Hard seltzers: is the latest US drinking fad - alcoholic fizzy water - about to take off in the UK?

As with some of the biggest drinks trends of recent years, new American products and categories usually make their way to these shores and the big thing in the US right now is hard seltzers.

Published 10th Oct 2019
Updated 10 th Oct 2019

What is a hard seltzer? 

Usually defined as a blend of carbonated water, alcohol and often fruit flavourings, Americans have been enjoying alcohol-spiked H2O for the majority of this summer with brands such as White Claw, Truly, and Pura capitalising on the demand for low-calorie drinking.

What's the big deal? 

Appealing to the health conscious trend followers of the modern era, these carbonated drinks are described by their producers as having "fewer calories" and "fewer carbs" than traditional beer, as well as containing less sugar - making it less likely they'll cause a "major hangover".

And according to market insight company Nielsen, who produced a recent survey on ready to drink beverages, more than half of respondents said they bought ready-to-drink canned cocktails and hard seltzers because they were “convenient.”

How are they made? 

These carbonated alcoholic beverages can be made by combining carbonated water and fermented cane sugar, or in some cases malted barley, with fruit flavourings to create a drink that's on average 4-6 per cent ABV and has been compared to drinking white spirits with a generous amount of soda and a fruit garnish.

Where did they come from? 

According to several US-based lifestyle magazines, they've been around since at least the early 90s but only captured the drinking public at large's imagination this year with the success of brands like White Claw.

Popular with the Instagram generation and coming in an easy to drink can format, they've quickly become big business.

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Currently a $550 million industry, a UBS investor recently told Business Insider that the category could quintuple in size to be worth $2.5 billion by 2021.

Indeed, bigger firms like Anheuser-Busch, who bought and rebranded early market player SpikedSeltzer (Bon & Viv) and PBR and Four Loko, who have produced their own higher alcohol versions, have all now entered the market.

When will they arrive in the UK? 

According to our sister title the inews, leading brand Whiteclaw is the most likely to make the trip across the pond first but that it could still be a while before that happens.

Currently, UK drinkers have already embraced the trend for ready to drink canned cocktails and mixed drinks, while Swedish cider producer Koppaberg has already created its own version of hard seltzer in the form of "aqua spritz" Balans, which is currently available on Asda shelves across the country.

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Premium drinks newcomer Bodega Bay has already attempted to corner the market in London by launching two canned flavours - Apple with Ginger & Acai Berry and Elderflower with Lemon & Mint - into the on-trade earlier this year.

Beer writer Matthew Curtis believes they will appear eventually in the UK but doubts they'll catch on, he said: "Chiefly, they may fall foul of high 'made wine' taxation.

"They would also have to compete with the canned cocktail market, which I feel is more appealing to UK palates.  Essentially a few beer drinkers showing brief interest  in them will not impact the market hard seltzer targets in US, because we don't have it: American Light Lager."

Drinks blogger Pam Lorimer of sippingandstyling.com, added: "The UK has so many ready to drink cans at the moment (especially the rise in ready made G&T cans) so hard seltzers might not make the impact they have in the US.

"However, consumers do love trying new things and if it is marketed as a lower sugar alternative, it well go down well with a certain audience."

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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