While it’s been around for a while, it’s safe to say 2019 is The Year of the Hard Seltzer thanks in no small part to the unexpected surge of White Claw, which took the internet (and, in turn, the world) by storm over the summer.
I’ve been a hard seltzer guy ever since I realized it was the perfect mixer on those occasions when you’re not looking to drink with the faintest amount of moderation and it’s a great time to be alive if you’re a fan of them (with or without some hard alcohol mixed in).
I’m going to assume virtually everyone reading this has tried White Claw, and as a result, there’s not much I can tell you about it that you don’t already know. However, the same can’t necessarily be said for its many competitors, and as a result, I recently decided to do you a favor (and do my liver a disservice) by tracking down as many different varieties as I could for a taste test.
I traveled far and wide around Brooklyn in search of these precious nectars, stopping by supermarkets, bodegas, and an overpriced liquor store where the cashier spent far too long detailing the intricacies of the fermentation process to explain why they didn’t carry any when a simple “no” would have sufficed.
So which of the hard seltzers reigned supreme? Here’s a power ranking of the ones that hit my lips.
13. Arctic Summer
Arctic Summer is Polar’s foray into the hard seltzer space, and based on the end result, they might not have wanted to venture into it in the first place.
The infinitely Instagrammable cans promised big bubbles but the end product largely failed to deliver on the carbonation front and the four flavors I sampled—raspberry lime, ruby red grapefruit, black cherry, and the intriguing but disappointing pineapple pomelo—were all notable for how underwhelming they were.
There aren’t many alcoholic concoctions I love more than Orange Dry with a little (or a lot) of vodka thrown in, but if you’re turning to Polar for your alcohol fix, you’re probably going to want to mix the drink yourself.
12. Willie’s Superbrew
Willie’s Superbrew comes in a few flavors and I managed to get my hands on the Mango and Passionfruit variety.
There wasn’t much of a nose to it, and after taking the first sip, I got a little bit of mango and not much else. In the spirit of full disclosure, I wouldn’t know what a passionfruit tasted like if an angry villager threw one directly into my mouth while I was locked in a pillory for heresy or a similar offense but there just wasn’t a ton of flavor in general.
If any single word came to mind to describe Willie’s Superbrew, it would be “inoffensive.” It’s not necessarily bad but it’s certainly not your best bet if you’re looking for something pronounced.
Henry’s features one of the lowest ABVs on this list, and as a result, it had some work cut out for it on the other fronts. Unfortunately, it was unable to persevere due to its lackluster carbonation and flavors that left much to be desired.
The lemon-lime variety was essentially flat 7UP (without the aggressive sweetness), the strawberry kiwi was like a slightly effervescent Snapple, and while I can’t compare the blueberry-lemon to a brand name because no one has really tried to corner that market (at least to my knowledge), it was really nothing to write home about.
When I was talking to a friend of mine about this list, he relayed a pretty amusing anecdote about a coworker who casually popped open a can of Truly at their desk during lunch only to be approached by someone in human resources who politely asked him what the hell they were thinking.
It turns out the guy’s wife had picked up some Truly and not informed him it had booze in it, and to his credit, I can understand how he could have made such an error, as you could easily mistake this for regular seltzer, which is a good thing if you’re trying to crush a few and a bad thing if you work in an office where drinking on the job is frowned upon.
However, that tells you really all you need to know about Truly, which certainly isn’t bad but isn’t necessarily good. The flavor and carbonation are decidedly average, and while I can’t speak to other varieties aside from lime, there’s just nothing that makes it stand out from the others on this list.
Smirnoff’s hard seltzer isn’t made with vodka, which seems like a bold choice because, you know, it’s Smirnoff.
I don’t really have much to say here because Smirnoff’s take on the drink is basically indistinguishable from Truly aside from some slightly more exotic flavors (I will say I enjoyed the raspberry rosé more than I had any right to).
However, if you’re looking for some hard alcohol in your life, this next entry has your back.
While every other drink on this list is a malt beverage (as was explained in an unnecessarily douchey manner to me by the aforementioned liquor store employee), Azulana is made with real, actual blue agave tequila, which is very evident when you take the first sip.
I’m a big tequila soda guy (you’re not going to like this if you’re not) and this has everything I was looking for (although the carbonation was a bit lacking).
While it might only clock in at 4.3%, there’s no mistaking this has some alcohol in it, which makes it slightly less crushable than most of the other entries on the list (which can be both a good and a bad thing depending on what you’re looking to get into).
The original variety—labeled “Simply Refreshing”—lets the tequila shine through and has a pleasantly sweet taste but the theoretically unconventional Pineapple Rosemary is really where it’s at, as the combination I never would have thought of in a million years works better than I would have ever imagined.
With that said, the overt booziness was a little hard to get over, which is what ultimately lands this in the middle of the pack.
7. Bon & Viv
As I previously disclosed, I have no idea what a passionfruit is, and at the risk of coming off as an uncultured swine, I wouldn’t be able to identify a prickly pear if someone stabbed me in the ass with one.
As a result, I may not be the best authority here when it comes to judging the flavor of the only Bon & Viv variety I could track down but I certainly enjoyed it for what it was. The bubbles also managed to tickle my fancy a bit more than most of the other ones we’ve talked about so far.
However, the next entry on this list (and the ones to follow) are where things really start to get good.
6. Wild Basin
Calories: 100 (per serving)
I have to say I didn’t expect Oskar Blues—the brewery behind Dale’s Pale Ale and some other delicious adult beverages—to get in on the hard seltzer game but I have to say I am very glad that they did.
While all of the previous entries left me wanting more as far as flavor is concerned, Wild Basin doesn’t have this problem. The lime has a nice tang to it and the same can be said for the black raspberry, which tasted like a pie straight out of grandma’s oven if you cooled it down, tossed it in a blender, and then threw it into a SodaStream.
It also gets extra points for coming in a stovepipe can, which is the largest container on this list (with one very notable exception we’ll get to in just a bit).
5. HRD WTR
During my junior year of college, I went on spring break for the first time since I could legally drink and my friends and I picked up a wide array of beer—including a brew marketed as “Wild Blue.”
Mind you, I was a 21-year-old college student who could barely afford to book the Spirit Airlines flight that jettisoned me to Florida so there was virtually nothing I would not drink.
However, after collectively taking our first sip of Wild Blue, we agreed it was the worst alcoholic beverage to ever hit our lips and the sink was forced to consume the rest of it.
As a result, I’m always skeptical of blueberry-flavored beverages but HRD WTR’s offering did not let me down. The “natural flavors” actually taste natural and there’s a nice balance of sweetness and tartness that you’d expect from an actual blueberry.
Assuming Violet Beauregard from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made it out alive, she would have definitely dug this. I can’t speak to the other HRD WTR varieties, but if this one is any indication, you’re not going to be disappointed.
4. Taffer’s Mixologist
When I chatted with my good friend Jon Taffer a few months ago, he told me he had a few secret projects in the works, and shortly after we spoke, he revealed he was releasing a new line of products under the “Taffer’s Mixologist” label—including a hard seltzer that recently hit shelves.
Taffer dreamed up some particularly exotic flavors for his line of hard seltzers and all of them absolutely slap. I have a passionate hatred of cucumber but I was able to tolerate it when it was mixed with jalapeno, Strawberry Basil was just damn tasty, and while a few companies tried to replicate the signature taste of a piña colada, none of them came closer to doing so than the Bar Rescue host did with Pineapple Coconut.
However, Taffer faced some very stiff competition—and nothing was stiffer than the next entry on this list.
3. Four Loko
When Four Loko teased a hard seltzer over the summer, it was unclear if they were actually serious about unleashing it upon the world. After all, no one actually needs one that clocks in at 14%. Right? Right???
Well, how about 12%? Is that something you might be interested in?
I recently talked to the guys who created Four Loko and they swore me to secrecy when they told me they were just a few weeks away from debuting this absolute unit, and now, I’m proud to inform you you’ll be able to get your hands on it starting next week.
They sent me a couple of cans (which is the equivalent of almost 10 drinks) to sample, and folks, this stuff is dangerously good. It has just the right amount of sweetness and delivers on its promise with a slight hint of black cherry, and while it has the subtle burn you’d expect based on the ABV, it goes down much easier than I would have expected.
I wish everyone the best of luck when this finally arrives because we’re all going to need it.
2. Crook & Marker
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some preconceived notions about Crook & Marker based on the label, which features more health-centric buzzwords (“ORGANIC” and “VEGAN” and whatever “MILLET” is) than a tote bag sold at Whole Foods.
It also clocks in on the lowest end of the spectrum as far as both calories and ABV are concerned, and as a result, my expectations weren’t exactly high. Consequently, it wasn’t hard to surpass them, but Crook & Marker managed to do that and then some.
It may be lacking in booze but the same can’t be said for the taste, as every variety I sampled was bursting with the respective flavor that was promised (all of the offerings were solid but peach probably took the W if I had to pick).
However, there can only be one true winner, and after sampling all the wares, the choice was obvious.
1. Natural Light
I haven’t touched Natty Light since I ironically purchased a six-pack while driving to my college reunion and shotgunned a can in celebration after crossing the Connecticut border (which is surprisingly legal).
However, I have an absolutely unironic love for Naturdays, the shandyesque concoction that fueled many a questionable decision I made at a couple of bachelor parties I attended earlier this year. As a result, I had very high hopes for Natty’s hard seltzer and it’s safe to say I was blown away.
The Forgetting Sarah Marshall-inspired “Aloha Beaches” smacks you in the face with mango and peach and I was even more pleased with the “Catalina Lime Mixer,” as the cherry hits you in the palate immediately before *POW* the lime comes in full force to the point where I almost puckered.
Summer might be over but its spirit will never die as long as I have Natty seltzer by my side.