Wondering about the best hard seltzer for your end of summer beach trip, picnic, or post-Labor Day BBQ? With so many on the market (good thing, as there’s currently a national White Claw shortage), we taste-tested some of the most popular hard seltzers so you don’t have to!
Seltzer, sparkling water, bubbly water, fizzy water—whatever you call it, it’s certainly having its moment nationwide. In fact, sales of sparkling water have tripled since 2008, making headlines in 2018, and the increasing popularity of hard seltzer (aka spiked seltzer) is part and parcel to the overall trend.
Hard seltzers continue to enter the market with a major spike over the past couple of years. Big brands like White Claw (which has been so successful there is currently a shortage of it on shelves!) and Bon & Viv have become well-liked with folks citing their refreshing and light taste and relatively low alcohol content making them perfect summer day drinking options. Some brands have been launched by craft breweries, including Nauti from Wachusett Brewing, Wild Basin from Oskar Blues Brewery, and collaboration between Harpoon Brewery and Polar Beverages called Arctic Summer, with others coming from traditional liquor brands like Smirnoff. With so many options, you may be wondering which to try first.
To help you find your perfect match, we put together a round-up of the best hard seltzers to try (and avoid) this summer.
The Hard (Seltzer) Facts
It comes in a wide variety of flavors, has practically no sugar or calories compared to regular soda, is made with few (if any) artificial ingredients, and is much more interesting to drink than plain old water. These are just a few reasons we’re drinking so much more sparkling water. And with the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, it’s no surprise that hard seltzers are gaining traction; they’re typically gluten-free, very low in sugar, between four and five percent ABV, and around 100 calories per serving.
Related Reading: The Best Low-Cal, Low-Carb Beers for Summer Sipping
Most spiked or hard seltzers are also made with just three ingredients—water, alcohol, and flavoring. Yet, how they taste varies greatly from one brand to another. While most are made by cold-brewing cane sugar into alcohol, a process that is markedly challenging to perfect, Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer is made with cold-fermented corn sugar, and Press Premium Alcohol Seltzer is made with a malt base. Some brands are sugar-free, while others have fructose or cane sugar added. And while almost all of them boast natural flavoring, that might mean anything from essence to actual fruit juice.
But How Does It Taste?
If you’re looking for something light, refreshing, and easy-to-drink in lots of fruity flavors, hard seltzer was practically made for you. It’s a great alternative to light beer and low-calorie cocktails. But while I’d like to say there’s a spiked seltzer for every palate, if your idea of heaven is to suck back a couple of super-hoppy IPAs, or you only drink brown alcohol, it may not be to your liking. That said, next time you’re faced with a cooler full of hard seltzer options, I encourage you to try it for yourself.
Which is exactly what I did, with the help of some friends and colleagues. While the taste test I set up was pretty informal, the results were consistent. Here are some of our most noteworthy findings:
Top Marks — The Best Tasting Hard Seltzers
If you’re low on time (and patience), these picks are most likely to quench your thirst for trying something new.
Press’s Pomegranate Ginger was hands-down the most well-liked spiked seltzer we tried. Think ginger ale with a fruity kick, very light and easy to drink. Plus, you can barely taste the alcohol, which may or may not be a good thing.Buy Now
Another easy sipper, White Claw’s Raspberry has an intense fruity aroma that screams ripe fruit and a smooth sweetness with a hint of vanilla on the finish. Better grab it when you see it, because the news is that a White Claw shortage is happening.Buy Now
Voted number one for cool can design, Wild Basin’s Melon Basil and Cucumber Peach flavors are bursting with juicy melon and ripe peach flavor, respectively. However, none of us were able to detect the presence of cucumber in the latter.Buy Now
Where’s the Beef? — Hard Seltzers We Liked But Didn’t Love
Throughout the taste test, the fussiest-sounding flavors consistently seemed to be lacking anticipated oomph.
Rosemary has such a sharp, distinctive flavor, so we were baffled not to smell or taste it here. In fact, Bon & Viv’s Black Cherry Rosemary tastes a lot like Diet Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda.Buy Now
Not a trace of pomelo flavor was to be found in this pineapple-forward spiked seltzer, which was slightly disappointing. However, the aroma—think piña colada—was very pleasing.Buy Now
Not For Everyone — Our Least Favorite Hard Seltzers
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these hard seltzers proved that some flavors can be highly controversial.
Made with Mandarina hops, Truly’s Colima Lime has a bitter aftertaste, much like tonic water, that may appeal more to fans of IPAs.Buy Now
Related Reading: Low and Steady: Low-Alcohol Cocktails for Summer Day Drinking
Recently launched by Nauti Seltzer, Extra Nauti certainly lives up to its name with eight percent ABV, nearly twice that of other spiked seltzers. Also available in Black Cherry, which reminded some taste testers of cough syrup, the Mixed Berry flavor drew comparisons to Sweetarts candy.Buy Now
While few of us were fans of Wild Basin’s Lemon Agave Hibiscus—it was likened to drinking floor wax, nail polish remover, petro chemicals, and cheap perfume—one colleague rated it among his favorites!Buy Now
Briggs Hard Seltzer’s Pineapple was one of the most highly anticipated, but puzzling, hard seltzers in the taste test. Made with real fruit juice, it evoked dehydrated pineapple flavor rather than fresh, and lacked sufficient carbonation.Buy Now
While it’s nearly impossible to develop a full range of flavors with universal appeal, hard seltzer producers are just getting started, and are likely to introduce exciting new options in the future. Whatever your preference, it’s hard to deny spiked seltzer is a worthwhile addition to the alcoholic beverage market. It’s the perfect accompaniment to summer gatherings, sports events, or a day at the beach. (Pro tip: Spiked seltzer can also be a great addition to low-alcohol cocktails for easy day drinking.)
Header image by Chowhound