HARD SELTZERS: These Bubbles Show No Sign of Bursting

By Rich Warren

Sales of hard seltzer nationwide tripled from 2016 to 2019, and some projections suggest total sales will reach a staggering $2.5 billion in 2021. Is the explosive growth in popularity of this fizzy beverage a passing fad, or is it a new trend that’s here to stay?

A handful of Ohio craft breweries think they know the answer – and they’ve been quick to produce their own hard seltzers with a Buckeye spin to them.

Essentially a carbonated drink with fruit flavors added, and with an alcohol content between 4 and 6 percent, hard seltzer is also low-carb and gluten-free. With an average calorie count of around 100 in a 12-ounce serving, hard seltzers appeal to those seeking a healthy lifestyle.

National brands such as White Claw and Truly are leading the charge, and other major national and international industry players are jumping on board, including Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Among the trailblazers, however, was Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co., which rolled out its first hard seltzers in late 2018. After several months of experimenting with ingredients and techniques, Platform’s light, flavorful seltzer received a favorable review in the New York Times.

Close behind Platform Beer was Cincinnati’s Braxton Brewing Company, which introduced its line of VIVE hard seltzers in March 2019. It carries the designation of the official seltzer of the Cincinnati Bengals and “is selling like hotcakes,” according to Braxton’s CEO, Jake Rouse. Sales have been so brisk, Rouse says, that VIVE now amounts to an estimated 20 percent of Braxton’s total sales.

Other innovative Buckeye craft brewers have put their own stamp on a line of hard seltzers. Seventh Son Brewing in Columbus uses fruit purées, not processed sugar or artificial flavors, in its whimsically named Kitty Paw brand of hard seltzers.

Cincinnati’s Karrikin Spirits Co. uses its own craft distilled spirits in a line of what its owners call “sparkling spirits,” which resemble hard seltzers but use distilled alcohol instead of fermented sugars or malts that provide the alcohol in hard seltzers. And in early 2021, Akron’s R. Shea Brewing introduced a line of Moscow Mule-inspired seltzers using a ginger-lime base but with a much lower calorie count than the cocktail itself. 

Flavors of hard seltzers run the gamut from pineapple, lime, cherry, and raspberry to guava, mango and passionfruit. Blends of two or more fruits are also common. Some Ohio producers are introducing truly innovative flavors such as jalapeño at Patron Saints Brewery in Toledo or Crunch Berry, based on a popular breakfast cereal, at The Laird Arcade Brewery in Tiffin.

In November, Aistear Brewing in Bowling Green introduced a line of seltzers it calls “Prismatic Dragon,” with a blend of 20 different fruits. Potential new directions for hard seltzer in the future may include the addition of lactose to create a seltzer with a creamy milkshake texture.

For those who don’t like beer but still want to join their beer-quaffing friends at a local craft brewery, hard seltzers offer a much-needed option. In some cases, breweries’ hard seltzers are available only in their taprooms, but larger players such as Platform Beer Co., Braxton Brewing, and Seventh Son Brewing sell retail products at grocery chains such as Kroger, Giant Eagle, and Heinen’s. Many breweries also offer the option of shipping their cans of seltzer directly to consumers’ homes.

Most Ohio hard-seltzer producers do not believe the slightly alcoholic carbonated beverages are a passing fad. Brandon Fields, owner of Inside the Five Brewing Co. in Sylvania says, “I believe it’s past the fad stage and is here to stay, although, like a lot of consumer products, it will have its ebb and flow of popularity.”

According to Eric Kuebler, co-owner of Tiffin’s Laird Arcade, “The fact they can be enjoyed side by side with craft beer, wine, and distilled spirits has cemented their presence into the future of the industry.”

Paul Benner, founder of Platform Beer Co., agrees. “It’s naive to think hard seltzers will be going away anytime soon.”

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