Even if you’re not going as far as signing up to do Dry January, the post-Christmas months can feel like a time for hitting refresh and treating your body to something a little more wholesome than the barrage of fat, salt and booze you indulged in during the festive season. While this is easy enough when it comes to food – stop snacking and eat some leafy greens and lean protein – there is very little in the way of ‘healthy’ options when it comes to drinking.
A pint of beer? Full of carbs. Glass of wine? Often high in sugar. Even an innocent looking gin and tonic can contain up to 200 calories per glass. Of course, by their very nature, no alcoholic drink is ever going to be healthy but a new American import is offering options for those looking for something a little lighter. Here’s everything you need to know about hard seltzer…
What is hard seltzer?
Simply put, it’s an alcoholic flavoured sparkling water (seltzer is the American term for sparkling water). Usually sold in cans at around 5% ABV, it’s relatively new to the UK, but the success of US brands – where the hard seltzer market is now worth $2 billion – means you’ll soon find it next to the pre-mixed cocktails in most supermarkets.
Why is it so popular in the US?
Much of hard seltzer’s popularity has to do with a demand from young drinkers who are far more health conscious than their older counterparts. The leading brand in the US is White Claw, which specifically targeted itself at college-age drinkers as a low-calorie alternative to beer and immediately found fans among student athletes, achieving unprecedented growth of 200-300% in 2017 and 2018.
“Looking at macrotrends, people are increasingly interested in healthier options and beverages with high sugar content are in decline,” says Ana de la Guardia, product owner at ZX Ventures, parent company of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water. “Consumers are looking to have a healthier lifestyle without compromising on socialising. Alcoholic sparkling water offers a refreshing drink with low calories, low or no sugar, a fruity taste and the same alcohol content of a typical beer without the bitterness or bloatiness.”
What makes it healthier?
“Our hard seltzer has only three ingredients: sparkling water, alcohol and natural flavours,” explains Ana. “This means it is light and refreshing as well as being gluten-free and vegan friendly, which are not claims most alcoholic beverages can make.” This simple, largely natural formula is one followed by most hard seltzer brands and means a can typically contains fewer than 100 calories – around half that of a pint of beer – and is also low in carbohydrates without compromising on alcohol content.
In the US this has resulted in a disruption of the ‘light’ beer market while the seemingly more ‘natural’ appearance of hard seltzers has also seen them appeal to the more abstemious Gen Z, who might otherwise have chosen to eschew alcohol altogether.
Will it take off in the UK?
The growing concern over what we put in our bodies certainly isn’t exclusive to the US – more than 250,000 people in the UK signed up to do Veganuary in 2019 while an astonishing 4.2 million took up the Dry January mantle. While this is undoubtedly a charge led by the young, Ana also points out that, since Mike’s launched in the UK in November 2019, indications show interest in hard seltzer across all British age categories.
All of which, of course, is encouraging news for the many hard seltzer brands planning to launch in the UK this year. Alongside Mike’s, which currently offers lemon, lime and black cherry flavours, Kopparberg (of cider fame) has also launched Balans Aqua Spritz in mandarin and lime versions. But they won’t have market dominance for long. White Claw is expected to arrive on our shores early in 2020 where it will be joined by a host of rivals, including Bud Lite Seltzer, and indie brands such as Drty, Wild Basin, Spark and Bodega Bay.
With the UK alcohol market worth around £55.6 billion per year, there’s certainly an appetite for new products catering to modern health trends. But can drinkers be tempted away from their usual or are we all willing to embrace the ‘healthy hedonist’ moniker? With brands like Bodega Bay already getting the wholesale seal of approval from the likes of Harrods, hard seltzer might just be here to stay.
Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.