By Alex Harris
Hard seltzers are low-ABV and low-calorie drinks which have swept across the Atlantic from the US.
You may have heard of the ubiquitous White Claw; it is, after all, an iconic reflection of the growing hard seltzer trend. However, an increasing number of brands and distilleries are now incorporating hard seltzer ranges. These drinks are soaring in popularity, but what are they really?
As co-founder of London-based bar Behind This Wall and an exciting range of hard seltzers, including the UK’s first CBD-infused hard seltzer, I am well versed in the realities of these forward-thinking alcoholic drinks.
In American parlance, a ‘seltzer’ is soda water; force carbonated water (a can of ‘soda’ or ‘pop’) which is often flavoured. Hard seltzers add a little base alcohol to ‘spike’ the drink — they are, essentially, canned, fizzy, flavoured vodka sodas.
You may be wondering what makes these drinks so immensely appealing, after all, they’re a fizzy water of sorts. Well, the buzz that’s accelerated the marketing blitzkrieg has been their low-calorie content, alongside topical tag-lines like ‘Natural flavours’ and ‘Real fruit’. Tasting most readily available seltzers may leave you questioning how honest these claims are, however their low-calorie ingredients are indisputable; the ABV per can (or bottle) is similar to beer, but each hard seltzer comes in at a mere 100 calories — that’s a good sessionable drinking option for a lot of people.
Our team at Behind This Wall have been making seltzers for some time now in the guise of swizzles, slings and long drinks. However, lockdown pushed us to develop a bottled range, building a custom carbonation rig at the bar. We have previously built the drinks in the ‘live’ environment of the bar (during service), simply topping the drink’s base with soda. However, by kegging and bottling the drink you can actually carbonate the entire recipe; the results are, quite frankly, stunning. We create our own ‘seltzer’ water using spring water, salts and natural emulsifiers, adding our base cocktail ingredients to create a complex, incomparable refreshment.
‘Hard seltzers are built over a neutral grain or barley spirit with some, supposedly natural, flavours being added with water’
We are proud to use premium imported ingredients, in accordance with our long-standing policy at the bar to eschew cheap or mass-market products that use artificial additives, high fructose, or corn syrup in their manufacturing. In doing so, we adhere with the ‘healthy drinking’ fascination that surrounds hard seltzers — and we’re coming from a very genuine place! The brands we use in the main drink are VIVIR tequila, Rob Abuelo rum, Jack Rudy Tonic Syrups and Bittermens Bitters. This ensures the quality of the product. Once we get the batches to the correct temperature, we then force carbonate in Cornelius kegs and bottle and label the seltzers ourselves. Creating high-quality seltzers is no easy task, but it’s worth every single second of time that’s spent on this intricate process.
Generally, hard seltzers are built over a neutral grain or barley spirit with some, supposedly natural, flavours being added with water. They’re then fizzed, bringing these unique drinks to life. At Behind This Wall, we wanted to approach the process from a more experimental and craft angle. Everyone at the bar currently loves tequila and soda so our challenge was what we could do in a batch to make the very best version of this drink imaginable.
We have all become fascinated by the complexity of hard seltzers. It is a truly addictive science and whenever you think you’ve mastered the art of creating hard seltzers, something pops up to make you want to find out even more about the secrets of hard seltzers. Once you start carbonating base ingredients with tequila soda for instance, an entirely new world of flavours and possibilities unveils itself. CO2 has a real presence of acidity as a flavour and controlling it to the perfect level is a constant and evolving challenge in seeking perfection.
The world’s fascination with hard seltzers has reached unprecedented heights and I only foresee this continuing. We have become obsessed with health-driven alternatives and our commitment to high-quality, hand-made products has been truly propelled by the uncertainty ensued by the covid-19 pandemic.
As we embrace a unique Christmas and continue exploring new realms of ‘healthy drinking’, we predict that hard seltzers will continue to engulf the alcohol market internationally. Personally, I couldn’t be more excited! These drinks are outstanding and once disingenuous brands and claims are put to one side, you can truly discover tastebud-defying drinks. Ignore the American frat party stereotype; these drinks are for everyone and they’re sensational — trust me.