Drinks

Seven Hard Seltzer Brands to Crush This Summer

Boston-area companies like Harpoon and Polar, Wachusett Brewing, and more are getting in on this buzzy bubbly beverage industry trend.


New England hard seltzers

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

When a Connecticut company called Boathouse Beverage, LLC, introduced hard seltzer—yes, that’s alcoholic, bubbly water—to the East Coast market in 2013, the visionaries simply called it “SpikedSeltzer.” By 2016, big-time brands followed suit by launching their own boozy bubbs—or, in Anheuser-Busch’s case, by acquiring SpikedSeltzer. White Claw, a subsidiary of the company that makes Mike’s Hard Lemonade products; Westminster-based Wachusett Brewing Company’s Nauti Seltzer; and Boston Beer Co.’s Truly all launched in 2016.

Fast-forward three years, hard seltzer is a full-blown beverage industry trend, with sales of alcoholic water up more than 200 percent over last year, per Nielsen numbers. Maybe that’s because beloved fizz makers Polar Seltzer finally jumped on board: The Worcester company just launched Arctic Summer, its first-ever alcoholic seltzer, in collaboration with Harpoon Brewery.

Categorized in the industry as a malternative to beer, the alcohol spiking hard seltzer is typically derived from cane sugar, rather than malted barley or grains (as in beer), making it naturally gluten-free. Since most, if not all, sugars ferment to create alcohol, the end product is low in calories and carbohydrates. The flavors come from lab-derived extracts, or “essences,” à la Polar Seltzer’s non-alcoholic package store mainstay; and in some cases, real fruit juices (or concentrates).

Because boozy seltzer is easy to make, it’s not just big breweries that are getting in on this newly tapped market: Briggs and Willie’s Superbrew are two locally-born brands of hard seltzers made with real fruit. Earlier this year, the cofounders of Boston’s Prospect Ciderworks launched a new alcohol innovation platform called Liquid Collective to bring to market their brand-new Sup! Hard Seltzer products.

Deputy food editor Jacqueline Cain—a lover of alcohol-free seltzer and alcohol alike—gathered up a group of editorial staffers to try seven hard seltzer brands with New England ties to see which boozy bubbles you need in your beach cooler this summer. Several audible burps later, here’s our take.

hard seltzer arctic summer cans

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Arctic Summer

Polar Seltzer flexes its bubbly prowess with this new Harpoon Brewery collaboration: This is definitely the fizziest brand we sampled. But our team was overall disappointed in the flavors, as we typically trust the company’s non-alcoholic seltzers to taste true-to-life, thanks to naturally-derived flavor essences. The boozy Pineapple Pomelo is the one slim-can that tastes like its non-alcoholic counterpart: a mild, tropical refresher with subtle zest. That was our clear favorite. But regrettably, the words “floor cleaner” made our tasting notes for the Raspberry Lime flavor. The 12-pack also includes a more-bitter Ruby Red Grapefruit flavor, and a bold Black Cherry.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 5%
Calories: 110
Carbohydrates: 3 grams

Drink it when: You’re a wicked townie.

hard seltzer bon & viv

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer

Boathouse sold out to Anheuser-Busch in 2016, and has since rebranded as Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer. But, cofounder Nick Shields is still involved with the brand; he’s the great-great-grandson of 19th century OG Boston brewer Rudolph Haffenreffer, and was one of Nantucket Nectars’ first employees, so his New England beverage cred runs deep. Plus, Bon & Viv is one of the most readily available hard seltzers in the market—and it’s not bad at all. Our tasting team tried the Clementine and Hibiscus, and Pear and Elderflower flavors. While we didn’t really detect the floral underpinnings in either variety, we found them “crushable,” with “soft bubbles.” This is a brand we had to remind ourselves is boozy—just because you feel like you’re hydrating, you’re not.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 4.5%
Calories: 90
Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Drink it when: You want to (dangerously) forget you’re drinking.

hard seltzer briggs pineapple

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Briggs Hard Seltzer

Twentysomething Boston beverage industry wunderkind Neil Quigley, who was the opening beverage director at James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams’ Porto, launched this fruit-forward brand in 2016 with fellow Newton native Michael Kurson. It now comes in three flavors—Boston Cranberry, Pineapple, and Grapefruit—all made with real fruit, though it’s brewed and packaged in the Midwest now. The lightly sweet, sparkling water has a distinct color and true fruit flavor, thanks to the natural ingredients. Our group tried pineapple, which can easily be a lower-alcohol stand-in for a tropical mixed drink, we agreed. The light, but unmistakeable pineapple flavor is refreshing, and Briggs has “more body” than most all of the other hard seltzers we tried.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 5%
Calories: 108
Carbohydrates: 6 grams

Drink it when: You’re taking a break from cocktails: The fruit-forward flavors are low-sugar, less boozy ringers for vodka-spiked juice drinks.

hard seltzer nauti blueberry lemonade

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Nauti Seltzer Spiked Sparking Water

Part of the reason why 25-year-old Wachusett Brewing Company grew 8 percent in 2018 is because the Central Mass. company was early to see the potential in hard seltzer, first launching this brand in 2016. Nauti seems to have gotten a bit lost in the sea of new spiked seltzers, though; it is the only brand in this roundup that isn’t sold at the South End Whole Foods, and the shopkeeper at Huntington Wine & Spirits had just a few 12-packs left in stock, marked at a discount, as they’ve been tough to sell, he said. Our panel of seltzer tasters might know why: We did not like Nauti’s Blueberry Lemonade. It was the most “artificial-tasting” of all the products we sampled, with “Mr. Sketch markers” and “Children’s Tylenol” among our flavor notes. It “tastes closer to Smirnoff Ice than seltzer,” according to one staffer, and we found it “under-carbonated,” to boot.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 4.5%
Calories: 100
Carbohydrates: 4 grams

Drink it when: Everything else is sold out.

hard seltzer sup!

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Sup! Organic Hard Seltzer

Brand-new to the Boston-area and New York City markets, these terrazzo-like cans are produced locally at Prospect Ciderworks’ hard cidery in Roxbury by the company’s new Liquid Collective arm. Comprised of filtered water, fermented organic sugar, organic fruit extracts, and just a dash of citric acid, Sup! was the first hard seltzer to start the process of USDA organic certification for the category, though the price-point remains in line with market leaders. But that doesn’t mean Sup! wants to align itself with the White Claws of the cooler: “We’re taking notes from the non-alcoholic seltzer category far more than we are from our largest competitors,” cofounder Chase Brooks says. The first Sup! sips suggest he has his eyes on local upstarts Spindrift, which proffers earthy effervescence: Sup! is dry, nicely bubbly, and, it turns out, not for everyone. This was the most polarizing brand we sampled: Some of us can’t get enough of the unique Cucumber and Peach flavors (it also comes in Lemon and Black Cherry), but some of us preferred any other brand. We all agreed that there’s no boozy bite present in these new flavors, just smooth fruit flavor—whether it was our cup of fizz or not. Sup! launched in early June with 100-calorie cans carrying just 1 gram of carbohydrates, but look for a slightly tweaked recipe with 95 calories and 0 carbs to hit shelves in mid-July.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 5%
Calories: 100 (soon, 95)
Carbohydrates: 1 gram (soon, none)

Drink it when: You’re trying to be healthy. It’s organic.

hard seltzer truly

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Truly Hard Seltzer

Among the most recognizable brands in the U.S. market, Boston Beer Co.’s foray into hard seltzer is intense in both bubbliness and flavor. (We agreed that the packaging, while familiar, is lackluster.) We tried selections from Truly’s Berry mix-pack, including Black Cherry and Raspberry Lime, and overall found them “quite sweet.” One could argue—as several of us did—that these have “too much flavor.” We preferred the raspberry lime; “Dr. Pepper” and “Robitussin” made our tasting notes for the black cherry version. A regular Truly drinker in our group advised picking up the Tropical mix-pack next time. Noted.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 5%
Calories: 100
Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Drink it when: Someone inevitably hands you one—this stuff is everywhere.

hard seltzer willie's mango passionfruit

Photos by Jacqueline Cain

Willie’s Superbrew

The least-seltzery of hard seltzers—the newest Sparkling Mango & Passionfruit style pours a slightly viscous bright orangey yellow—Willie’s is made from fermented cane sugar and real fruit concentrates. It calls itself a “superbrew,” an original word coined to describe a fermented drink with “superfood” ingredients. “It’s like a seltzer-cider-rosé-kombucha,” the packaging reads—but it also includes the words “hard seltzer,” as of 2019. All that being said, we generally love this stuff. It’s sweeter and fuller bodied than any other on this list, and is full of tiny, zippy bubbles. Born from the defunct Farmer Willie’s Ginger Beer brand, Willie’s also makes a turmeric-spiked ginger and lemon flavor, as well as pomegranate açaí.

Per 12-ounce can:
ABV: 4.5%
Calories: 110
Carbohydrates: 4 grams

Drink it when: Brunching—the mango style would be a great mimosa alternative. The natural antioxidants present in the other two flavors would be at home in New England’s woods and trails.