I vividly remember my first White Claw. I cracked open a can of the Ruby Grapefruit, offered to me at a Fourth of July party in 2019, on a friend’s lawn right here in L.A. It tasted good.
It also tasted almost nothing like alcohol. Checking the label, I was satisfied to see an ABV of 5 percent — just like a light beer, only far more refreshing. I could down a bunch of these, get a nice buzz on and avoid the yeasty buildup of doing the same with lagers and pilsners. So that’s what I did, trying the whole assortment: Black Cherry, Natural Lime, Raspberry.
I was elated.
This year, I returned to the same friends’ house for the Fourth of July, a cheerful reunion after pandemic lockdown canceled the 2020 shindig. This time, I had brought hard seltzers myself, of a brand I had never tried: Vizzy. The drinks had a place of prominence at Target, seemingly one of the dozen beverages that crop up each month to claim a slice of White Claw’s generous market share. The tagline for this stuff is “not just another hard seltzer,” but of course that’s exactly what it is, and an oversweetened example, no less. It occurred to me that somebody had merely repackaged Mike’s Hard Lemonade with dubious “healthy lifestyle” selling points. Molson Coors, the makers of Vizzy, have even been accused of violating FDA rules by advertising the vitamin C and antioxidants in an alcoholic drink. In the meantime, they’re selling fruit-scented swimwear that’s supposed to smell like the product. This… is not normal.
It’s not my only recent disappointment with hard seltzers. I’ve yet to find a Truly variation I like. PBR’s stronger lime concoction, which raises the ABV to 8 percent, is basically undrinkable (though their lemon THC seltzer, if you can find it at the pot shop, is surprisingly good). The news that Topo Chico was developing a competitor in the space had me full of anticipation, since I was already addicted to Topo mineral water. But the end result was decidedly meh, and Topo’s best quality — its fiercely fizzy bubbles — were supplanted by weak carbonation. Slap another name on the stuff, and I’d never compare it to the original beverage. Then I sampled Flying Embers, which promised a hint of spice along with tropical notes. What I failed to notice is that they also include live probiotic, being a spinoff of a hard kombucha line. After nearly gagging on a sip and realizing my error, I noticed you couldn’t taste the cayenne, either.
As if to complete my disillusionment, last weekend I sat down at a bar and opened the menu on my phone to see the price for a single can of White Claw: $8. Utter madness to think that anyone would accept that markup when an experienced bartender is right there to mix you a specialty cocktail — to say nothing of the old reliable vodka soda. And the seltzer creep is worse than you know. Not long ago, a redditor posted on r/beer that the mania for it has significantly impacted his drinking options by crowding out everything else at his local shop: “It’s a small liquor store with a minimal amount of fridges. I go to it frequently because it is convenient. Hard seltzer now takes up a huge amount of space, and it’s at the expense of the beer selection.”
A sales rep for a beer distributor in the Pacific Northwest chimed in to say that this is happening all over America, noting that “when a Sierra Nevada Pale [Ale] six-pack goes out-of-date on the shelf, it goes away and gets replaced with a hard seltzer.” He added: “You are probably going to see the same thing happen at all of your other beer spots.” Seltzers dominated in the pre-COVID era, and they continue to to do so today. White Claw turned out to have an iron grip.
By every indication, we have gone too far, and possibly angered god with our idolatrous worship of clear, sparkling, low-calorie fluid that (eventually) gets us drunk. Part of the blame lies with me, I’m certain. Why did I feel the need to proselytize hard seltzer from the moment I encountered it? Whence this obligation to test each new “spin” on the same idea?
I suppose we can all take comfort in the likelihood that a hot trend burns itself out sooner than later. It wouldn’t surprise me if, after a hard-seltzer-fueled slutty summer, we see a slowdown for the category, even approaching a decline. This has to be the peak. Right?
Hmm. Now that I’ve read the writing on the wall, I might have to go stock up on White Claw. Just in case it goes out of style.