Even if you don’t live in the US, it’s hard to ignore the rising popularity of Hard Seltzer. And with brands like White Claw about to be released in Australia and the UK, it would seem that Hard Seltzer is set to take over the world.
What exactly is Hard Seltzer?
At its most basic level, hard seltzer is seltzer (or soda water) with alcohol in it. Some hard seltzer brands include different base alcohols, from distilled spirits to wine, while others brew their products from fresh fruits.
Hard seltzer is also not new. In fact, as far back as 1993, the US saw the rise of a few Hard Seltzer brands in response to similarly low-ABV beverages like wine coolers. But it was not until 2013, that a brand, actually called Spiked Seltzer, started to define the category.
Since then dozens of brands have been launched. Even in Australia which is new to the Hard Seltzer phenomenon, there have been four brands – White Claw, Fellr, Tidal Seltzer & Actual – announcing launches in the past month alone.
So why has it proved so popular? Well, it seems you can’t name a current consumer trend that Hard Seltzer doesn’t tap into – wellness, value for money and ease of use are all covered. You could easily say that it is the most inoffensive way to consume alcohol.
Hard seltzer is “healthy” … sort of
The first thing you notice about Hard Seltzer is that it gives the impression of being a “guilt-free,” not-too-sweet nor too intense – basically a burst of “unmistakable joy,” dressed up in a tin.
It has come at a time when people globally are giving up soda and while it provides the bubbles, it doesn’t have the sweetness or the calories that came with it.
That hard seltzer has a relatively low ABV and little or no added sugar which means that most versions remain within the 100-calorie range, which low for alcohol (a shot of vodka, for example, has about the same number of calories). For that reason, Hard Seltzer has been able to run adjacent or somehow contributing to the idea of “wellness”.
In other words, it sits in that middle ground – not actively good for you and not being tasty as the real thing – but if you’re going to drink, it’s probably the easiest option and it comes in a handy single serve-size.
Combine that with the movement towards low-AVB, then hard seltzers become the better, easier cousin of those ‘evil’ hard alcohol cocktails.
Hard seltzer is easy and cheap, but also kind of fancy?
Never discount the advantage of easy – after all, this is basically why RTDs exist (in whatever form you choose to have them). In an age when everyone is on-the-go, it makes sense that what we consume is as easy as the tech we use or as streamlined as minimalism.
And don’t think the facade of effortlessness that Instagram provides hasn’t had a lot to do with it. Oh, and Hard Seltzer is cheap. In most cases, a pack of hard seltzer is going to come in around the same as a pack of domestic light beer.
Interestingly, in the event of Hard Seltzer, that ease and affordability seem to have imbued a majority of brands with a certain amount of ‘premiumization’. (you may not taste much but what you can taste is affordable luxury.
Hard seltzer is gender-neutral
The thing about hard seltzer is that it doesn’t target any particular sex, it is very much about lifestyle. So while some RTDs may have a somewhat girlie angle to them, seltzer seems to have avoided that.
Especially brands like White Claw have focused their marketing not on a personality type but rather they have gone after the summertime activity market – concerts, beaches, picnics and boating (if that’s a thing you do).
While Soda water has always been a bit of a girly drink, even when alcohol is added (yes, vodka lime and Soda we are looking at you) somehow hard seltzer doesn’t seem to have the same sort of connotations.
There are countless videos on social where ‘bros’ have embraced the catch-phrase ‘ain’t no laws, when your drinking claws’ (which incidentally was not started by the company but by a US comedian called Trevor Wallace. Yet the Portland, Maine police department had to issue a statement on Twitter that laws do, in fact, still apply while drinking Claws).
In an exploration of hard seltzer and gender for Eater, Amy McCarthy McCarthy writes. “It’s a drink for a more evolved bro, the type of man who isn’t afraid to talk about his macros or brew kombucha. The rise of CrossFit alongside paleo and keto diets gave men permission to be more publicly and proudly health and image-conscious than most of their predecessors.”
Which isn’t to say that smart branding by powerful beverage corporations has successfully solved gender inequality, of course. It’s just that hard seltzer happens to fit neatly into society’s current ideas about men’s consumption habits.
Hard Seltzer just is …
While you might find a hundred reasons to love Hard Seltzer, it’s not really going to be for the way it tastes. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that there are always going to be a far more delicious way to get drunk. Conversely, it’s difficult to really despise hard seltzer, because there’s barely anything in it to hate.
Like the really annoying pop song you can never get out of your head, it is a summer thing. Yet unlike that one-hoit wonder, this is a product that seems to have a certain amount of staying power.
You might never truly love it, but when you are out and about with friends, somehow or other Hard Seltzer will probably be the alcohol you reach for – it’s easy, it’s cheap, it’s lightly flavoured, all your friends will drink it, it’s low in calories, it will never offend anyone and its easy to drink – it’s summer in tin.