The new ‘it’ drink is here for summer – and it’s big business. Enter: Hard seltzer.
It fills the gap in the esky between beer, wine and spirits; a gap most recently occupied by cider.
Sometimes called boozy mineral water or even alcopops for adults, the beverage has popped into Australia after quickly rising in popularity in the US.
Despite finding its feet in the US, seltzer actually heralds from Germany, from the region of Selters.
It has been especially popular with younger drinkers in the US, thanks to its carefree marketing, light taste, (relatively) low calories and drinkability.
At the front of the market is a brand called White Claw, which outsold Budweiser last summer and is about to launch in Australia.
But just what is hard seltzer?
It’s sold as a ready-to-drink beverage, meaning you open it and consume, but (when traditionally made) it’s not just a spirits-plus-mixer situation.
It’s a mineral water, usually lightly flavoured, to which a fermented spirit made from sugar cane or malted barley, is added.
The result is a tipple that’s light in flavour and low in sugar, but moderately alcoholic.
Melbourne brewery Hop Nation launched its iteration under ‘little brother’ label ‘Ray earlier this year, and is gearing up for its first full summer with the product rolling out into stores.
“We saw what was happening with seltzers around the world and towards the end of last year, we started experimenting with some recipes,” brewery co-owner Sam Hambour told The New Daily.
Benefitting from their at-hand brewing equipment, ‘Ray is made from a corn base, fermented for about three weeks before fruit is added, for flavouring. A couple of filtration processes, and the result is a clear and bright, slightly fizzy, drink.
Mr Hambour and co-founder Duncan Gibson were winemakers before they entered the beer-brewing world, and welcome experimentation in their work.
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Apart from the initial expected backlash from die-hard craft beer drinkers, Mr Hambour said customers were warming up to the idea of hard seltzer.
“The guys who are part of the brewing team have a couple of drinks of it after work, partly because it’s refreshing and easy and fun. Also, it’s not good for you but when you drink three beers at the end of each day, it can creep up on your belly a little bit, so it’s good to mix it up,” he said.
“I think there’ll be people that are health conscious but who just want a refreshing drink – super light, crispy and easy, not heavy or sugar-filled.”
Just the beginning
In the way craft breweries seemed to triple overnight in Australia a few years back, the same is already happening with hard seltzer companies.
Out of Sydney there’s FELLR, started by two mates in a garage in January, and is already making its way around the country through bottle shops.
Carlton & United Brewery has launched Actual. – a vodka-based seltzer (vodka plus mineral water, a slightly different product).
NATURAL GINGER, FRESH LIME AND A SUBTLE SWEETNESS GIVE YOU EVERYTHING YOU WANT IN A DRY AND LIME, WITHOUT THE SUGAR HIT! THE PERFECT BREW FOR YOUR NEXT SUNDOWNER SESSION.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀#FELLR #SELTZER #LANDOFFIZZ
Lion is the company bringing White Claw to Australia (scheduled to land in October) and it has also released Quincy in November last year.
In the US, annual sales are topping $US1 billion – something Lion believes will be emulated here.
“We believe the seltzer category represents a significant growth opportunity for Lion over the coming years,” the company’s Australian managing director James Brindley told AFR earlier this year.