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What is Hard Seltzer and why the fuss?

This month we explore the topic of the one product that has taken the brewing world, and cocktail world by storm. In less than 2 short years, we see hard seltzer on menus, even great beer lists, in bars, and at everyone's house this summer. For Labor Day 2020, before we climb down another political rabbit hole, let's find something to talk about that isn't politics - let's debate why, or why not, we should drink Hard Seltzer. Get ready to pick a side!

We are seeing hard seltzer everywhere. The category has now surpassed $100M in sales and many, many, many more brands are entering the space. From large and small beer brands, to soft drink companies like Coca Cola (Topo Chico), Monster, and even Sparkling Ice, more companies are hitching a wagon to this category. Watch it explode at your local liquor store.

Meanwhile, mixers, vodka, light beer, and even craft beer are being hit by the category. But that may soon change or swing back a bit. Why? Our history in the ready to drink, kinda beer, kinda not category shows us that as consumers become more educated, they are more likely to go back to tradition, and move from convenience to authenticity again. We may be wrong on that, but think of the former Zimas, Lime A Ritas, Hooch, Chill, Not Your Fathers.... etc brands all eventually faded. The difference here is, this category is easier to get into, it is low calorie, it tastes good, and it is profitable. So get ready for the push, and maybe the lasting stay power of a brand new category of a "near beer"/"alco-pop".

What is Hard Seltzer?

It is typically a gluten free, fermented cane sugar product line with flavors. This product is easily made in breweries, like making “cane sugar beer”. Take liquid sugar, heat it up in the kettle, dilute it to a fermentable amount, cool it down, add the right yeast, and let it rip. Once it is fermented, it is filtered and diluted to the right alcohol strength. The brewery then adds flavors, carbonates and packages the product. It can be packaged in less than a week, many times according to our brewery friends. From the looks of it, this is as close to making a soft drink as a brewery can get, a soft drink with alcohol, and it is much faster to make than beer. Add to that operational ease, with no calories or carbs, there is appeal to make these for their customers.

Does hard seltzer contain actual vodka?

MOST of the time, NO. Hard seltzer it is not necessarily vodka and seltzer water as the name connotes (and as the labels seem to suggest). Some brands using actual vodka may have a harder time at profitability due to unique tax laws that protect the “brewery” made model. The label says it all, but if it says water, alcohol and flavor, that alcohol could be made from anything that contained sugar at one time. Check the brand website to find out the details!

Should I drink hard seltzer instead of vodka and soda?

Now we are getting to the meat of the issue. What is your preference? Vodka is purified alcohol and is clean tasting too. A club soda , like Top Note's Club No 1, that is built for a cocktail, with specific levels of salts, and carbonation to enhance the experience, are excellent products for the price. If you prefer hard spirits and the magic of making a cocktail, then stick to that. One could argue, with a great vodka, a club soda like Top Note Tonic Club No 1, and a lime or lemon, the carbonation and taste of the cocktail will be superior to a hard seltzer. However, the convenience of popping opening a can, cannot be beat. It will always be more convenient to open a can and drink. This first choice is one of quality.

What about cost. Is the cost for hard seltzer the same for a cocktail?

This is surprising, but it is about the same! You pay for the convenience with hard seltzer. Let’s review this closely.

1.      Vodka or Gin will cost you anywhere from $0.75 - $2/mixed drink. Really! The cost is variable depending on the heavy-handed pour and the total cost for the product. A typical bottle of Vodka, at $25/750 ml is $1/oz. That would be a fairly good bottle of vodka. So $1.50 for the alcohol.

2.      Next, your mixer may cost you an additional $0.75 - $1, assuming you are sticking to the high end. (Top Note gives you 2 proper pours/bottle, so we help you not to waste!)

3.      Your lime/lemon is $0.1 at most

Your all in costs? Usually $2.50 on the high end average for a 6 oz cocktail at 7-9% alcohol/volume.

How much did you pay for your seltzer? Let us look at it; A typical 6 pack of 12 oz cans is $12. At $2/can it seems like it is on par, or even better than that 6 – 7 oz cocktail you just made. But, keep in mind, seltzer is made at 4-5% alcohol/volume usually. Since the concentration of alcohol is higher in the mixed drink, you would have to drink more seltzer to consume the alcohol equivalent in a cocktail. So net/net, you are paying near the same or double for Hard Seltzer than Vodka/Soda.

But, that may be the goal; Drink a beer like product, and stay level. Hard seltzer is a way to take the low and slow pathway to consuming alcohol. Of course, you could just make a softer mixed drink then. Heck even a vermouth and tonic is a low calorie mixed drink that happens to be and delicious and a bit more refined than the “No Law Claw”. The biggest knock on hard seltzers is their easy appeal makes then easy to consume, and over consumption is a risky problem with any alcohol beverage.

The bottom line – This is all about occasion, quality, convenience, and preference. If you like a low proof, easy to drink convenience, and you are walking in a beach, then hard seltzer will fit the bill. You will have a choice in brands, cost, and quality by year end that will blow your mind. But that occasion is not the same as mixing a drink. When you want to create, a cocktail is the choice to go with. You will choose a vodka, gin or spirit with a true authentic story, a well-made mixer like Top Note, and you will mix up a cocktail with your own ingenuity. That experience cannot be replaced by canned convenience, and that is exactly the point. We prefer the later; the slow down and appreciate your creation approach. But we certainly understand the need for the convenience on occasion.

Either way you choose, respect your limits. Stay safe and debate respectfully!

Peace and Love

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