CHARLESTON, S.C. - Robert Spencer, a tall former college basketball player, looks up from his table in a busy Charleston restaurant.
"Do you have any Mobius beer?" he asks, but only gets a quizzical look from the waitress.
Spencer, who began selling his new "energy beer" earlier this month, isn't fazed. "In a year," he says, "I think we'll be worldwide."
Mobius Infused Lager went to market Nov. 8 and already you can order a bottle in at least 30 locations in this city known for its dining and nightlife.
Spencer knows there is a wider market for his beer in a time when many younger drinkers order up spirits mixed with energy drinks such as Red Bull.
So he set out to develop a so-called energy beer that provides an alternative to sweet energy drinks. "We're trying to build that perfect buzz over a period of time," he says.
Spencer, whose career has included operating and founding a printing company, got the idea for Mobius when, in the late 1990s, he was living in Berkeley, Calif., two doors down from the PowerBar company.
"Working in the bars, I saw people drink things that I thought tasted horrible," Spencer says. "They were going for that extra boost besides alcohol."
Working with Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, he developed Mobius, which is infused with taurine, ginseng, caffeine and thiamine.
Spencer, whose business card does not say he is president of Beverage Mobius Ltd. but rather refers to him as "Energy Beer Herald," had approached several brewers in the Southeast about the project.
"Some brewers looked at me like I was nuts," he said. "They just didn't see the viability of it. You talk to these brewers and people want them to do things like beer Popsicles. They thought they had heard everything and they said, 'You guys are crazy.'"
But the folks at Thomas Creek felt the idea was viable, and Spencer worked with brewmaster Tom Davis in developing the beer.
The first batch, Spencer recalls, tasted horrid.
"The first beer tasted like Sam Adams with a Flintstone vitamin," he says. "It was not a pleasant experience."
"We wanted a European-style lager," he said, so instead of using flavorings to cover the bitter taste of some of the additives, Mobius used a technology to remove the taste of the additives altogether.
In the coming weeks, Mobius will be unveiled in larger markets throughout the Southeast. The company has seven employees and the business plan is to first introduce the beer in bars and restaurants then expand to grocery stores.
Mobius is the name of a 19th century mathematician who discovered the Mobius strip - a strip of paper twisted and glued together so that is has only one side. The sideways figure 8, the symbol of infinity, is used on the packaging.
"Mobius beer is similar in that way that it will keep you going on and on all night long," says the company literature.
Mobius is being released at a time when several similar drinks are appearing. Moonshot beer is infused with caffeine, and last month Anheuser-Busch unveiled B-to-the-E, its beer infused with caffeine, guarana and ginseng.
"These are the first beers I know of that have these ingredients added for the jolt factor," says Julie Bradford, editor of All About Beer magazine. "There have been beers, stouts, where brewers added coffee for the flavor and some of the more playful brewers said, 'Why don't I just put espresso in my stout?'"
In developing drinks "the capacity for innovation... and people's excitement for the new and unusual is unlimited," adds Bradford's husband, Daniel, who is president of the Brewers Association of America, an industry trade group representing 1,400 members.
But, he noted, that much of the growth among small brewers in recent years is in making traditional beers.
"I don't think B-to-the-E or Mobius will become a long-term brand choice," Julie Bradford says. "I think they are appealing to the group of young drinkers who seek out variety."
Although the target market is drinkers between 21 and 25, "we think it's a beer for anyone - not everyone all the time," Spencer says. "When someone comes home from a long day of work... and they feel they are dragging through it, it's the beer for that person - whether they are 70 or 35."
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