Drinking seltzer water is like inviting stolid, dependable, level-headed Water to the afternoon gathering, but insisting that Water bring along its wild friend, Bubbles. The get-together turns into a party, thanks to madcap Bubbles. And Water stops it from getting out of hand.
Seltzer water is my kind of mid-day party.
Drinking hard seltzer is like inviting Beer to the evening fiesta, but insisting that Beer bring along its awkward friend, Flashy. The shindig never really takes off. Flashy radiates boorishness. Flashy is kind of weird. Disappointment simmers.
But that’s just me.
Many people adore drinking hard seltzer. They like that it hovers at around 100 calories, with about 2 grams of carbohydrates. They champion its lack of the demon gluten. They appreciate that it comes in fruity flavors and contains less alcohol than most craft beers.
As a pro-gluten, anti-fruity, carbohydrate-agnostic guy, hard seltzer is not my kind of party.
I have tried to appreciate it, sipping all of those made in Colorado that are sold in cans, as well as a few of the national brands, like White Claw. And one time, after a long day of yard work, I stood outside before my beloved Big Green Egg, grilled a flatbread, and enjoyed a can of the stuff.
But I have poured opened cans of hard seltzer down the drain. I have spit it out. Cans I bought months ago still sit in my fridge.
Not for long, I hope. We are hosting our 2nd Annual Canadian Thanksgiving party this year in October, just because we like Canada. I am confident the cans of Boulder County hard seltzer in my fridge now will go fast.
Hard seltzer, you see, is having a moment.
News reports say White Claw and its closest hard seltzer competitor, Truly, now are outselling the entire universe of craft beer. In July, sales of White Claw exceeded Budweiser. Analysts anticipate the hard seltzer category will expand by 300 percent during 2019.
In fact, the nation’s first hard seltzer festival takes place this weekend, in the same city that every year holds the Great American Beer Festival — Denver.
Locally, I recently spoke with the wine director of a Boulder liquor store, who told me sales of rosé are slumping as a result of hard seltzer mania. Another liquor store employee told me that demand is so high, and supply so limited, that the larger liquor stores across the county are just buying all of it.
For now, at least, Boulder County breweries making hard seltzer include Oskar Blues, which markets its seltzer line as Wild Basin, and Upslope, which calls its seltzers Snowmelt.
I chatted with a variety of Colorado breweries about hard seltzer, from Eagle to Denver to Boulder, and don’t knock them for making the stuff. Craft beer sales are sinking. Competition between breweries is intense. Consumer desires are fickle.
Catering to the IPA evangelists who drove craft beer sales through the 2000s and deep into the 2010s isn’t nearly enough in 2019. Increasingly, more people now shrink from beer. They don’t seek stronger drinks, as did those IPA freaks, but instead look for lower-alcohol adult beverages. They care about carbohydrates and calories. And of course many of them retreat in terror from the shrieking demon gluten, with its baguette fangs, its demented red pizza eyes, its grotesque beer belly.
Hard seltzer is speaking to them.
This works out swimmingly for breweries. They can use their equipment to make hard seltzer. In many ways, hard seltzer is a form of beer.
Brewers normally take malted barley and heat it in water to extract the barley’s sugars. They add hops to the vat of sweet liquid. Once it has cooled down, they add yeast. Soon, voila: beer, in myriad styles resting on centuries of craft, and in different hues: golden, amber, chocolate brown.
To make hard seltzer, brewers simply add sugar to hot water. Then comes the yeast and flavorings. And in short order, voila: hard seltzer, hatched in the relative absence of craft, and in one transparent hue. No need for an additional and expensive license, like what would be required for distilling spirits or making wine or cider.
Hard seltzer is bringing new people to tap rooms. Before, the only house-made non-beer option was often water. But now, tap rooms offer something they crafted themselves for people who don’t want beer. The margins on homemade beverages are far in excess of reselling someone else’s beer or cider.
Hard seltzer is selling out in liquor stores, which helps struggling breweries boost the bottom line. This is good news for beer lovers. If hard seltzer keeps the breweries afloat, then I say keep on turning that sugar water into booze, and spiking it with lime, black raspberry, cucumber, whatever works. Infuse it with CBD, for God’s sake — take advantage of the blossoming inverse relationship between gluten-shunning and CBD-embracing.
Do give it a shot, especially while the weather remains warm. Given the keen enthusiasm for hard seltzer nationwide, chances are you will at least find it satisfying, as I once did in my backyard.
Next time I’m overheated on a Saturday afternoon, however, I’ll probably just grab a bottle of pilsner.
Better yet, I might just down a glass of seltzer water. My kind of mid-day party.