There are dominant names in the hard seltzer space—namely, the ones with massive displays in package stores and visible through national advertising buys. Brands like Truly, White Claw, Bud Light Seltzer and a handful of others make up the majority of the category. Their market dominance can be linked in no small part to national advertising budgets and distribution.
There is, however, a universe of choice in the clear fizzy alcoholic refreshment realm. They are made by smaller producers who put flavorful spins, local tastes and clever branding into their hard seltzer offerings.
Hard seltzer is a malt- or dextrose-based beverage. The sugars are fermented creating alcohol, and sometimes it is fined to create its signature transparent look. Smaller batches of seltzer are often slightly cloudy or come in various colors, thanks to the addition of real fruit or purees. Largely, brewers aim for these to be refreshing, although some have veered into more robust territory by making seltzers with a velvety mouthfeel. A growing number of entrants to the hard seltzer category use vodka or an agave spirit as the base alcohol.
Wine Enthusiast reached out to drinks professionals at bottle shops around the country for recommendations on their favorite hard seltzer brands from smaller, local producers.
Seltzers: Hopewell Brewing Co. Wayup and Octopi Brewing Untitled Art
Recommended by: Virginia Thomas, Beermiscuous, Chicago
“Wayup seltzers are really fun. Their branding is reminiscent of Lisa Frank, the flavor is light, so is the color, but it’s fruity and lightly sweet, very drinkable. My favorite is Tropical Vision,” says Thomas. “Untitled Art is very juicy and if you get a cherry one, it’s bright red. A bit more sweet but [it’s] seemingly just natural fruit sweetness.”
Seltzers: Grist House Seltza Drip, Eleventh Hour Brewing Swizzl! and East End Brewing G&T
Recommended by: Janice Sauers, Row House Cinema and Bierport, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Grist House has their Seltza Drip series, where they focus on different seasonal fruit combinations, and they typically end up being really flavorful and balanced,” says Janice Sauers, general manager of Row House Cinema and Bierport in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Eleventh Hour Brewery also has carried a seltzer variety for the past year or two, and their current offering is Swizzl! CaraCara Cherry, which is (obviously) hard seltzer with Cara Cara oranges and sweet cherries,” says Sauers. “Previously, East End Brewing had released a hard seltzer named G&T that was inspired by gin and tonics early last year. It was infused with botanicals like juniper berries and dried orange peel, and it was really popular when we had it.”
Seltzers: Ironbound Green Tea Elderflower, Forgotten Boardwalk J’aime and Canarchy Wild Basin
Recommended by: Kendall Alvarez Eskew, The Thirsty Quaker, Jersey City, New Jersey
“The seltzer game right now is still dominated by White Claw, but we do get some interesting offerings coming into the store,” says Kendall Alvarez Eskew, owner of The Thirsty Quaker in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“Ironbound’s Green Tea Elderflower seltzer I particularly liked. And they just released a Tart Cherry Tea Seltzer. Forgotten Boardwalk’s J’aime seltzers started with a Tangerine Rose Hibiscus with White Tea, which was very neat. Wild Basin, from Canarchy, was one of the first seltzers I saw doing different flavors like lemon agave hibiscus and melon basil. They also put out some cocktail flavors a while back like mai tai and piña colada that are neat.”
Seltzers: Upslope Brewing Spiked Snow Melt Juniper & Lime and Drekker Brewing PLOP
Recommended by: Rebecca Safford, Tap & Bottle and Westbound, Tucson, Arizona
“We have seen a jump in seltzer sales, and options other than beer, including hard kombuchas, wine in a can and more,” says Rebecca Safford, owner of Tap & Bottle and Westbound in Tucson, Arizona. “Tap & Bottle sells White Claw and Topo Chico hard seltzers in multipacks to go, but we focus on other seltzer options that are more craft focused to serve in-house and offer by the can, so people can build their own six packs to go.
“Upslope Brewing does a juniper and lime version that is simply delicious, and the brewery has a whole line of hard seltzers called Spiked Snow Melt, including one that has tangerine and hops, and others with electrolytes. Drekker Brewing of North Dakota brews some really interesting seltzers called PLOP. They pour like a smoothie and there are a lot of fruit-infused versions; the one I really like is called Mango Hurricane Fluff Hefty Seltzer and it’s made with mango, passion fruit, lime and marshmallow fluff.
“There is no shame with the seltzer. I just want people to drink what they like, but I think that searching out some craft options made at your local brewery is a great way to start!”
Seltzers: Stillwater Sparkling
Recommended by: Brandon Wiley, Bottleworks, Seattle
“Brian [the founder of Stillwater] knows a good trend when he sees it, but he doesn’t just jump in for the sake of a quick buck,” says Wiley. “From their hopped seltzers to the playful slushy style seltzers, they’re all worth revisiting and continue to prove that Stillwater lives up to the title of artisanal.”