What Is Hard Seltzer?

Many brands of this fizzy, "healthier" alcoholic beverage have fewer calories than beer and wine.

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: This refreshing alternative with fewer calories and about half the carbs of beer 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.

What Is Hard Seltzer?

Think of it as the alcoholic version of sparkling seltzer water, like a boozy La Croix or Waterloo. In fact, it's basically carbonated water mixed with an alcohol base of fermented cane sugar. 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.

Hard Seltzer Brands We Recommend

Although all of the brands we encountered were crisp and refreshing, our clear winner was Spiked Seltzer's Cape Cod Cranberry ($16.99 for a 12-pack, totalwine.com), which tasted exactly like cranberry seltzer, with no trace of alcohol. A close second was Truly's Lime ($11 for a six-pack, drizly.com) 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 flavor-infused beer than seltzer.

Ways to Drink Hard Seltzer

Hard seltzers make excellent cocktail mixers without diluting your drink. Try substituting one for conventional seltzer to get an extra-potent vodka soda or with gin for a summertime punch.

If you're serving hard seltzer at a party, consider adding fresh fruit or a little bit of fruit juice. Toss in some cubed watermelon with a lime seltzer, or a sprig of mint with a black cherry seltzer.

How Healthy Is Hard Seltzer?

Hard seltzer is lower in sugar and calories than a lot of other alcoholic drinks. And many hard seltzers also have a lower alcohol content. For example, a 24-ounce can of White Claw Hard Seltzer contains 5% alcohol, whereas the average glass of wine contains about 12 percent alcohol.

That said, hard seltzer is still an alcoholic beverage, which is never healthy. It contains no nutrients, offers only empty calories, and can increase your risk of several chronic diseases. But if you're going to drink anyway, choosing a low-sugar option like hard seltzer is a good idea. Just remember to drink in moderation!

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