Hitting the beach, hosting a cookout, getting casual after-work drinks: Chances are you’ve reached for a hard seltzer during the past few months. Though these sneaky libations have wormed their way into bars and refrigerators seemingly overnight, their swell has been building -- but rapidly. We’ve all but dubbed this the Summer of the Seltzer, since it seems to have exploded this year with a swiftness that we’re all too eager to keep up with.
Kicking off in 2013, SpikedSeltzer was a sleepy little innovation without much traction. Three years later, Anheuser-Busch (the nation’s largest beer company) acquired it and rebranded it to one of the less popular hard seltzers, Bon & Viv. Also launched in 2016: White Claw, by the same Mark Anthony Group that brought us Mike’s Hard; Nauti, by Wachusett Brewing Company; and Truly, Boston Beer Co.’s pride and joy. Arctic Summer, Polar Seltzer’s contribution through a collab with Harpoon Brewery, followed soon after.
There are at least 32 renditions altogether, some available nationwide while others stay regional, and the proof is in the
pudding bubbles: Even though most are barely over three years old, hard seltzer sales are up over 200 percent from last year, according to Nielson reports, and are bypassing beers without even trying. The clear industry leader White Claw, for example, has beat out every single craft beer except Blue Moon in sales, and Truly’s been outselling Boston Beer’s entire brew selection.
While there are plenty of opinions out there on which brands are better or worse, every seltzer drinker has found their favorites by now. Some passionately refuse to drink any grapefruit flavors; others deem the raspberry too sweet. Those like me will always reach for the lime option first, but will honestly default to whatever’s left. It’s to the point where we’d rather drink a seltzer we dislike than a beer we do like.
Why? Because it’s the "healthy" alcohol.
The seltzers are derived from cane sugar instead of malted barley or grains, making it gluten-free -- already a one-up on beer. Since the overwhelming percentage of sugars end up fermenting into alcohol, what’s left over is a low-calorie, low-carb result. Flavors are either lab- or naturally-derived, otherwise made from real fruit juice or concentrate, and the Sup! brand even took is so far as to make their seltzer organic. You’re getting the most health-conscious bang for the least buck.
Seltzer itself is a trend -- LaCroix, anyone? -- even though Polar and San Pellegrino have been around forever. In an era of going gluten-free, adopting the keto diet (the guiding principle of which is high fat, low carb), and practicing ~~wellness~~ in general, seltzer is becoming the go-to alternative to anyone looking to keep it slim and healthy while getting their fix for bubbles. And stay hydrated! Right? Right.
Add to that the fact that the majority of hard seltzer brands float between 4 and 5 percent alcohol content, about the same as a light beer. If you had to choose between meeting your booze quota in a light seltzer vs. a beer that you probably don’t even like that will sit in your stomach, the answer is pretty obvious.
Sorry, Michelob Ultra -- you’re simply not good enough anymore.
The plot twist? It’s not just 20-something yogis or groups of moms at neighborhood BBQs watching their figure that prefer the seltzers; the demand is seeping into tons of demographics for its easy-to-drink yet will-definitely-get-you-wasted peculiarity. Take my own father, who, in his 50s, presumptuously slugged three Trulys by the pool last summer before warning me to “be careful with these” as I daintily sipped my own. You can also take a scroll through the Clawdaddies Instagram account or watch this viral video by comedian Trevor Wallace to see how the bros of the world get into it.
“I thought it would be more women driven, but it’s 50-50. I’m at the marathon and there are seven guys next to me in the crowd and they’re all drinking Truly,” Sandy Vox, assistant sales manager for the beer category at the Jewel-Osco supermarket chain, told the Chicago Tribune.
The question now is whether or not hard seltzer will become “the next light beer,” as the Tribune pointed out. When light beer was first introduced in the late '70s and early '80s, it was a force for established beer brands to reckon with. Six of the top-selling 10 beers (and taking up the first four spots) are light ones. These days, a lot of us wouldn’t even think to order a Budweiser at a local pub -- my mouth, for one, just automatically forms the words “Bud Light.” But you can’t help but compare hard seltzer to the hard sodas that haven’t quite taken off; Henry’s is really the only relevant one, though not for lack of trying by other brands.
Christopher Shepard, senior editor for Craft Brew News, told the Tribune, “I don’t know what five years from now looks like, but I do know seltzer has developed differently than anything I’ve been witness to during the last decade. Look back at what people thought would be the next big thing, and none of them caught so much widespread interest as seltzer has.”
Sounds promising. Drink on, #WhiteClawSummer!