A few months ago a mate of mine apologised for taking the last beer and asked me if I wanted a seltzer instead. I met his request with a blank stare, much to his confusion.
“You know, a seltzer? Like White Claw?” he continued, desperation creeping into his voice.
“Seltzer! Hard seltzer?! Alcoholic fizzy water?!”
He handed me a can. I cracked it open and took a sip—the first delicious step on my seltzer education.
Since then I can’t seem to escape the craze, no matter where I go people are talking about seltzer. At first, I put it down to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon: when your awareness of something increases, you tend to notice it more.
But eventually, the buzz around seltzer became too hard to ignore, and a deep dive on google confirmed the hype wasn’t just in my head, it was everywhere.
Last year The New York Times declared seltzer the drink of summer, and consumers quickly voted with their wallets. In 2019, seltzer sales in the US grew 226.4%, while total beer sales rose less than 1%, according to a Jefferies analysis of Nielsen data.
Meanwhile, analysts also predict that the market for seltzer sales will grow from about USD 1.75 billion in 2019 to USD 4.7 billion by 2022. That’s big money, so seltzer must be a big deal, right?
What is seltzer?
At it’s most superficial level seltzer is carbonated water, so just drinking water with added bubbles from carbon dioxide. However, the term has come to more generally refer to carbonated water with alcohol in it. In the US it’s commonly called hard seltzer when it contains alcohol.
Seltzers are typically made in two types of ways. Brands either use a carbonated mix of alcohol and water, with the main alcoholic ingredient being vodka. Or they’ll add alcohol from fermented cane sugar, which is brewed in a similar style to beer.
What’s the big deal?
Seltzer isn’t the first drink to be the subject of seasonal hype – rosé had its day, so too did its colder cousin, frosé, and of course, Aperol – but seltzer seems to have a staying power that other phase drinks lacked.
Because the main ingredients are vodka and water, seltzers have fewer calories and carbohydrates compared to most other options. And because we live in a world calories count for everything, and counting calories are everything, seltzer has arrived at just the right time.
Most mass markets seltzer contain fewer than 100 calories, with most falling between 60-90 calories range. Compare that to 140 calories for a schooner of beer and a seltzer starts to make more sense.
Perhaps the most unique seltzer selling point is that it has been widely embraced by all subsections of the drinking spectrum thanks to it’s flexible ABV (alcohol by volume) content. You’re just as likely to see snaps of seltzer on the #HotGirlSummer hashtag as you are to catch beer-guzzling bros carrying cases of White Claw.
3 months ago any girl drinking a white claw got their entire existence roasted by the same guys now posting snap stories saying “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking claws”
— marystebbins (@marystebbins_) July 26, 2019
Which one should you go for?
In the US, White Claw dominates the market with a 58.6% share, and the brand was quick to make an impact in Australia when it arrived in September of this year. Most major brands followed suit, with Corona, Bud Light and Smirnoff all releasing their own seltzer products in the past twelve months.
Homegrown suppliers have also been keen to capitalise on the popularity of the drink. Carlton United Brewery jumped into the category with Actual Vodka Seltzer, which smaller independents brands like FELLR, Saintly and Lust Liquor also making inroads.
To peruse your options or simply wrap your head around the seltzer movement, visit The Seltzer Store.