What Is Hard Seltzer?


The canned carbonated alcoholic drink craze that is sweeping the globe. Hard seltzers are a light, low-calorie, low-sugar, alcoholic alternative to the more established classics of wine, beer,  and spirits. This modern bubbly, boozy beverage puts taste at a premium by combining the refreshing and hydrating qualities of carbonated water with delicious fruit flavoring. And did we mention it’s alcoholic!? That’s right, with at least 5% alcohol, this flavored malt beverage is the perfect complement to a hot summer pool party or an alpine adventure. They even pair well with food!  

What Is a Flavored Malt Beverage?

A flavored malt beverage is an alcoholic beverage composed of alcohol produced from malting barley or another similar cereal grain, which then has its malt flavor and color removed and replaced with another flavoring. Also known as flavored alcohol beverages or “alcopops”,  flavored malt beverages were invented and classified in the 1990s, as an alternative to spirit-based and wine-based flavored beverages. For a drink to qualify as a flavored malt beverage,  at least 51% of its alcohol content must be derived from a malt base. Popular flavored malt beverages include hard seltzers, lemonades, and “ices”.

Does That Mean Hard Seltzer’s a Type of Beer?

Eww, no! Well, technically yes… sometimes. It turns out that this is a fairly complicated question, as hard seltzers that derive their alcohol from sugar-based fermentation are classified as “beers”, while hard seltzers that incorporate alcohol derived from malted barley are classified as the aforementioned “flavored malt beverages”. While these distinctions don’t really matter to the everyday consumer, they do have an effect on how hard seltzers can be packaged and sold. 

So unless you’re facing an interrogation from a regulatory agency, feel free to call your hard seltzer whatever you’d like, but know that you may draw some funny looks and will likely be given incorrect information if you continually ask people “have you seen my beer?” when you are in fact looking for your recently misplaced hard seltzer.  

What’s In Hard Seltzer?

Hard seltzers are comprised of a combination of carbonated “seltzer” water, alcohol, and most typically, fruit flavorings. The alcohol in hard seltzers often comes from malted barley or fermented sugar, which then undergoes a combination of filtration and reverse osmosis to remove color and taste, resulting in a clear alcoholic liquid that is then mixed with carbonated water and flavorings. The most common fruit flavorings used in hard seltzers are black cherry, watermelon, lemon, lime, raspberry, and ruby grapefruit, but this list is ever-expanding, as more and more hard seltzers are brought to market. You can find anything from blood orange or passionfruit to clementine hibiscus or pear elderflower if you look hard enough.

This trio of essential ingredients is then incorporated in an alchemical process that produces those sweet sweet hard seltzers that some of us have taken to calling “liquid diamonds” because they’re clear and… sparkly? 

Why Is Hard Seltzer So Popular?

Um… because it’s delicious? Seriously though, have you tried one? Although an advanced anthropological study may be necessary to fully answer this question, one can speculate that the rising popularity of non-alcoholic seltzers for office and household hydrating purposes has greatly contributed to the hard seltzer boom.  

In essence, in recent times, people have discovered that they really, really like drinking seltzer water. It makes you feel fancy! As a result, humankind has sought to answer the age-old question: can we put alcohol in this? And it turns out we can! And we did! And it’s pretty darn good! Thus emerged hard seltzer, a modern, refreshing, low-calorie alcoholic beverage that continues to sweep the globe as people search for a more healthy, versatile, and delicious alternative to beer and other drinks that have started to feel a bit, well, old.  

What Can I Make with Hard Seltzer?

You mean besides the obvious answer of an aluminum can castle? Oh, with the liquid, riiight.  Well in that case, the options are practically unlimited. In addition to its many household applications such as a stain and rust remover, a meat tenderizer, and a jewelry and teeth cleaner, seltzer also works wonders as a cocktail mixer. Many popular drinks call for a dash of club soda, ginger beer, or a carbonated alternative, and we’re here to tell you that you can use hard seltzer for this exact purpose. Ever wanted to add even more alcohol to your alcohol? Here are some  classic cocktails that can be so enhanced by the addition of some hard seltzer:  

Aperol Spritz

This sophisticated northern Italian aperitif was made to sip on a sunset gondola ride through the  Venetian canals. Made with a combination of Aperol, an Italian orange bitter alcohol, Prosecco,  Italian white sparkling wine, and soda water, an Aperol Spritz is the perfect refreshment after a long day. And guess what? It can only get better with a little hard seltzer. Replace your soda water with hard seltzer, and you can transform the Spritz into an even more flavorful and alcoholic punch for a new generation. Andiamo!  

White Wine Spritzer

Is that white wine you bought not tasting quite as good as you hoped? Or maybe you left it open in the fridge overnight and its lost a little something? Or its just a hot day and your white wine needs a little spritzing up? How about adding some hard seltzer!? Transform the White Wine  Spritz with some delicious fruit flavor from a peach, passion fruit, or cranberry hard seltzer, and your drink may just reach new heights. 

Gin Rickey

Do you have gin but no tonic or club soda? Add some hard seltzer, and you might find you’ve created something even more delicious than those gin staples. Add a squeeze of lime, and you’ve created a Gin Rickey for a modern era. Chin-chin!  

Paloma

Mix grapefruit hard seltzer, tequila, and lime juice, and what do you get? The most delicious Paloma you’ve ever had. Your grapefruit seltzer addition just made this cocktail even more boozy, so strap in for a wild ride! 

Mojito

Looking to spice up this Cuban classic? Too much mint and not enough lime in your Mojito?  How about adding some lime-flavored hard seltzer instead of the traditional soda water. Your day at the beach just went to another level!  

Drink Up!

There's a spiked seltzer out there for everyone. Whether your favorite hard seltzer brand is White Claw, Bon and Viv, or Michelob Ultra, whether you're drinking a cucumber Vizzy alone or adding it to an iced tea or a vodka soda, hard seltzer is undeniably the drink of the moment. Grab a variety pack so you can try every flavor from citrus, lemon lime, and coconut pineapple to mango, pomegranate, or strawberry kiwi. There's no end to the flavor combinations you can create, and you can find a hard seltzer that fits your needs, even if you're trying a gluten-free diet or trying to cut back on the grams of sugar you consume before high noon. Take a knee, grab a Smirnoff Ice, and enjoy responsibly.