What *Is* Hard Seltzer?

What is hard seltzer? It’s a beverage phenomena. Few beverage trends have hit harder or had more staying power in recent years than the spiked seltzer craze. Whereas a few years ago someone would never have even heard of hard seltzer, today we are blessed with literally dozens of different varieties, from standouts like White Claw and Truly, to expansions from classic brands like Bud Light Seltzer, to those strange outliers that boast additional antioxidants or flavors like “Vibe.” 

When people in the future make movies about the 2020s, they’re going to show people at parties swigging white cans of alcoholic seltzer to indicate what year it is in the same way that movies about the ‘90s have people wearing extremely pleated pants and drinking Crystal Pepsi. That’s how ubiquitous hard seltzer has become. It’s not hard to see why: It followed regular, non-alcoholic seltzer’s rise to popularity as consumers are increasingly looking for healthier options with less sugar. Beyond that, it’s tasty, it’s refreshing, there are an unbelievably wide variety of flavors, it comes in cool-looking cans. What’s not to like? But even if you’re a hard seltzer connoisseur, you might not know what it’s made from. 

What is hard seltzer made of?

In a nutshell, hard seltzer is carbonated water combined with some kind of alcohol. Okay, okay, you probably already knew that. But what alcohol is in hard seltzer? Let’s take a look at the ingredients list for a Mango White Claw (a personal fave and the only White Claw to appear in Sporked’s best hard seltzer ranking) to find out: “purified carbonated water, alcohol, natural flavors, cane sugar, citric acid, natural mango juice concentrate, sodium citrate.” Similarly, a can of lime Truly contains “filtered water, alcohol, natural flavors, contains less than 2% of citric acid, cane sugar, lime juice from concentrate, sodium citrate.” You’ll notice no mention of “vodka” or “tequila” in there. That’s because canned hard seltzers aren’t typically spiked with alcohol. Instead, most are made with an alcoholic sugar base. Of course, there are some producers, such as High Noon, that make their hard seltzer with real deal vodka. Truly has its own vodka seltzer line as well. 

Now, some purists might claim that such beverages are in fact a cocktail in a can instead of a hard seltzer because the alcohol is liquor that’s added separately, but far be it for us to take a side in this debate—as long as it’s a refreshing alcoholic drink, we’re here for it.

How is hard seltzer made?

The annoying answer is that it depends on the producer. But the most common way to make hard seltzer is to ferment sugar and water to make alcohol, then cut it down to the desired ABV with water, add flavoring, and carbonate. Hard seltzers typically weigh in at about 5% ABV—about the same amount of alcohol as beer—but some newer versions such as White Claw Surge go up to 8%.

Now that you know the answer to the age old question, “what is hard seltzer,” go out and enjoy the ever-expanding selections that awaits you. Happy drinking!  

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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