What's Up With Hard Seltzer?

Today we’re exploring the new product that has taken the cocktail world by storm: hard seltzer. Over the last two years, hard seltzer has found its way onto store shelves, bar and restaurant menus and even tap rooms. This summer 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 might be a little biased)! As always, Top Note reminds you to please drink responsibly.

Hard seltzer is everywhere right now. The category has surpassed $100M in sales and new brands are entering the competition seemingly by the day. From breweries to soft drink companies and energy drinks, more and more companies are riding the wave of this new fad.

Meanwhile, spirits and beer companies as well as sparkling mixers brands like us are feeling the effects of the hard seltzer boom. But history has shown us time and again that these fads tend to be short-lived. Customers latch on to the newest trend and - once it's lost its luster - ultimately make the switch from convenience back to authenticity. Think Zimas, Lime A Ritas, Hooch, Chill, Not Your Fathers… all of these brands eventually faded into oblivion.

What is Hard Seltzer?

A ready-to-drink fermented cane sugar highball cocktail typically served in a can. Often produced in breweries, brewers heat liquid sugar in the kettle, dilute it to a fermentable amount, cool it down, add the right yeast, and let it ferment. Once fermented, it’s filtered and diluted to the desired alcohol strength. The brewer then adds flavors and carbonation and packages the product for distribution.

Does hard seltzer contain actual vodka?

Most of the time, no. While many brands like to market their hard seltzers as a substitute for Vodka & Soda, this isn’t the case. Brands using actual vodka may have a harder time maintaining 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, the alcohol could be made from just about anything.

Should I drink hard seltzer instead of vodka & soda?

Now we’re getting to the meat of the issue! Vodka & Soda tastes pure, clean and simple. Top Note's Club Soda No 1. is designed with specific levels of salts and carbonation to enhance the cocktail experience. If you prefer hard spirits and the magic of making your own cocktail, then stick with that! If you prefer to sacrifice quality for convenience, there’s really nothing that can beat popping open a can and having a ready-to-drink cocktail in hand.

Is hard seltzer cheaper than making a cocktail from scratch?

They cost about the same, but their values aren’t identical. Let’s break it down:

1.      A pour of vodka or gin runs anywhere from $0.75-$2 per drink, depending on pour size and the total cost of the product. A standard-quality bottle of vodka costs $25, or $1/oz.

2.     A good quality mixer is likely to cost you an additional $0.75-$1.

3.      Factor in another $.10 for a lime or lemon garnish.

So, what’s it cost? A 6 oz cocktail at 7-9% alcohol/volume costs approximately $2.50.

Okay, so how much does hard seltzer cost? An average 6-pack of 12 oz cans is priced around $12. At $2/can it might seem like a steal, but keep in mind that seltzer is typically sold at 4-5% alcohol/volume whereas a homemade cocktail comes in at a higher ABV. This means you would have to drink more seltzer (nearly twice as much) to consume the alcohol equivalent in a Vodka & Soda.

For those who prefer a low-ABV beverage that drinks more like a beer than a cocktail, hard seltzer is a way to take a low and slow pathway to consuming alcohol. Of course, there are plenty of delicious low-ABV cocktail recipes that you could choose to make instead.

So what’s the bottom line?

Occasion, quality, convenience, and preference are all important factors you should weigh when choosing hard seltzer over a homemade cocktail. If you’re in the mood for a low-proof, easy to drink beverage to take to the beach, then a can of hard seltzer will fit the bill. When you’ve got the itch to create, there’s nothing better than a cocktail made by hand. It’s no surprise that we prefer the latter, but we certainly understand the need for convenience when the occasion is right.

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