Do hard seltzers make sense?
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Food & Drink news every morning.
Of all the trends in the drinks world, the rise of the hard seltzer is the one I find most perplexing. How on earth did such an insipid, utterly joyless beverage become a $9bn phenomenon? Hard seltzers, if you are fortunate enough not to have had one, are canned drinks made from sparkling water, flavourings and neutral grain alcohol. Low-cal, low-sugar or sugar-free, vegan and around five per cent abv, they’re the health-conscious millennial’s answer to the alco-pop. Flavours are childish and fruity – black cherry, watermelon, lime – and horribly synthetic. They’re thin on the palate, yet still give you a hangover just like any other booze.
The brand that kick-started the trend was White Claw. Launched in 2016 to appeal to spirit-and-mixer drinkers, the spritzer crowd and beer fans, it accounts for around half the US market, estimated to be worth $4.7bn, and has inspired countless imitators. I may find the hard seltzer’s success inexplicable. But I’m keen to see where it goes next. Because there is only one way for the category to head: and that, my dear readers, is up.
One brand that might point the way is Fefe (five per cent, €27 for 12), a new hard seltzer from Paris. Created by the team behind Le Syndicat and La Commune – two of the city’s coolest bars – with help from perfumier Jean Niel, the recipes read more like cocktails than alco-pops: Cucumber & Eucalyptus; Tonic, Juniper & Grapefruit; Strawberry & Sandalwood. Like all hard seltzers, they are on the lean side, but the flavours are nuanced and natural-tasting. Having launched successfully in France, Fefe will make its international debut this year.
Wild Spring (five per cent, £15 for six) is also raising the bar. Created by Fran and Charlotte Cutler – veterans of London’s fashion PR – it’s made with natural extracts, no sweeteners and has less than 100 calories a can. The sherbetty Raspberry is half-drinkable in a bath-bomb way – but it’s the packaging that really appeals. “In the fashion world it’s all about the calories, so hard seltzers make a lot of sense,” says Fran, “but a lot of the branding in this sector is really corporate. We thought there was a gap in the market for a brand that was fun, sexy and cool.”
Easily the best-tasting hard seltzer I’ve tried is Good One – a “craft hard soda” brand from east London. Made with real fruit, distillates created in-house, and no added sweeteners, these sodas (£33 for 12) are as virtuous as many of their competitors on the sugar front, but have a flavour and mouthfeel a hundred times better. The core range is Raspberry, Basil & Lime, Lime & Cucumber and Grapefruit & Thyme (my favourite) but they also do seasonal, limited editions. With options like this around, I might become a convert, yet.
Get alerts on Food & Drink when a new story is published