How Hard Seltzer Became So Trendy—Plus, the Brands to Sip Right Now
It's all about the bubbles.
There's something about light, airy, and flirty bubbles. Whether found streaming up a Champagne flute, fizzing in a glass of water, or blowing from a wand into a backyard, bubbles instantly add a bit of joy to the moment. Maybe they're the reason we just can't get enough spiked seltzer. Whether you prefer to call it spiked, hard, or alcoholic, it was impossible not to scroll through Instagram or walk into a liquor store without seeing the bubbly beverage last year. With sales growing by nearly 200 percent from 2018 to 2019 and the industry expected to grow from $500 million to $2.5 billion by 2021, hard seltzer is moving from trendy summer cocktail hour sipper to home bar staple.
"Seltzer isn't fussy in terms of needing to worry about how it will pair with whatever you're eating for dinner, and it's lower ABV," says Amy Walberg, the founder of PRESS Premium Alcohol Seltzer, a company that began out of her kitchen in Milwaukee in 2015. If you've managed to miss the hard seltzer craze, the gist is simple: It's bubbly water with alcohol. "The bubbles in any seltzer come from Carbon Dioxide (CO2)," says Meg Gill, founder of Maha Liquid Ventures, which launched a USDA-certified organic hard seltzer line this past March. "The CO2 comes from the fermentation process as it is a product of the yeast fermenting the sugar into alcohol and CO2. For Maha, we did evaluate different CO2 levels as they do affect mouthfeel and taste. Higher CO2 can give a slight acidic bite but sometimes we are looking for that to provide a bit of tartness."
Most hard seltzers are made with fruit flavoring and fermented cane sugar (the most neutral tasting spirit you'll find), although some, like Maha, use malted barley which adds a hoppier taste. The alcohol by volume (ABV) tends to be low, around about five percent. Hard seltzer isn't anything new. Coors introduced the first widely available hard seltzer back in 1993. You may remember Zima, but it wasn't until 2015 and 2016 that hard seltzers began to show up at parties, on Instagram, and in supermarkets. Here are five to drink now.
The Best Hard Seltzers for Straight Sipping
One of the newer brands on the market, Maha Organic Hard Seltzer, comes in raspberry, tangerine yuzu, and black cherry. "When we set out to create Maha Organic Hard Seltzer, we wanted transparency in our ingredients and we wanted those ingredients to be top-notch. That's why we took the extra step to go after the USDA organic certification and brew it with cascara and sea salt," says Gill. Find Maha sold individual cans or variety packs at major grocery and liquor retailers as well as online through Drizly.
The undeniable leader in the seltzer industry, White Claw, is known for its mix of fruity flavors that actually taste like fruit and just the right ratio of bubbles. It's available in nine flavors, and you can find it nationwide.
The Best Hard Seltzers for Sipping or Mixing
Made using cult-favorite Polar Seltzer, Arctic Summer comes in a variety of flavors. With a clean, subtle flavor, it's refreshing straight out of the can but also works well as a cocktail ingredient. Try adding a shot of vodka to the new Ginger Lime flavor for a twist on the classic Moscow Mule. You can use the "Seltzer Finder" feature on the brand's website to find your closest retailer.
PRESS, one of the few independent-women owned companies in the seltzer sphere, can be found in most of the lower 48 states. It comes in four flavors as well as a rotational flavor such as blood orange, chili, pear chamomile, and apple cinnamon. "One of my favorite ways to drink it is by mixing flavors," says Walberg. My favorite combo is blackberry hibiscus and pomegranate ginger—and I never add ice! We've also got some budding mixologists on our team who've created Blackberry Hibiscus mojitos and Blood Orange Chili margaritas, our unique flavors are so fun to play with."
One of the more widely available hard seltzers, you can find TRULY in all 50 states. With 16 flavors including the newly launched Truly Lemonade Hard Seltzer, a hard seltzer and sweet lemonade concoction, there's a good chance this company has a hard seltzer for basically whatever taste you're craving. "After months of studies and many, many taste tests, we learned drinkers were looking for a bigger, brighter aroma—especially when they drink out of a can (versus poured in a glass), and that they wanted a clean and refreshing finish. We used this intel to shape our new recipes," says TRULY product development manager Casey O'Neill. She recommends drinking TRULY chilled, right out of the can but says bartenders and consumers have been inspired to make seltzer-infused cocktails, some of which you can find on their site.