There was derision in certain drinking circles when hard seltzer first captured the beverage zeitgeist in the mid-2010s. Then, when it became apparent that the fizzy fruity category was going to become a permanent fixture in consumer fridges around 2018, many makers raced to catch up with demand.
These days it’s clear that there are two hard-seltzer options: larger national brands—like White Claw, Truly and High Noon—and craft producers and upstarts that offer smaller-batch offerings.
Hard Seltzer Finds Its Footing in Craft Spaces
Mirroring the craft beer industry of the last 20 years, a lot of the innovation in hard seltzer flavor is happening through the smaller producers. And their offerings give consumers a chance to drink local and taste a sense of place.
“Honestly, I don’t see the big brands as competition,” says Nick Smith the owner of Lumpy Ridge Brewing Co. in Estes Park, Colorado. “We’re playing different games. I believe in what makes us craft and perfectly imperfect to drive our success in this segment of the market. So, we’ll leave the synthetic tasting mass pleasers and keep it here where real knows real.”
That idea of “perfectly imperfect” comes into play for many of the smaller breweries.
At its base, hard seltzer is water, sugar and yeast that is fed nutrients during fermentation and flavoring. Large brands will pour clear, a technical feat, while smaller-batch seltzers are likely to have some haze or milkiness. Others will take on the colors of the fruit juice used for flavoring.
Those visual differences add to the overall charm of craft seltzers.
“I personally have come to actually like seltzer more than I used to,” says Alyssa Hoberer, head brewer at Jagged Mountain Brewery in Denver.
The Brewery serves its Super Soaker hard seltzer in their taproom. Clocking in at 10% alcohol by volume (ABV), it’s heftier than most hard seltzers on the market.