What Is Hard Seltzer?

You'll be drinking this fizzy, "healthier" alcoholic beverage all summer.

Single red and white can of Spiked Seltzer Cape Cod Cranberry against white background
Photo: Spiked Seltzer

It's hard to beat a cold beer straight from the cooler on a hot summer day or a chilled poolside cocktail. But it's also hard to avoid the bloating that comes with their high-calorie counts. Cue hard seltzer: A refreshing alternative with fewer calories and about half the carbs of beer that has been getting some buzz as a health-conscious alcoholic beverage. Another bonus? Because hard seltzer is low in sugar, it's less likely to lead to severe hangovers.

The drink came on the scene in 2013 with the creation of Spiked Seltzer. Its immediate popularity spawned other brands, such as White Claw, Nauti, and Truly Spiked & Sparkling. It's safe to say this trend is here to stay.

The good news is that less sugar doesn't mean more artificial sweeteners or other artificial ingredients. Hard seltzer is made similarly to beer—through fermentation. Generally speaking, it is cane sugar, not malted barley, that is fermented, and the flavoring comes from real fruit. Of the options we found on supermarket shelves, all were gluten-free except for Nauti, which is made with a malt base.

Although all of the brands we encountered were crisp and refreshing, our clear winner was Spiked Seltzer's Cape Cod Cranberry flavor, which tasted exactly like cranberry seltzer, with no trace of alcohol. A close second was Truly's Lime, which had small, fizzy bubbles—reminiscent of champagne. If you enjoy the taste of beer, Nauti's lineup might appeal to you since their drinks taste more like a flavor-infused beer than seltzer.

One more plus: Hard seltzers make excellent cocktail mixers without diluting your drink. Try substituting one for conventional seltzer to get an extra-potent vodka soda or summertime punch. But proceed with caution: One can has about the same alcohol content as a typical glass of wine—more than beer—and is very easy to toss back.

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