I know I am revealing my age when I say that the last time I remember an alcohol craze like this it was wine coolers. I was barely scraping legal when they were super-hot in the 1980s, but I knew there was an “it drink.”
The most recent “it drink” is hard seltzer, served on plenty of patios and sidewalk tables during this pandemic summer.
Hard seltzer, also known as spiked seltzer or hard sparkling water, contains carbonated water, alcohol and flavoring. The alcohol usually comes from fermented sugar, though in some versions there is vodka or malted barley.
The amount of sugar is generally low however, and the alcohol count is often fairly low too, usually around 5%, though the vodka-based sparklers can get higher.
White Claw really got the ball rolling; according to Nielsen, the brand’s sales were up about 250% in 2019 over the previous year. The marketing research firm said the entire hard-seltzer market tripled last year, reaching $1.3 billion, and has remained strong. Many big beer brands, including Molson Coors, Corona and Budweiser have stepped into the market this year.
Hard seltzer is designed to be a lightly alcoholic, not-so-serious sipping drink for people looking to imbibe in moderation. Many hard seltzers have about 100 calories per can. Most are gluten-free as well, but check the labels.
Most of all, they are designed to be fun, available in an array of flavors and versions, with new ones popping up all the time. Most of the flavors are light. Many brands boast all-natural ingredients and artisanal craftsmanship, and the packaging is generally lively and colorful.
The largest category of hard seltzers is fruit-flavored ones made with cane sugar. Truly, for instance, boasts no artificial sweeteners or flavors. Varieties include Blueberry and Acai, and Wild Berry. Recently, the company launched Truly Lemonade Hard Seltzer in different flavors.
Arctic Summer is made with the name-brand Polar seltzer, and comes in flavors like Pineapple Pomelo and Raspberry Lime. Sercy works with the Native Green Can Project Network to emphasize sustainability. Nauti is yet another brand, offering combo packs of flavors.
Bon V!V makes Spiked Seltzers with corn instead of cane sugar, and some flavors incorporate botanicals like Pear Elderflower and Clementine Hibiscus.
Then there are sparkling spiked drinks made with brewed grains. Crook & Marker uses organic alcohol brewed with ancient grains (like quinoa, amaranth and millet) and cassava root. Their drinks have zero sugar but a bit of Stevia, and flavors include Tangerine and Coconut Pineapple. They also make spiked sodas with no sugar, and just launched spiked teas and lemonades as well.
Malt sparkling beverages include Press Premium Alcohol Seltzers (think Blackberry Hibiscus, or the new Pineapple Basil and Lingonberry Elderflower). They’re brewed with malt but then the gluten is removed, so there’s just a trace left. Budweiser just launched a line of Bud Light Seltzer in flavors like Mango and Strawberry; Corona is in the game with four fruit flavors.
CARBONATED VODKA DRINKS
Slightly higher in alcohol are the carbonated vodka drinks, more like canned cocktails, such as Western Son, whose packaging mentions that the vodka has been distilled 10 times. These are gluten-free, with 9% alcohol. High Noon Vodka & Soda drinks are back down to a 4.5% alcohol level, with options like Pineapple and Watermelon. They contain real juice, vodka and sparkling water.