Disappearing cooler space, billions of dollars in sales, craft breweries brewing up fizzy water, “ain’t no laws”, how did this happen? How did 5% ABV, 100 calorie, 2 grams of sugar, clear, flavored seltzer water take over? Who is to blame for the brewer who works over a hot mash tun all day and then goes home to a Truly? Who is to blame for the guy who used to wait in line hours for a 4 pack of IPA and now grabs Topo Chico Hard Seltzer at the grocery store? I think craft beer is to blame. More specifically the IPA and its astronomical rise over the last decade or so.
It wasn’t that long ago that many of us felt like we were in a secret club. The IPA club. We drank bitter, piney, earthy IPAs for that brief fleeting moment of grapefruit. we were cool, we could handle our 6.5% ABV, grapefruit pith, salivary gland activating beer. Remember what it was like to bring your first six pack of Lagunitas IPA to the backyard cookout?
“Oh this? It’s an IPA.”
“Oh, gross they are so bitter.”
But we knew, our palates had acclimated and we were all in to spend $9.99 a six pack on pine water. And thanks to us craft breweries in the US exploded. Over 8000 breweries now, most riding on the IPA wave that started all those years ago. And we know what happens next. New hop varieties that highlight tropical fruits are created. The grapefruit becomes less pithy and more juicy. Then we start adding fruit to IPA. You remember the Summer when we were all drinking Grapefruit Sculpin? Once the fruit flavors started to dominate more people got on board.
Then we start moving the hops to dry hopping and double dry hopping to decrease bitterness and increase fruit flavors and aromas. And of course the rise of the hazy IPA. Why drink a beer with ANY bitterness when you can have straight up fruit juice? BUT WITH NO ACTUAL JUICE! What a miracle of science and technology!
No longer would beer drinkers have to fight through the Earth, pine, and floral notes to get to the lime, grapefruit, and berry notes. They could have all the juicy goodness with none of the unpleasantness. That’s right, Grapefruit, Lime, Berry, Passion Fruit, Cherry, Citrus…….wait….Grapefruit, Lime, Berry, Passion Fruit, Cherry, Citrus. WHY? THOSE ARE SELTZER FLAVORS!!
Exactly! Hard Seltzer is IPA with all the bullshit stripped away. Light, refreshing, Hard Seltzer can be virtually any flavor and you don’t even have to put cake in the mash tun. Hard Seltzer is consistent, no longer do you have to play ABV Lotto. This IPA is 7%, but this DIPA is 7.5%, and this IPA is 6.75%. Hard seltzer is 5%, sometimes less, rarely ever more. It’s always around 100 calories, low in sugar, or in some cases no sugar. Feel like drinking something citrusy? Take your pick of a dozen citrus flavored Hard Seltzers. Want something unique? Try your nearest craft brewery; they might already be making a Hard Seltzer that fits a flavor profile the big guys aren’t touching. That’s right, Hard Seltzer already has its own mini ecosystem of big guys vs craft. Truly, White Claw, Vizzy, they all have Grapefruit, but my local brewery makes a Cranberry Orange Hard Seltzer that is incredible.
And price? Forget about it. Is it any wonder people are abandoning $18 4 packs of IPA when a 12 pack of Hard Seltzer is $15?
But I know what you’re saying “Jim! What about a delicious, crisp, craft Pilsner? Isn’t that the bubbly, 5% refresher the people should be drinking?” Do you remember how craft beer happened? They were pushing back against Pilsners and Lagers. If you want to pretend you’re a “crispy boy” who loves paying $11 for a 6 pack of craft Pils that’s fine but why would you when the beer they are emulating is $12 for a 24 pack? Even the most die hard craft beer drinker still buys more High Life than Local Brewery Premium Pilsner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love craft beer and I’m always down to hang out at a brewery or try something new. But look around, we did this to ourselves. No one can gate keep a Hard Seltzer or tell you that a seltzer made by Coors isn’t cool. Because seltzer isn’t cool. It’s just delicious.