The latest tinny trend to hit the UK is one we’ve had our eye on for a while now – yep, we’re talking hard seltzers. They've already made their mark in the US thanks to the appeal of fruit-flavoured booze and savvy health-conscious marketing, and now hard seltzers have landed in the UK in time for Summer 2020. Wicked. Kate Malczewski finds out what the fuss is all about.
So WTF is a hard seltzer? Basically it's alcoholic sparkling water, typically zhuzhed up with fruit flavouring. We’ve seen flavours inspired by every corner of the botanical kingdom, from raspberry to cactus (more on that one later).
But hard seltzer isn’t just a glorified vodka soda – or, at least, it’s not always a glorified vodka soda. Different brands get their alcohol from different sources. Many companies make theirs from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, which means these bad boys technically qualify as flavoured malt beverages (think alcopops, but far less sweet). However, there's an increasing trend for brands to use neutral spirits or wines to give their seltzers a kick.
The good folks at the International Wines & Spirits Record (IWSR) have a fun term for this vast category of boozy sparkling H2O: the Hard Seltzer Universe. Get us a one-way ticket on that space shuttle, please. Oh yeah, and if you see the term RTD, it stands for Ready To- Drink. So now ya know.
You just wait - we predict hard seltzers are gonna sweep up this summer. Last year, hard seltzer sales topped $1.5 billion in the American retail market alone, not even counting sales in bars and restaurants. The IWSR reports that Americans bought more hard seltzer than vodka by volume in 2019 (vodka is the top-selling spirit by volume in the country, so that’s pretty damn huge).
Safe to say that hard seltzer is currently the Regina George of the RTD world. So... why is it such a hit?
Francesca Bruni, co-founder of the new British hard seltzer brand Two Brooks, says it’s all about refreshment. ‘If you want a casual drink but you don’t want to go heavy with a gin and tonic or beer, this is really the perfect light, easy-drinking beverage,’ she explains.
In terms of alcohol levels, hard seltzers come in around 5%-7% abv – similar to beer and less than wine – and typically has less than 100 calories per serve, with little to no added sugar. These factors have made hard seltzers a go-to drink for people looking for healthier options without giving up alcohol (yogis just wanna have fun too, ya know?).
‘We're not claiming to be a healthy drink, per se, because hard seltzer still contains alcohol, but it is a healthier choice,’ says Francesca.
Given the size of the category, there are now a sh*t ton of hard seltzer brands in America. The daddy of ‘em all is White Claw (hard seltzer enthusiasts declared the summer of 2019 ‘White Claw summer’, so you know it’s legit). All sorts of companies have gotten in on the trend, from behemoth beer brands like Corona and Bud Light to smaller craft brewers. Hard seltzer ice cream is even a thing that exists now – we’ll let you make of that what you will.
Hard seltzer has been much slower to take off in the UK. Francesca of Two Brooks thinks it’s due to cultural differences. ‘Seltzer on its own is already a very common thing in the US. The transition from seltzer to hard seltzer was sort of natural [for Americans], whereas in the UK we don’t drink hard seltzer as such. That’s why we chose to call [Two Brooks hard seltzer] “alcoholic sparkling water”, because we feel that really explains the product in a way that’s more familiar to the [British] consumer.’
Whatever your name for it, the UK is finally catching on. In June, White Claw made its debut here, and not long after, big brands like Smirnoff and Brewdog launched their own versions in the UK market. Plus, we’re thrilled to report that some of our favourite British distilleries are getting in on the hard seltzer game, and that fun start-up brands with a craft focus are rolling out, too. Is it a White Claw summer? Maybe. Is it a hard seltzer summer? Abso-freakin’-lutely.
British brands are taking the hard seltzer category by storm – these are the tinnies to try...
Francesca Bruni and her brother Fabio launched this London-based brand just a few weeks ago. Their alcoholic sparkling water contains a base spirit made from British apples and comes in three flavours: Lime Cooler, Mango Hi-Ball, and Passion Star (inspired by the Pornstar Martini, so we’re already obsessed). ‘We like that [our product] is homegrown, has a low carbon footprint, and is made 100% in the UK,’ Francesca says. ‘We're very proud about that and about the quality of our ingredients.’
Scotland-based craft beer giant Brewdog has been making waves in the world of spirits for a while, and now it’s adding hard seltzer to its repertoire. ‘Rather than being fermented like other seltzers, our Clean & Press hard seltzer is quite simply sparkling Scottish water spiked with our exceptional single malt vodka, Rogue Wave,’ comments James Watt, co-founder of Brewdog. The Clean & Press flavours are particularly intriguing: Crushed Black Cherry, White Peach & Mango, and Smashed Cactus & Lime. We’d certainly smash a few.
After earning his spirits street cred working at Diageo, Matija Pisk founded his very own hard seltzer brand, DRTY Drinks. It’s got two flavours, White Citrus and Raspberry Rosé. You can talk DRTY to us any day of the week…
The team at Chase Distillery are known for the epic gins and vodkas produced on their family farm in Herefordshire, so you can bet their new range of hard seltzers – all made with those awesome gins – are gonna be ace. The range’s citrus-led flavours include Pink Grapefruit & Pomelo, Seville Orange, and London Dry & Lemon.
Bodega Bay was early on the UK’s hard seltzer scene – it launched alllllll the way back in July 2019 (remember that summer? We don't either) – and it comes in two flavours: Apple, Ginger & Açai Berry and Elderflower, Lemon & Mint. We’re particularly keen on how the brand suggests using its hard seltzers in spritzy cocktails – ask us to add tequila to anything and we’re sold.
This British brand puts a sustainable spin on seltzer by using wonky produce to make its alcoholic sparkling water. Its base alcohol is made from beets that would otherwise go to waste due to their appearance, and it’s flavoured using less-than-picture-perfect limes and raspberries. Sounds like a thing of beauty to us...
Like to keep your booze au natural? So do these guys. These epic new British all-natural tinnies from NATRL are made from fermented sugar beet and real fruit. Not a nasty sweetener, preservative or artificial flavour insight. Ace! They’ve launched this summer with two flavours, and they have socially distanced park picnic written all over them. Our fave? Well since you asked, we’re big into the Peach & Raspberry.