Chances are, if you’ve been in a store that sells beer and wine in the last few months, you’ve seen hard seltzer, too. You might not have known what it was at first — the cans, almost uniformly white and bright standing out against the beers around them — but more than likely they’ll have been there, vying for space with the summer ales and shandies, perennial staples of the warmer months.
Usually coming in at between five and six percent alcohol, hard seltzers aren’t new, even though they seem that way: SpikedSeltzer debuted in 2013 and since then other brands — White Claw, Truly and Nauti — have all found their way to the shelves.
With cans of La Croix being guzzled almost as quickly as they can be made, it’s no surprise that hard seltzers have boomed in popularity in the last few months, especially when you consider that most hard seltzers they’re made in the same way as beers (with the majority of brands using cane sugar instead of malt), but contain fewer calories and carbs.
“People love sparkling water and flavored sparkling water, so it only makes sense. I have yet to try them, but I’ll be honest — it sounds like a fun, refreshing drink that I could totally jump on board with — especially with our warm, southern summers,” Kaleena Goldsworthy of Flying Squirrel Bar says.
But are these drinks just a fad, destined to the bottoms of grocery store shelves by next summer, or are they here to stay? If they’re here, will we be seeing them being worked into bar programs as substitutes for traditional club soda?
The fact that they would make a great addition to home bars aside, it seems most bartenders agree that hard seltzers could find their way into certain bars and cocktail programs.
“While it’s not as fresh in flavor as I personally would like, it would make a great sparkling addition to many beverages, so having a product that is already made and can easily be used on the fly would help reduce some prep work. It would also be an effective way for a smaller bar that does not have the resources to force carbonate themselves to experiment with flavored seltzer cocktails,” says Joseph Michalek of Baptiste and Bottle.
T. Cole Newton, owner of Twelve Mile Limit, is of the same mindset.
“They do seem like something that could find a home in a cocktail program. They have flavor, alcohol and effervescence all in the same package, so there’s room for them to replace two or three components in one cocktail, and any time you can pull one bottle instead of three that’s good for the bottom line.”
Goldsworthy agrees. The value created by saving time, could add up, especially in a high-volume bar.
“I think that hard seltzers could save some bartenders a step in cocktail creation, or offer a new flavor profile to bars taking strides to push their current boundaries. I believe their utility could be to add more than one dimension to a cocktail in less time. High volume bars are always looking to achieve a high quality of cocktail with less steps.”
Not everyone is fully on board, though. According to Tristan Willey, bartender at Long Island Bar, pre-packaged hard seltzers wouldn’t have a place in bars that already have large-format refillable containers of spirits or carbonated beverages. Instead, hard seltzers are best served in home bars (and can endure there), where versatility is limited compared to commercial bars.
“They are a great at-home option that, as long as flavors stay simple and clean, will endure for a long, long time,” he adds.
So while they may not ever become a staple behind bars across the nation, it seems that, for certain bars, there’s at least a chance that you might be seeing hard seltzers sooner rather than later when ordering out. In the meantime, though, it couldn’t hurt to pick a few cans up to fill in some gaps in your own home bar.