Seltzer Water Summer

by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence

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Wow. Can’t believe I actually succumbed. Seriously...me! I’m THE GUY that would destroy the committed foam friend if the words ‘seltzer water’ EVER came out of their mouth (or entered it voluntarily). Well, it finally happened. On a recent beach vacation, I had inhaled more craft offerings than my head could handle (and my colon, obviously, but that’s a different blog site). Sensing that if I had one more hop pop I would get a yeast infection, I searched the cooler for something that my brain cells wouldn’t appreciate but my digestive tract would. Hmmm, let’s see. Water. Nah. Mikes Hard. Nope. Yeungling. Hell. No. What’s this? White Claw Mango Lime? I like Mango. I like Lime. 5%? Internally, I say, ‘This looks great but what will my friends say? How can anything other than micro-brewed hop hash ever go down this gullet? Will they not play with me anymore? Will I have to go pick out a bra and panty set when I get back to the house?’

Relax. I’m a grown man and if I have to show you, I will. But for now (it is a public beach), let’s reach into the cooler nice and slow and pull that Claw out, wrap it in a coozie fast as hell and hope no one notices. Here we go... slowly... slowly. Now! Quick, wrap it up. Alright, so far so good. Look, over there! 

Listen, when you’re old enough to buy alcohol, you should be old enough to withstand the pressures (and let’s not forget, the responsibilities) of selecting the beverage of your choice without having to hide. My foray into the seltzer world was a little awkward but I’m glad I went for it. I had had enough of beer on this trip (that should tell you something about quantity) and was open to try something new. My wife not feeling that same sense of adventure and, seeing the advertisements on tv and in stores, I can’t say I wasn’t intrigued by this newfangled concoction. Flavored water has been a part of my lifestyle for a few years now (Fresca and Vodka on the back deck is a must in the summer), but when you add alcohol to it, my taste buds perk up. So the research began.

A recent Town and Country magazine article published their thoughts on the matter with, ‘The Best Hard Seltzers Brands to Drink This Summer’ (April 2019). Their thoroughness in describing seltzer history, options and affordability was a great source for understanding the whole adult beverage market and, while these are the iterations of one person, I think they’re pretty accurate in the extensive research I’ve done (wink wink). 

“Several companies now offer the drinks, which are made from a malt or distilled sugar base. For anyone who's counting, these tend to hover at around 100 calories each. (For contrast, beer has around 150-300 and sugary soda calorie counts can reach into the 200s. The alcohol is about the equivalent of a beer.)

While some in the drinks business see hard flavored sodas and other "malternatives" as a passing trend (remember Zima?), Casey O’Neill, a product developer who helped create Truly Spiked & Sparkling, thinks the new drinks are here to stay because they appeal to drinkers who are trying to cut calories and those looking for an easy cocktail mixer. Plus, they're light and refreshing for summer.

But how do they taste? T&C tried seven of the top brands of hard seltzer to see what you should be sipping on this summer”.

#1 White Claw

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It makes sense the company behind Mike’s Hard Lemonade would be at the forefront of the hard-seltzer trend. The brand uses a proprietary brewing process that uses fermented sugar, and a yeast strain that took more than a year to develop. No malt is used, but there is a bit of fruit juice and cane sugar added to the final product. These are a smidge sweeter than what we’d technically consider seltzer, but the final product is still dry and refreshing. It comes in black cherry, ruby grapefruit, raspberry, and natural lime flavors. I ingested my favorite fruit brand, Natural Lime. Seems more of a ‘dry’ carbonation with nice lime notes. At 5%, it’s the stiffest of the bunch but still very drinkable. Would consider it a tad on the salty side...

2. Spiked Seltzer

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The OG of the category, the alcohol in SpikedSeltzer comes from a cold fermentation of sugar that's then mixed with fruit oils. It’s got the highest calorie count and the most intense flavor of any of the seltzer sampled, and feels thicker as well—it coats the mouth. The six flavors are Indian River Grapefruit, West Indies Lime, Cape Cod Cranberry, and Valencia Orange, Ventura Lemon, and Prickly Pear. None of these is particularly convincing, but the grapefruit has a nice tang.

3. Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water                                                           

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This is the most seltzer-like of all the hard seltzers—it would be easy to miss the alcohol in it, though it has a very slight after taste. The flavors are a bit more ‘posh’—including Colima Lime, Pomegranate, and Sicilian Blood orange—and the Grapefruit & Pomelo is a standout with a scent that's so fresh it almost smells like real fruit. The fact they can do this and come in at 100 calories and still pack a five-percent alcohol-by-volume makes me respect the lab wizards at the Boston Beer Company—the same folks behind Sam Adams. I tried the Black Cherry. Probably my favorite of the group I sampled, it’s definitely carbonated but not overbearing. Nice fruit hint without being syrupy. Ever so slight aspartame aftertaste that’s gone by the fourth one.

4. Henry's Hard                 

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This spin-off of Henry’s Hard Soda is available in three flavors: lemon lime, passion fruit, and strawberry kiwi. Passion fruit is our pick—it has an eerie similarity to the '90s soda Clearly Canadian minus the sweet factor. (The lemon lime tastes a bit like a Sour Patch kid, with a slight malty smell. Zeroing in on the Strawberry Kiwi, it closely resembled Truly, with no carbonation but lots of smell and flavor. Low alcohol content so I want you to really appreciate what I am doing for you all! Not much different from other non carbos but 3 offerings are intriguing flavors. Zero sugar makes it appealing as well, especially when the 12 pack is on sale.

5. Pura Still Spiked Still Water Blackberry

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This spiked water drink is still, not bubbly, for those of you who aren't a fan of sparkling. It's a refreshing drink that's made from purified water, malt alcohol, and fruit flavoring and tastes as if you are actually drinking water. The brand is relatively new, launching in 2018, and has already garnered a lot of attention with its three flavors– mandarin orange, blackberry, and mango. I opted for the Mango flavor. Definitely no carb, it’s made with coconut water so I’m not sure if that affects the mouthfeel but my tongue says silky. A slight aftertaste but disappeared after the third one.  

6. Nauti Seltzer 

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This seltzer was created at Wachusett Brewing Company in Westminster, Massachusetts, and is the most beer-like of the beverages, with a foamy head when poured and a malty nose. These come in lemon lime, cranberry, raspberry, rosé, grapefruit, and blueberry lemonade—the grapefruit flavor is akin to a seltzer-shandy hybrid.

7. Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer

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At 90 calories, these drinks just edge out Henry’s Hard for having the lowest count. The purified malt beverage has been "crafted to remove gluten." While there isn’t any sugar or artificial sweeteners, the final product is the sweetest of all the options—it tastes more like a low-key soda than a seltzer. They're available in cranberry lime, orange mango, raspberry rosé, berry lemonade, and watermelon, which has a Jolly Rancher vibe.”

Because I did this in the name of research (and the fact that I needed to find a way to cut down on the 300 calories a drink), I thought it best to add a selection from off the rez, just to give you all the total spectrum of what to expect when you get that hiney into the alcohol isle at Piggly. My last seltzer soldier was a Bon & Viv Grapefruit Spiked Seltzer. Packing the typical low sugar and calorie count, this flavored product was ‘me too’. Although carbonated and defusing a rich ruby red rhyme, it went down as most of the others. Not disappointed, I had to be sure of my thoughts so I downed 2 more.

How is that to inspire one for a mad dash to Kroger? It’s ok, guys…grass isn’t always greener but it may surprise you and provide the change up from the heavy lifting all the time. Enjoy!

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