Alcohol-spiked soda water offers a clear alternative to beer and cider.
If you’re looking for a new option—beyond beer and hard cider—to stash in the cooler at your next party, hard selzer may fit the bill. These boozy sparklers are easier to tote than a batch of Vodka Sodas, and their low calorie counts make them an appealing choice for that friend who’s always on a diet.
With the popularity of hard root beer and the LaCroix flavored-seltzer craze, it was only a matter of time before two trends merged into a single boozy beverage. And, sure enough, not one but four regional brands have brought boozy bubbly water to the masses: SpikedSeltzer, Nauti Seltzer, Truly Spiked & Sparkling and White Claw Hard Seltzer. All four brands produce multiple flavors of clear carbonated beverages that are low in calories, lightly sweet and gently fruity. Good news for gluten-averse drinkers: Three brands use sugar distillate as their base. (Nauti, by contrast, has a malt liquor base.)
SpikedSeltzer is the booziest of the bunch, clocking in at 6 percent alcohol—about the same as a medium-strength beer—versus 5 percent for other brands. That extra kick is not without cost: SpikedSeltzer measures 140 calories per serving compared to 100 to 110 calories for the other brands. But it also offers the boldest flavor profile. If you really want to taste the fruit, this is the brand to buy. SpikedSeltzer comes in four flavors (at $9 per six-pack): West Indian Lime, Indian River Grapefruit, Cape Cod Cranberry and Valencia Orange.
Nauti is the only grain-based drink of the bunch, and it brings a distinctive beer-like aftertaste. If you miss that old-school Zima flavor, Nauti is your jam. It’s available in Cranberry, Lemon Lime, Raspberry and Grapefruit (at $9 per six-pack).
Truly is the most aromatic of the bunch, although it’s strong nose didn’t always translate to flavor on the palate. Paleo-diet drinkers will like that Truly boasts the lowest carb count of its category: Two grams per serving versus four to five grams for the other brands. Flavors include Pomegranate, Colima Lime and Grapefruit Pomelo (at $10–$11 per six-pack)
White Claw is sweetest of the bunch, although that’s relative; none of these seltzers are sugary like a soda. This brand’s trio of flavor options include Natural Lime, Black Cherry and Ruby Grapefruit (at $10 per six-pack).
If you’re a lime lover, you have a lot of choices. SpikedSeltzer West Indies Lime features a nice cocktail-lime flavor. Nauti Lemon Lime veers more toward Lime-a-Rita territory, thanks to its malt base. Truly Colima Lime brings some spicy overtones, including a pleasant clove-like aftertaste. White Claw Natural Lime features sweet notes but not much fruit; if you’re looking for a neutrally sweet flavor for mixing, this is the best bet.
Grapefruit options are also well-represented. SpikedSeltzer Indian River Grapefruit has a sweet citrus flavor that fans of Fresca or Squirt will recognize. White Claw Ruby Grapefruit is sweeter than the other brands and a close runner-up to SpikedSeltzer in terms of potent citrus punch. Nauti Grapefruit is the least beer-ish of the brand’s flavors. None of our tasters appreciated the Truly Grapefruit Pomelo’s funky overtones.
Two brands offer cranberry seltzers, and they’re markedly different from one another. SpikedSeltzer Cape Cod Cranberry has a very strong sweet-sour flavor, like SweetTarts candy. Nauti Cranberry tastes more like soda water with a splash of juice.
Each brand also offers one unique flavor. The best of this category, SpikedSeltzer Valencia Orange, features a pleasantly realistic citrus flavor, plus a fair bit of sweetness relative to the other flavors in the brand’s lineup. Other one-off flavors were less successful. Truly Pomegranate wasn’t bad, but it lacked a distinctive pomegranate flavor. If you like sour beers or tart berry cider, Nauti Raspberry might be your favorite, but it’s definitely not for everyone. None of our tasters were fans of White Claw Black Cherry; one likened it to a scented candle.
The biggest downside to boozy seltzer may be its limited distribution. Nauti and SpikedSeltzer are currently only available in the Northeast and Midwest. Truly is sold in most major coastal cities, with a nationwide rollout slated for the coming months. White Claw, however, is available across the country. As the category grows, expect to see these sparkling options on more shelves around the country.