Will the Fizz Fizzle?

By Tony Forder, tony@alestreetnews.com

 

People still want their alcohol, but they’re turning to non-traditional drinks to get it.
Everything’s going hard – from ciders to sodas, coffee to kombucha, and of course
seltzer. (And yes, it had to happen, hard water – Pura Still – seltzer without the
bubbles – what a concept!)
At the center of this boom is a familiar name, Mark Anthony Brands who coined the
“hard” moniker several years ago with Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Their White Claw
brand is the leader of the booming hard seltzer category chased by opportunistic
Boston Beer Co. with Truly. Look for Truly on Tap to debut soon at a bar near you.
Who’s drinking it? Cocktail drinkers, who maybe want their fizz but with less
alcohol? Is it a backlash again the heavy IPA’s and juice bombs of the craft beer
world? Is it just a summer heatwave boom?

 

Word is that health conscious Millenials and Gen Zers are going ape over hard
seltzer. Sure, it’s less sugar and only 100 calories per 12 ozs, but is it really healthy?
It is still alcohol!

 

There’s been a bit of a media frenzy over skyrocketing seltzer sales (about 85% of
the category is the aforementioned White Claw and Truly) – 150% growth over last
year, etc. Impressive for a new category, but it’s easy to post such figures when
you’re small. We saw that with growth numbers for craft beer for many years, but as
the industry matured percentage growth naturally slowed. Hard seltzer is still only
1/50th of all beer sales (the feds do count it in the beer category).

 

Still many craft brewers are jumping on the hard seltzer bandwagon, afraid to miss
out on the boom, especially if they have underutilized capacity. Last year the
Brewers Association adapted their definition of craft brewery to allow for non-beer
production. The biggest beneficiary of that was Boston Beer (Samuel Adams) just as
they were when the BA expanded the capacity limits on their craft beer definition.

 

Truly and White Claw hard setzers

 

We’ve been down this road before. Sure Mike’s Hard Lemonade is still around, but
what about wine coolers, FMB’s (flavored malt beverages), and Hard Root Beer –
what happened to that? Will hard seltzer still sell during the cold clutches of winter?

 

Craft beer boomed in response to drinkers’ demand for flavor. I think today’s
discerning consumers are still looking for that in the beverages and food they
consume. And sure maybe a hard seltzer here and there is refreshing. Mary Izett of
Fifth Hammer Brewing in NYC put this into perspective in a recent quote in a New
Times article on hard seltzer.
“They’re the fast food of alcoholic beverages,” Izett said “It’s scrubbed clean or
designed to be as neutral as possible, then flavor is added. This is the antithesis of
what we do as beer, wine or cider makers, where we strive to showcase our
ingredients in our beverages.”

 

For myself, if I want a hard seltzer, I probably won’t buy it – prices are way too high,
and there’s the scam of it – I’ll just make my own with my Soda Stream. A drop of
vodka, a lil OJ, lime juice (don’t forget the lime juice!) and my own home-carbonated
seltzer.

 

Hard core hard seltzer fans might want to check the nation’s first Hard Seltzer Festival
Fizz Fight in Denver’s RiNo’ district Sept. 14.

 

Cheers!
Tony Forder