right?" Burningham said.

THE TASTE

Allow Burningham to explain what it’s like to drink a Lulu beer: "So when I poured the beer into the glass, it’s a beautiful yellow color, kind of straw and very hazy. It had a really white, foamy head on top. It looked super inviting, just like, oh yeah, summer. It looked summery and white. It smelled kind of floral, a little bit grainy. It tasted kind of crisp and fresh and had a little hint of lemon. It’s highly carbonated and had a really light body. It’s one of those beers you could drink a couple of at a barbecue and just feel refreshed. It definitely seems like a post workout beer. A post-yoga class beer. Very refreshing."

"It definitely seems like a post workout beer. A post-yoga class beer."

For a frame of reference, Burningham says think Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yellow Pils, "a more biscuity than hoppy lager." She calls the Curiosity beer a premium American lager, in the same category as Full Sail Session Premium Lager, Miller Genuine Draft and Heineken. So Luluemon beer has something in common with MGD.

But this is definitely a craft brewery version of a lager, according to Burningham, who notes craft brewers are making more and more lagers these days. "It has the craft beer stamp of having a nice grain build, nice flavors," she said. "They use chinook and lemon drop hops, so there’s a little bit of a hop balance."

THE YOGA POSE

We had an important question for the beer expert: Did Lululemon’s Curiosity Lager inspire you to do a yoga pose?

"It did make me want to do a yoga pose! It was so inspiring. Maybe a tree pose. Or boat pose. Tree pose and boat pose would go with the can illustration," Burningham said.

HOW STRONG IS IT?

At 4.6% ABV, this beer falls solidly in the "session" category. "It’s fairly light. In the beer world, we like to talk about session beers. You could still have multiple beers in one session and still be kind of cohesive," Burningham said. "Theoretically, you could have a little drinking session with this one."But could you still do yoga afterwards?

"Your poses might get a little sloppy depending on how many you have. I think you could do the yoga and then have the beer. That would be my suggestion."

IS THIS A "HEALTH" BEER?

A few commenters at the blog YogaDork wondered why Lulu would produce gasp, alcohol, with gasp, calories. One commenter wrote: "From their own website ‘Alcohol and soft drinks add up in your caloric intake — empty calories with no nutritional value.’"

Maybe the fact that it is a light beer is a conscious move. "That part makes sense, the light body and the low alcohol does make it seem like it would be more of a "health brand beer," Burningham said.

"Theoretically, you could have a little drinking session with this one."

But sports and beer do have a long history together, especially at big sporting events like Seawheeze. "To me, Lululemon is not just a yoga company," digital marketing strategist Jasmine Sandler told Racked, saying that Lululemon’s foray into craft beer sounds like "standard lifestyle marketing, leveraging two brands together and getting ownership for Lululemon in a category that probably they didn’t have an opportunity to get involved with."

Sandler thinks that if this wasn’t something people at Seawheeze wanted, Lululemon would’ve never gone forward. "If these yogis or these runners said 'I’m not going to drink beer. We don’t drink beer.' Then... they would’ve had problems," Sandler said.

On the other hand, Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, called the beer a "high-risk strategy," saying: "In particular, when you take this target market segment and its made up of quasi-health conscious target market with a purist health outlook and now you’re trying to get them to drink beer." But he also thought getting into beer could be right in line with Lululemon's history of out-there stunts, tracing back to founder Chip Wilson's clothes giveaway in 2002 at a Vancouver store for the first 30 people who showed up naked, a contest that made global headlines. "They’re very good at ambush marketing and getting lots of PR and creating that PR buzz," Meredith said.

IS THIS BEER FOR MEN?

"I don’t know about this idea that beer can be masculine or feminine."

For all the talk of Lululemon reaching out to men with this beer, we had to ask: can a beer be gendered at all? "I think there is a prevailing sense that yes, beer can be masculine or feminine. I personally disagree with that," Burningham said. "We’re all individuals, some women like super hoppy beers and some men like super hoppy beers. I don’t know about this idea that beer can be masculine or feminine. "

Curiosity Lager seems like it could appeal to any beer drinker. "Maybe they are trying to get in with men, if they have a line of men’s pants. But to me, the beer didn’t taste super masculine. It doesn’t have any sense of bravado or being super strong or tough. It’s a nice, crisp refreshing beer."

THE VERDICT

Here’s the big question: would Burningham try the beer again? "I would!" she said. "This is a really great lager on its own, whether or not it had a connection to yoga pants, it’s just a great beer."

Lululemon’s press representative couldn’t comment on whether the brand is planning another beer partnership. But it sounds like for a beer with a tenuous connection to Wunder Under leggings and Ta Ta Tamer sports bras, Curiosity Lager is more than just a brand extension or a joke. "It’s not just a gimmick," Burningham said. "It’s a solid beer, it’s a delicious beer."