Spiked seltzer is nothing new. For about as long as regular seltzer has been trendy, its alcoholic counterpart has grown in popularity, showing up across the country in bodegas and supermarkets. The alcohol by volume (ABV) per can of spiked seltzer runs anywhere from 4 to 6 percent, which is roughly the same as beer. Flavors like grapefruit, cranberry-lime, and peach-pear tend to be popular. And while brands like White Claw, Truly, Crook & Marker, and Bon & Viv are currently dominating the market, craft breweries are starting to jump on the bandwagon, too. According to Business Insider, hard seltzer is a $550 million industry that could be worth $2.5 billion by 2021.
So, what’s all the buzz about? The trend could have something to do with the fact that spiked seltzer is—compared with most other boozy options—lower in calories and sugar. Many brands are also gluten free. Another merit? It’s cheap. A can of Recess (LaCroix, but make it CBD-infused) will run you about five dollars, but a six-pack of White Claw costs only about nine. You have to be careful with spiked seltzer, though. Chugging a carbonated beverage—alcoholic or not—comes with the threat of enamel erosion, and honestly, you can barely taste the alcohol, which can make overdoing it easy.
Bon & Viv used to go by a much more straightforward brand name—Spiked Seltzer—until they rebranded, complete with a nautical logo, in 2016. By February 2019, the brand landed a coveted Super Bowl ad spot, in which fake founders Bonnie and Vivian—ostensibly the two mermaids depicted on the can—pay homage to Shark Tank by pitching the nation on low-cal bubbles.
Crook & Marker, meanwhile, bills itself as practically health food: an alcoholic sparkling water beverage with zero sugar that’s made with organic alcohol from ancient grains including quinoa, amaranth, and millet. (Most spiked seltzer brands use a combination of cold fermented sugar and fruit essence.) But it is White Claw that appears to be wiping the floor with the carbonated competition. From the same company that brought us Mike’s Hard Lemonade, White Claw reportedly accounts for over half of all alcoholic seltzer sales, with volume up 275% since last year.
Who is the demographic for spiked seltzer? Basic white girls vacationing on Montauk? Fratty bros in Fort Lauderdale? Coachella attendees? The correct answer, it seems, is everyone. A cursory Twitter search reveals a bevy of memes and videos centered on the trendy beverage. The hashtag #ClawLife gets a lot of traction, and “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws,” is apparently a thing people are saying now.
White Claw, unlike IPAs or rosé, appears to have a gender neutral appeal and while Montana is the state that consumes the most per capita, the cult of White Claw has swept the nation from coast to coast. A 23-year-old creative assistant based in Los Angeles told me she had her first White Claw just last week, but you wouldn’t know it based on the two Instagram photos she already posted in which she proudly showed off the beverage. For her, this newfound obsession has been a swift love affair. A 25-year-old account coordinator (another Los Angeleno, by way of Minnesota) said, “Truly has a nasty after taste no lie. White Claw is top tier. When you’re on a boat…it’s nothing like drinking a White Claw tbh.”
In New York, a 30-year-old advertising creative living in Brooklyn said she loves spiked seltzer “because they go down super easily and then suddenly I’m drunk. They’re also great for the beach, and White Claw is the best brand. And I fully acknowledge being basic when I drink them. They’re also good mixers, I like adding tequila to mine.”
But not everyone is totally sold. A 26-year-old app developer and photographer based in Los Angeles admitted that he had some concerns about the potential tooth rotting quality of spiked seltzer, saying, “White Claw tastes very good!! I’m just not a big fan of sweet carbonated beverages in general because they make me feel like my mouth is rotting LOL.” A 33-year-old New Yorker who works in advertising said, “Spiked Seltzer is bullshit. Don’t mess with perfection. If I wanted an alcoholic sparkling drink I’d get a vodka soda.” (On the contrast, one 29-year-old in Philadelphia went so far as to order White Claws while out at a fully stocked “hipster” bar while on a recent night out. ” “Judge all you want, but I danced to early ’00s hip-hop all night and didn’t even have the slightest hangover,” she said.)
Still, spiked seltzer remains a bubbling trend for seemingly most millennials (and the Gen-Z kids that are now old enough to drink).
“Initially I was a hater, but I get the appeal,” said a Philadelphia-based 23-year-old. “And it doesn’t taste bad. Issue is you can just slam them because they kind of taste like pop and then you’re very drunk and have a headache.” (He’s from Detroit—hence the “pop” reference.)
So perhaps the biggest question of them all: what fruit-adjacent flavor are you supposed to pick? “Ruby grapefruit is more than a flavor, it’s a lifestyle,” according to 29-year-old who works in finance and lives in the West Village. “Most of the ones in the truly tropical pack taste like medicine (besides mango),” said another 29-year-old who works in fashion and lives in Brooklyn.
And one 29-year-old attorney based in New York summed up the trend with a succinct assessment: “The flavor!”
So, spiked seltzer is here to stay—at least through August. But what will happen after the summer is over? Maybe it’ll be a party drink instead of a seasonal beverage, or maybe it’ll fade into obscurity (though that seems unlikely, with the industry projected to nearly quadruple in the next two years). One thing is for sure: all bubbles go flat, eventually.