UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN LIVING UNDER A ROCK, YOU’VE PROBABLY COME ACROSS HARD SELTZER BY NOW. SLENDER CANS OF THE STUFF WERE SEEMINGLY EVERYWHERE LAST YEAR—AND YOU WEREN’T IMAGINING IT. Just check out these eye-popping statistics: Sales of hard seltzer topped $1 billion this past year, and the IWSR reports that over half of U.S. alcohol drinkers consume more than one hard seltzer a week. Companies could barely make it fast enough for a thirsty public; national headlines ran this past summer when White Claw, one of the leading brands, announced a temporary shortage.
What’s behind the hard seltzer take-over? As the love child of two other recent trends, canned cocktails and flavored seltzer water, the category was practically predestined for meteoric success. But there are other factors at play, too: with botanically-inspired flavorings that wouldn’t be out of place at a juice bar, a low-calorie count and moderate levels of alcohol (four to six percent ABV usually—equivalent to a moderate-style of beer), the category slots right into the booming wellness industry. And with the handful that market themselves as gluten-free, these seltzers are favored by those following keto-type diets.
And don’t knock the appeal of simplicity. After a decade of drinking dominated by complicated cocktails, exponentially growing styles of beer and a few summers of all-rosé-everything, there is something liberating about the whole setup of hard seltzer. The open-the-can- and-go vibe is refreshing, crowd-pleasing and emphatically not-fussy; it’s down-right just plain fun.
But what’s actually in the can? That depends—and it’s not quite as simple as adding a shot of vodka to soda water, like you might do at home. Many brewers ferment a sugar, corn or malt base to get a low ABV, and then add flavoring. If specific ingredients are important to you, you’re going to want to check the back label of different brands to get one that aligns with your preferences.
These seltzers were made to consume straight out of the can, but if you’re a die-hard tinkerer or looking to make an especially pretty presentation for mixers, you can make these your own with fresh ingredients. Try a handful of mint in a lime-flavored seltzer for a mojito-like drink. Or for a splash of color, add some homemade liliko‘i syrup or blood orange juice. A smidge of tequila with a grapefruit seltzer can approximate a paloma.
Just keep an eye on the alcohol content, if you’re planning to experiment with other spirits: It can get boozy pretty fast.
Whether hard seltzer will ultimately go the way of other flash-in-the-pan beverage trends (remember Zima?), or gain a permanent slot on supermarket shelves, remains to be seen. But in the meantime, if you’re ready to jump in, check out some options below:
OLA BREW CO.
This Hawai‘i Island brewery recently released an appealing trio of hard seltzers in lemon-lime, lemongrass and ginger. With a refreshing light profile, all three are equally suited to our warm, island climate, but the ginger one stands out; it’s works like a less-sweet moscow mule with a spicy ginger flavor that pops.
With more than half the market share in the U.S., White Claw, made by the makers of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, may be the most recognizable hard seltzer. If you have only a passing knowledge of the category, this is probably what you’re thinking of. The striking skinny white cans, in flavors such as black cherry and mango, make an impression in a cooler at the beach or taken from an ice bucket at a garden party.
TRULY SPIKED & SPARKLING
The other big player in this category, with sales that tripled in 2018, Truly is made by the company behind Samuel Adams Beer and Angry Orchards Cider. Logging in at five percent ABV and just one gram of sugar, the brand comes in an array of fun flavors, from pomegranate to wild berry to passion fruit, but we like the lime version best.
BON & VIV
Formerly known as Spiked Seltzer, this brand got an overhaul when it was acquired by AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch) a few years ago—and it’s getting ready for the big leagues now with its own ad at the Super Bowl. Try the cranberry for a tart treat, or something more exotic, the prickly pear or clementine hibiscus.
With a slightly lower alcohol content of four percent ABV, this seltzer, packaged in a slender white can, comes in a slate of unusual flavors, including grapefruit cardamom and pear chamomile.