Courtesy of New Belgium Brewing

Western makers are pushing past the oversaturated market by using natural techniques.

Navpreet Dhillon  – September 3, 2021


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It’s no secret that hard seltzers are having a moment. The carbonated beverage now comprises nearly half of the U.S. alcohol market, according to the International Wines and Spirits Record. But with such rapid popularity, the drinks market quickly became oversaturated.

Enter West Coast brewmasters, who are working to create healthier hard seltzers made with real fruit instead of artificial flavors.

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Companies like San Diego-based JuneShine are branching out with hard kombuchas, while another California brand, St. Hildie’s Botonica, creates spiked tincture tonics. And established companies like New Belgium Brewing Co. from Fort Collins, Colorado, and AMASS Botanics from Los Angeles, are expanding their respective craft beer and spirit portfolios because they see a lack of high-quality seltzers and know they can fill the gap.

“Unlike other hard seltzers on the market, AMASS utilizes natural botanical extracts to reinvent the seltzer experience for premium drinkers,” said Morgan McLachlan, master distiller for AMASS Botanics. “Our Botanic Hard Seltzers have the complexity of a cocktail, while still being easy to sip like a seltzer.”

Hard seltzers initially boomed due to their low-calorie, low-sugar, and low-carb attributes. However, because they are typically made from a fermented grain base, carbonated water, and artificial flavors, they can leave a metallic taste in your mouth—and often suffer from too-subtle fruit flavors.

But for West Coast companies that infuse real fruits and ferment with a cane-sugar base, the carbonation of their hard seltzers elevates the flavors while still maintaining a low level of alcohol.

“When developing each flavor, the key for us was starting with classic ingredients—raspberry, mandarin, orange, hibiscus—and then layering each one with other herbs and spices, from holy basil to bay leaf to star anise,” McLachlan said.

A common misconception is that hard seltzers are a combination of a spirit (like vodka), carbonated water, and flavoring—which would instead be more similar to a canned cocktail. While some companies do use these methods, it strays from the now-standard process, which involves using yeast and grain or sugar cane to produce carbonation and alcohol and infuse flavoring.

New Belgium Brewing Co., for example, ferments sugarcane and later adds fruit juices like strawberry, mango, raspberry, and lime, to maintain balanced sugar levels. The company established Fruit Smash, its hard seltzer line, to make the category better.

“The big difference for us is we wanted to use real juice, like we do with our beers,” Fruit Smash brand manager Dave Knospe and innovation brewing manager Cody Reif said of their company. “We’re trying to appeal to the fun vibe of the category itself.”

In the West, there are multiple brands breaking through the hard seltzer market. Here are the ones we love the most.


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