Are Hard Teas the Next Big Thing In Canned Boozy Drinks?
We tested 10 to find out, ranging from White Claw to a tea sommelier’s blend
Even though Owl’s Brew hard tea only launched in January of 2020, co-founders Maria Littlefield and Jennie Ripps have been extolling the virtues of spiking tea with booze for quite a while. The difference with their brand is that, unlike many of their competitors in the ready-to-drink space, they’re coming to the alcoholic canned drinks market as tea experts.
“Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world,” Littlefield tells InsideHook. “And there are so many flavors you can create with tea botanicals.”
Hard tea isn’t new — as drinks market analysts IWSR noted a few years back, “Some notable brands launched nearly 20 years ago … but the category is currently becoming revitalized as brands create new options that address the desire for lower sugar, natural ingredients, clean labels and sophisticated flavors.”
And like the rest of the RTD world, it’s growing fast. The volume of hard tea products grew 25.9 percent last year, as reported by the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.
But identifying exactly what constitutes a hard tea can be challenging. Some of them taste like the bottled/canned iced teas you already know, but with a boozy kick. Others lean more into the other non-tea ingredients, primarily lemon. Some are fizzy, some are not. Some are sweet, some lack caffeine, some are just using tea to get to another flavor profile. Even the alcohol base can be different, depending on the drink.
“Seeing hard tea become a category has been exciting,” says Littlefield. “Seltzers stripped away what people didn’t want, like carbs. And now with hard tea, we’re adding back in flavors and real ingredients while keeping it low-calorie and low-sugar.”
It doesn’t always work, but the good news is that there’s definitely something in the hard tea realm for everyone. With dozens of hard tea brands — some estimates suggest around 60 — we narrowed our focus to 10 and kept the definition of hard tea pretty loose (there’s even a canned cocktail where tea is simply one of many ingredients, although it takes center stage on the can’s name).
Having a certified Tea Sommelier as your co-founder certainly helps elevate Owl’s Brew — as does their brewing process, which Littlefield describes as “literally how you make a cup of tea, but en masse.” She notes, “We brew in gigantic tea kettles, with gigantic tea bags, real ingredients, then we add a bit of fruit juice and spike it up.” The tea flavors here are front and center, and there’s a noticeable lack of artificial aftertaste. Bonus: The company has a real focus on supporting local and national women’s initiatives and charities.
Loverboy was founded by Bravo TV’s Summer House cast members Kyle Cooke, Amanda Batula and Carl Radke in 2018 while filming the show. These are monkfruit-sweetened sparkling drinks, which is a bit more noticeable with the lemon iced tea than the Hibiscus Pom release. Overall, very fruity and light — and crushable.
The beer company’s been around since 1844, but only recently has Pabst gone beyond their core mission of cheap brews and Dennis Hopper endorsements. After releasing a surprisingly decent canned cold brew (and a white whiskey we’re desperate to try), PBR now offers four flavors of hard tea seltzer (pineapple-passionfruit, lemon, raspberry and peach). At a modest 4% ABV, the black tea notes dominate here, but it’s a rather gentle kick overall, and not overly sweet or fruity. They go down like, well PBRs on a hot summer day.
The first hard iced tea? Perhaps (they launched in 2001). Using a malt base made from beer, tea and natural flavors, it’s important to know that there’s nothing “seltzer” (or gluten-free) about these cans. Even with a beer base, this is basically an iced sweet tea with a kick, and — at least with the lemon release — the emphasis is on the lemon part. And the sweetness.
This Canadian brand promotes being both sugar- and sweetener-free. There’s also no carbonation, carbs or caffeine. Brewed with black tea and available in three flavors, these matte gold cans certainly offer a “clean” taste but unfortunately also a rather drab experience on the palette, enough that it was difficult to finish a can. A hint of fizz would have gone a long way here. Still, props for the minimalist ingredient list and NC-17 name.
Do not pair these with your HIIT workouts. LIIT stands for Long Island Iced Tea, but these hard tea seltzers from Blue Point are thankfully far less boozy and more respectable than the name lets on. Hibiscus tea helps make the raspberry lime flavor eminently crushable. (The lemon expression, infused with black, rooibos and hibiscus tea, could have used a little more sweetness.)
Available in lemon, raspberry, mango and peach flavors and utilizing sustainably-sourced brewed tea, White Claw’s entry is unsurprisingly close to what you’d expect in a lightly-sweetened, mass-market canned/bottled iced tea, but with booze (which is hard to pick up on, for better or worse).
A guest review from InsideHook editor and spiked seltzer guru Logan Mahan: “Surprisingly refreshing for a brand beloved by frat bros. Launched right before Memorial Day of this year, the Bud Light Seltzer Iced Tea Variety Pack features four flavors: Raspberry, Apple, Peach and Tangerine. What Bud Light does well is balance those bold natural flavors with the simple taste of iced tea for a light, thirst-quenching seltzer iced tea not overpowered by too much flavor (though you still get a tasty amount.) Plus, you have a couple non-traditional iced tea flavor offerings, like citrusy Tangerine and a super crisp-tasting Apple.”
Prickly pear vodka with lime, oolong tea, allspice, ginger, clove and vanilla, this 8% ABV cocktail isn’t an easy sipper — the clove and allspice notes absolutely dominate here. If that’s your style, it’s a fun canned tiki drink, albeit one where the tea gets a bit lost. (It’s also hard to get through more than one.)
Better known for their spiked lemonades (and as an early RTD pioneer), the NY-based Fishers Island recently launched this spiked tea, which is vodka and whiskey with natural juice and flavors. Definitely more lemonade than tea, this is for fans of spiked Arnold Palmers — over ice with a bit of seltzer may be a better way to have this rather than straight from the can.
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