While it’s mainly sold in the Northeast, if you haven’t been able to find it where you live, you won’t have long to wait. According to industry experts, hard seltzer isn’t just a flash in the pan; it’s here to stay, and will likely be coming soon to a liquor store near you.
Easy as 1, 2, 3
Hard seltzer has one of the shortest ingredient lists you’ll find on any alcoholic canned beverage. “It’s just carbonated water, alcohol, and flavoring,” says Christian McMahan, President of Wachusett Brewing Company, maker of Nauti Seltzer. While they may look like other clear, carbonated alcoholic beverages you’ve seen in the past, such as Zima or Smirnoff Ice, there’s one major difference: most spiked seltzers are made by fermenting simple sugars rather than malt.
Neil Quiqley, co-founder of Brigg’s Hard Seltzer, says that the sugar brewing process creates a very light, low-calorie, gluten-free product. “It’s definitely its own unique thing,” he explains. “It takes a specialized set of skills to make, but once you get the hang of it, there are limitless possibilities.” Whether they’re made with real fruit juice, like Brigg’s, or natural flavors such as fruit essences, there are plenty of juicy-sounding options to choose from, like lemon-lime, grapefruit, pineapple, cherry, black cherry, blueberry, pomegranate, and cranberry. They’re great sipped on their own, or added to cocktails like a simple vodka soda for a twist on the traditional flavor.
Keeping Things Light
The whole concept of spiked seltzer is meant to appeal to a more health-conscious, active consumer on-the-go. “People want to drink, but not get weighted down,” McMahan states. “Consumers are spending more time reading labels and thinking about what goes into their bodies. On average, [spiked seltzers] are only about 100 calories, which is better than most non-light beers.”
In terms of alcohol content, most hard seltzers tend to be in the 4.5 percent-5 percent ABV range. However, there’s a lot of room to experiment with more than just flavor. For example, Nauti will be launching Extra Nauti, a 19.2 ounce, 8 percent ABV “extra-strong” hard seltzer, in the next couple of months.
Hard Seltzer’s Past, Present, and Future
As for where the idea for hard seltzer came from, we have the increasing popularity of non alcoholic carbonated water to thank. American demand for sparkling beverages is rising, especially for those served in a can. And there’s a reason why both traditional seltzer water and hard seltzer is so popular in the Northeast. Non-alcoholic seltzer got its start in Jewish neighborhoods on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and some of the most popular brands (e.g., Polar Beverages) are made in New England.
So, why did it take so long for someone to invent alcoholic seltzer? Despite the fact that carbonated water has been around for centuries, the first hard seltzer was only introduced in 2012 by Spiked Seltzer (now known as Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer). “You have to know what you’re doing,” says McMahan.”We’ve been a craft brewery for 25 years, and the [alcoholic] seltzer process was probably the most difficult we’ve ever had to do. It takes a high degree of skill and technical ability.”
It’s also no coincidence so many hard seltzers have been launched by breweries. “Beer companies are always looking for the next thing,” McMahan explains. “If you’re stagnant, you’re in trouble. There’s an opportunity in hard seltzer.”
Sharing a similar point of view, Quigley states,“You don’t often see a completely novel new beverage product come out of thin air. It’s pretty rare. If you hit the right thing at the right time and there’s a completely untapped market for it, it can go anywhere. No one knows where the ceiling is. It’s exciting. We’re holding on for dear life as the [hard seltzer] category explodes.”
Hard Seltzer Brands
Some of the more widely available brands of spiked seltzer include White Claw, Truly, Bon & Viv, Henry’s, and Smirnoff (yes, of vodka fame—which makes perfect sense, since these are sort of like vodka soda in a can, if a bit less potent).
Our editor-at-large calls Bon & Viv “dangerously delicious”—without any artificial bitterness some brands have, and with the benefit of fancy flavors like pear and elderflower; black cherry and rosemary; and clementine hibiscus. Is it summer yet?
Spiked Seltzer on Drizly (prices vary)
See what spiked seltzer options are availabe in your area if you're looking for something new to sip.
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