What is hard seltzer – and is it the drink of summer 2020?

Hard seltzers have taken the US by storm - and now the super low-cal tinnies are on their way to appear on a picnic blanket near you!

First it was prosecco. Then it was pink gin. Then it was Aperol spritz. The rush to declare a ‘drink of the summer’ has become a yearly ritual in magazines and on social media.

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Summer 2020 has got off to a shaky start, to say the least. But with lockdown measures easing, we can finally start to enjoy some socialising – at an appropriate distance, of course! So what should be be quaffing on picnic blankets and knocking back over barbeques?

Well, if you’re a booze aficionado, you might have already heard of hard seltzer. It’s a new twist on the classic spritzer that’s taken the US by storm – and now it’s arrived in the UK. Top US brand White Claw has started selling on this side of the pond, while UK retailers including Aldi have been quick to hop on the bandwagon by releasing their own versions.

So what is hard seltzer – and is it the new Aperol spritz?

Hard seltzer is made by combining a spirit with flavoured sparkling water. In fact, if your usual tipple of choice is a vodka, lime and soda, you’d be forgiven for thinking this ‘new’ craze isn’t really that revolutionary at all. But there are a few differences.

For one, seltzers usually come pre-mixed in a can, like the familiar ‘gin in a tin’-style drinks that accompany many of us through the summer season. 

And then there’s the flavours. Forget a slice of lemon or a shot of blackcurrant cordial, hard seltzers come in a massive variety of flavours, from black cherry to apple and ginger. 

The appeal of hard seltzer as a summertime tipple is not hard to understand. The ‘light’ feel of carbonated water compared to other mixers will keep you going through a long, lazy afternoon around the barbeque or on the beach.

And while no-one can honestly claim that drinking spirits is good for your health, hard seltzer is low in sugar and usually comes in at under 100 calories a can. Compared to wine (around 200 calories for a large glass) or beer (about 180 calories a pint), hard seltzer is definitely a more diet-conscious option.

Charlie Markland, founder of UK hard seltzer brand Bodega Bay, which launched last summer, describes his target market as ‘healthy hedonists’ – young people who want to enjoy social drinking while still taking care of what goes into their bodies.

‘Seltzers appeal to our millennial target audience due to the low calorie and sugar content, but also because they’re gluten free and vegan,’ he said.

So what do they actually taste like? Our editorial team bit the bullet and sampled as many varieties as we could get our hands on – all in the name of journalism, of course – to see if they have what it takes to displace the likes of Pimms as the quintessential summer garden party drink.

We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites below, but we did have some general impressions. The first is that hard seltzer is easy to drink. Like, astonishingly easy to drink. None of the varieties we sampled tasted like alcohol – in fact, you could mistake most of them for one of those fancy flavoured waters you pick up in a supermarket meal deal.

That’s great news if you usually shy away from strong alcohol – but don’t forget the ‘flavoured water’ you’re drinking is the same strength as lager, or you’ll remember the hard way when you wake up with a sore head!

The second point to bear in mind is that hard seltzer’s selling point is that it’s ‘healthy’ – comparatively, of course – free from additives, sugar, sweeteners. That means if you’ve got a sweet tooth and prefer a sugary tipple, hard seltzer might take a bit of adjustment. 

With that in mind, here are a few brands available in the UK now that passed YourHomeStyle’s personal taste test:

Bodega Bay Apple, Ginger and Acai Berry, £2, Sainsbury’s and Amazon

Bodega Bay Apple, Ginger and Acai Berry

How does it taste? More than any of the other hard seltzers we tried, this one really tastes like a health drink – refreshing, with a subtle fruity flavour and gentle undertone of ginger.

Great if you normally drink: Rum cocktails or apple cider

Dress it up with: A splash of ginger ale or fresh blueberries

DRTY Raspberry Rose, £2.20 Ocado

DRTY Raspberry Rose

How does it taste? Floral, fruity bouquet, perfumed berry. Sweeter than others we tried, but not overpowering.

Great if you normally drink: Rosé wine or fruity cider

Dress it up with: Raspberries or sliced strawberries. If you’re craving more sweetness, chuck in a drop of Chambord.

Bodega Bay Lemon and Elderflower, £2, Sainsbury’s and Amazon

Bodega Bay Lemon and Elderflower

How does it taste? Instantly refreshing, there’s a strong citrus tang, but it is mellowed by the sweetness of the elderflower.

Great if you normally drink: Gin and lemonade.

Dress it up with: A slice of lemon. Or, if you’re feeling brave, add a splash to prosecco

Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, Black Cherry, £1.99

Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, Black Cherry

How does it taste? A nostalgic whiff of cherryade gives way to a more grown-up dark berry flavour. Sweet without being saccharine, it’s probably the most quaffable on our list.

Great if you normally drink: Alcopops

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Dress it up with: A splash of blackcurrant cordial