Love them or hate the very idea, hard seltzers are here to stay—at least until the Next Big Thing comes along. They’re here for several reasons. First, they were consciously created to suit a general trend toward healthier alcoholic drinks. With their transparent spritziness and lightness in alcohol and calories, seltzers deliver on this request. Second, they’re the “my own” drink for a chunk of the younger drinking-age generation. Additionally, there has been a decades-long trend in candy, snacks, and other products toward ever more explosive “hyper” flavors, delivering more intensity than conventional ingredients can.
Seltzers seemed to come from nowhere, but they’re just the shiny new thing in an evolution of wine coolers and flavored malt beverages going back decades: Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler (E & J Gallo, 1981), the lemon-lime Zima (Coors, 1991), Mike’s Hard Lemonade (1999), as well as numerous spirits-branded variations such as Smirnoff Ice. Mike’s parent company Mark Anthony Brands launched the first and biggest of the alcoholic seltzer brands with White Claw in 2016. Numerous market forces are driving this development: spirits makers and winemakers trying to grab a chunk of the beer market; brewers fighting back at those attempts; and flavored malt beverage makers just trying to find the next big thing.
“Seltzer” as a category term is only a slight stretch, since they’re usually lightly sweetened, but at a far lower rate than sodas, ranging from zero carbs to five per 12-ounce serving. While some are produced using at least some brewing ingredients, many are not. For brewers, they’ve been contentious. Does this fit our mission? Is it crazy to invest in a market already dominated by huge players? Can we bring anything to this fizzy party?