We don’t need to go into the long history of the hard seltzer. You already know there’s a spiked seltzer market boom because you’ve been to the grocery store in the past three months. You know it’s become a cultural craze because you’ve heard that the Claw is the Law and everyone on your Instagram has been drinking it all summer. Maybe even you have developed your own obsession with the bubbly alcoholic beverage and will go into the ring to defend your brand of choice.
You also know that everyone wants a piece of the hard seltzer pie. Four Loko, Natural Light and PBR have all recently come out with their take on the seltz, some more dangerous than others. Craft brewers are also putting out their own, and the “beer” section of Whole Foods is overcrowded with more and more obscure brands of healthy hard seltzers.
So what you might not know is which of these hard seltzers actually taste good. And that is where we come in. We took the liberty of trying eight different brands of hard seltzer — some of the more popular options, some from craft breweries and some we hadn’t even heard of — and then we ranked them.
Obviously, this isn’t the be-all end-all of hard seltzer rankings because there are hundreds of brands out there and we have to be at least a little considerate to our livers. But for now, we’ve covered the basics and even added a few new brands to our list of favorites. So here you are, your guide to great hard seltzer, just in time for the end of summer.
8. Golden Road Spiked Agua Fresca (Mango)
We learned that when a hard seltzer has color, it tends to be made with real fruit. So when we saw the orange liquid pouring out of a can of Golden Road’s Spiked Agua Fresca, we got excited — then we took a sip and immediately wished we hadn’t.
This seltzer was just way too sweet, tasted too artificial, despite it being made with “real fruit,” and there was barely any fizz. It tasted more like a mango iced-tea than a seltzer, which is fine if you’re looking for a thick, sugary alcoholic beverage to get drunk on and not the light, refreshing taste of a seltzer. And while it “smelled less aggressive” than the Natural Light Seltzer, it definitely tricked us into thinking it would taste better.
While we only tried mango, Golden Roads also has flavors Cucumber Lime and Strawberry Pineapple — but those still don’t sound too promising. Plus our EIC is a mango aficionado and he hated it.
Notable Tasting Quote: “Shame on them.”
7. Natural Light Hard Seltzer (Cranberry/Lime and Mango/Peach)
We were very excited to try Natty Light’s new seltzers even though we had very low-expectations — which we were right to have. Natty Seltzer gets points for their clever flavor names — Aloha Beaches (Mango) and Catalina Lime Mixer (Cranberry/Lime) and for having a 6% ABV, the highest alcohol content on the list. Natty Seltzer loses points, though, for pretty much everything else.
The first whiff of the seltzer was potent enough to question whether we should put this in our bodies, with one taster noting that “you could get a headache just smelling these.” Natty was incredibly sweet, comparable to “water-downed cough syrup,” and left a taste in your mouth that stuck around for too long.
Interestingly enough, though, half of us who drank a warm Natty first did not taste the strong flavor that those of us who had tried a cold one were complaining about. So if you’re short for cash and wanna get fucked up real quick, we may recommend a warm Natty Seltzer, which is how you were probably going to consume it anyway.
Notable Tasting Quote: “I mean I’d still get blacked out on it.”
6. Two Roads Brewing Co. (Grapefruit and Raspberry)
We enjoyed Two Roads Brewing Company’s Grapefruit and raspberry seltzers with just a few complaints.
Well, just one big one: it smells — how do we put this — like airborne? You know that dietary supplement full of vitamin C and amino acids you take when you’re feeling a cold coming on. This revelation then prompted a long discussion of whether airborne and emergency-c actually work so we had time to mull the seltzer over until we tried the next flavor, Rasberry — which also tasted like airborne. We finally decided that whatever was giving its airborne smell was also introducing a taste we weren’t crazy about.
On the upside, Two Roads didn’t taste overly artificial, was lighter, crisp and we concluded it’s drinkable — unless you hate airborne.
Notable Tasting Quote: “Smells like airborne.”
5. Truly Hard Seltzer (Lime)
Along with Bon & Viv and White Claw, you’ve probably seen a lot of Truly in your local supermarket, and soon you might see it on tap at your local bar. But while these three brands are dominating the seltzer market, they aren’t all created equal, and sorry Truly, you’re at the bottom of this list.
Maybe it’s not your liquid, but your can which, simply put, is very ugly. We will not be putting you on our Instagram story, which we all know is half the fun of drinking hard seltzer. As for the taste, it’s fine. There’s no artificial after taste, which is good. Though it’s got a lot of carbonization and the lime flavor was strong and created a syrupy taste in our mouths which was a bit off-putting. But overall, it’s drinkable.
Notable Tasting Quote: “I would not want to be seen with this can.”
4. Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer (Prickly Pear)
The OG hard seltzer brand is still pretty much at the top of the hard seltzer market. Bon & Viv’s has a cute enough can to fulfill our Instagramability requirement, and the taste is what you’d expect from a seltzer. Granted we only sampled the flavor prickly pear — whatever the hell that is — so maybe we’d be more enthusiastic about a different Bon & Viv flavor.
The only thing that truly surprised us was how noticeably carbonated this seltzer was, which we weren’t crazy about. But again, if this is your only hard seltzer option, you’ll be fine.
Notable Tasting Quote: “What the fuck is prickly pear?”
3. Willie’s Superbrew (Sparkling Ginger & Lemon)
After being badgered by our EIC to try Willie’s Superbrew, we caved, and we’re glad we did. If you’re an avid kombucha drinker you won’t be able to tell there’s alcohol in this, so be careful. That being said, this is definitely more of a spiked kombucha than a spiked seltzer.
Bottom line: Willie’s is fucking good. It’s made with real fruit, and actually tastes like it is: super healthy and refreshing. We only tried the Sparkling Lemon and Ginger flavor, so Willie’s wasn’t a favorite among our anti-gingers, but their Pomegranate/Acai and Mango/Passionfruit flavors sound like they’ll go down even easier.
Willie’s won’t be available at your local corner store, or even local CVS, but the next time you’re in Whole Foods or some granola-hippie supermarket be sure to pick up a pack.
Notable Tasting Quote: “Tastes healthy.”
2. White Claw
It’s true what they say: the Claw is the law— and it took us only seven seltzers to realize that. There might be a good chance you’ve already had one of these so we’ll keep it brief.
Most importantly, White Claw’s cans go perfect with our Instagram aesthetic, so major plus. You can smell some artificial flavors but they’re not too overwhelming. Taste-wise, the claws are sweet but bearable and they’ve got the perfect amount of bubbles. And you’ll be able to pick up a case pretty much anywhere, so you can skip the internal hard seltzer debate at the store and head right for the Claws.
Notable Tasting Quote: “Thought I’d be more bothered by it.”
1. Oskar Blues Brewery Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water (Classic Lime)
Congrats Wild Basin, you won our hard seltzer competition. Considering prior to this, we had no idea you existed and randomly picked you up at a Whole Foods — we were all pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed you.
Wild Basin is by far the cleanest-tasting seltzer of the group, which we guess after tasting nefarious artificial ones, is what we were subconsciously craving. It also could be because according to the Oskar Blues website, Wild Basin is “crafted from the pure, pristine waters of the St. Vrain River,” so this is some high-class seltzer shit. The lime flavor was strong, but unlike Truly, it didn’t leave a weird syrupy taste in our mouths, and the seltzer had way less carbonation.
The bright greens and blues of the can design are pleasant, but the aggressive, all-caps reminder that the seltzer we were about to consume was “CLEAN, PERTINENT and UNTAMED” was a bit much. Maybe tone it down a notch, Oskar. It’s only hard seltzer.
Notable Tasting Quote: “Very good.”
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