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Before we see any retrospectives of the year try to preemptively declare this the “summer of [blank]”, let’s set the record straight—this is undeniably the summer of hard seltzer. Yes, it was the summer of hard seltzer last year, too, but it seems we’ve all emerged from a tough three years ready to once again embrace the light, crisp, and fresh flavors of spiked sparkling water.
Long gone are the days when White Claw was the only name in town—in fact, over the past year, the best hard seltzers have exploded in popularity, bringing forth tons of convenient alternatives to those who want something lighter on the alcohol by volume (and calories) then say, a heavy IPA or shot-loaded cocktail.
Ideal for leisurely sipping on the beach, or throwing back at a BBQ and still maintaining a conversation, the best hard seltzers stick to around 90-150 calories for one 12 oz. can, but also tend to only fall around 4.5-8 percent ABV (so you’re not wasted after one drink).
You can also shop many of the best hard seltzer brands online these days, with everyone from Amazon to Drizly delivering cases to your door. No need to run to a liquor store only to find your favorite hard seltzer brand sold out.
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We’re loathe to call them trendy, but with everyone and their mother releasing a new hard seltzer (see: this SNL sketch), brands are getting pretty creative with the simple malt beverage and bubbly water: there’s wine spritzer-esque seltzers, spiked iced tea seltzers, hard smoothie seltzers, and we don’t think it’ll be long before there’s a hard craft beer seltzer at this point. But with a flood of spiked seltzer flooding in, how do you choose? We’ve rounded up our favorite lightly-flavored, gently bubbling beverages so you can pick your flavor of the summer.
1. Flying Embers
One of the new players in the spiked seltzer trend, you can’t go wrong with Flying Embers’ bubbly — this is the graduate school of seltzers, moving on to a more elevated taste after leaving your old-school days of Mike’s Hard Lemonade behind (who also, coincidentally, now offer a hard seltzer lemonade).
The beautiful carbonation here is almost as light as champagne, which makes sense, since Flying Embers has a unique fermentation process using champagne yeast mixed. They’re most well-known for their hard kombuchas, but all of their seltzers are naturally-flavored, with a crisp, clean taste that is particularly bubbly-forward. You won’t get the same level of sweetness here as some of the mass-appeal brands like Corona or Bud Light’s forays into the seltzer wars. But their flavors are super refined, with offerings like passionfruit elderflower, clementine hibiscus, and watermelon chili.
Their flavor combinations in the Flying Embers “Botanicals & Bitters” variety pack are also particularly sophisticated and almost cocktail-like (including a Gin and Tonic-inspired flavor, made with juniper and zesty black lime peel). With just 95 calories and 5 percent ABV, Flying Embers knows how to keep it as light and refreshing as if you were on your own private island.
2. Nude Hard Seltzer
There’s no better feeling that going nude for summer, at least when it comes to what you’re drinking. We love the offerings from new Canadian-based brand, Nude, which taste like ultra-premium La Croix, with just the right amount of fizz and flavor and just the right buzz (I.e. no sugar-induced hangovers here). Everything is made from all-natural ingredients (think raspberry, peach, lemon and lime) and each can comes in at 100 calories, with 0 carbs, while being 100% vegan, keto-friendly, sugar, and sweetener-free.
Nude’s fittingly simply cans look right at home in your fridge or cooler and are an elevated take on hard seltzers, with no need for unnecessary branding that scream “PARTY TIME.” This is a hard seltzer you can sip at a party, sure, but also a great drink to crack open as you wind down your day at work or want a refreshing pick-me-up after a day on the golf course or tennis courts. Nude also makes Hard Iced Teas and vodka sodas too.
3. Nütrl Vodka Seltzer
Looking for a way to replace your standard summer bar order of a vodka soda? Nütrl’s vodka-based (rather than malt-based) seltzer feels like a club cocktail you could serve in a red solo cup, or in a ice-filled tasting glass—we mean this in the best way.
Nütrl’s seltzer aims to focus on simple vodka, blended with sparkling water, and then mixed with real fruit juice. Emphasis on the fruitiness here, because these seltzers smell and taste remarkably flavorful (especially the pineapple and watermelon flavors). We wouldn’t even consider put them in the same category as some other seltzer—this is pretty much a light mixed drink, but still at just 100 calories and 4.5% ABV.
It also just feels heavier than other seltzers on our list, which is great when you’re looking for a drink that doesn’t just taste like a hint of a hint of a hint of fruit. It’s just as refreshing though, with tart, sweet flavors like classic and strawberry lemonade. You don’t have to flag down a bartender to crack open one of Nütrl’s cocktail-like seltzers, though.
4. Ficks Craft Hard Seltzers
Ficks wants you to join the “Farm to Fizz” movement—which is just another way to say that craft and independent local breweries have seen the seltzer light and are coming for the summertime market.
Crafted in California’s wine country, Ficks not only locally sources ingredients, but their drinks are just packed with full-bodied fruit flavored. You get that unmistakable punch of real fruit because of their cold-pressing process (similar to juicing) for flavors like blackberry, cranberry, grapefruit, and lime. All are as fragrant as if they were just picked off the vine, but with enough zest and bubbly tang that they embody the best of what spiked seltzers have to offer.
Skipping the malt liquor was a good move here, as the fermented orange juice base combined from other ingredients really lets the sweeter flavor profiles shine without becoming too cloying or artificial. Like a boozier juice box, at 5% ABV and a mere 100 calories, drinking one of these feels like a less pretentious ride through wine country. Although, this would still pair well with a cheese board.
5. SUNBOY Spiked Coconut Water
Coconut-based drinks are a funny thing. Go too light on the coconut, and it can feel like you’re drinking a weaksauce health beverage. Too heavy, and you’re essentially chugging sunscreen. SUNBOY’s coconut water-based canned bevvy is the Goldilocks of seltzers — sippable, refreshing, and hydrating enough to not forecast a hangover in your future.
“You’ll thank us tomorrow morning”, is Sunboy’s motto, and when you crack it open, you’ll taste why. Spiked coconut water rich in electrolytes and just a squeeze of real pineapple juice combine to make a drink with 80% less sugar and calories than a standard cocktail. Like a lighter-weight piña colada at 5% ABV and 130-150 calories, it’s meant to be not too sweet, but still satisfy the craving for some thing tropical-tasting (pineapple is the best out of the other two flavors, passionfruit and tangerine).
We’re still skeptical on hard seltzer’s ability to pass as a good-for-you beverage (see Maha above), but when you’re out in the hot summer sun for an entire afternoon, more hydration is always more. For sessionable poolside sipping, Sunboy should be your go-to.
6. Lunar Hard Seltzer
Guys, seltzer really doesn’t have to be boring, we promise. Lunar is the first Asian craft hard seltzer brand using traditional Asian flavors like lychee, yuzu and Korean plum, and they all taste as real as real gets.
But this isn’t your cliche lychee martini — the seltzer is light and refreshing, with subtle flavors rather than artificial and overpowering ‘natural flavors’ so often added after the fact. Everything from the fermented, sweet Korean plum syrup, to the aromatic lychee puree reminiscent of lychee jelly cups are sourced directly from Asian countries.
These recipes were tested and retested again and again, and though they stay in the usual range of 4.7% ABV as other seltzer, using premium ingredients means these seltzers are going to have “real calories (120), and a touch of real sugar”. These are probably your favorite chef or tastemaker’s favorite seltzer.
If you can get your hands on it, try the “Teresa Teng,” a collaboration with the team behind Taiwanese restaurant Win Son in NYC and named after the celebrated Taiwanese singer who your parents likely grew up listening to.