Best hard seltzers: the low sugar, low calorie alcoholic drink of summer 2021

·11-min read
 (Hard Seltzers: the drink of the summer)
(Hard Seltzers: the drink of the summer)

We’re ahead of the curve here at ES Best. When it comes to new launches and forecasting fads, we get to see all the new products and collections before they hit the general public, which means it’s easy to spot trends brewing.

What began as a trickle last year has now turned into a full-on torrent. If you haven’t heard about them already, hard seltzers are the drink du jour of the summer.

Long favoured by our American friends across the pond, the drinks have made landfall in the UK and are making their way into your fridge and picnic cooler.

What are hard seltzers?

Not to be confused with cocktails in a can like a gin in a tin, the short answer is that hard seltzers are sparkling flavoured water. ‘Hard’ refers to added alcohol content - usually distilled vodka or gin.

The low calorie, low sugar serves are ideal for anyone watching their intake, and as they’re mostly flavoured water, they won’t leave the inside of your mouth feeling like it’s been bathed in sugar. ABVs sit around the four per cent mark, around half that of canned cocktail. A report by London-based brand DRTY found nearly half (46 per cent) of the UK’s cocktail consumers, are likely to try hard seltzers, alongside 39 per cent of spirit drinkers. The data predicted 13.7m potential hard seltzer drinkers in the UK.

The predictions have come true. Whole Foods reported a whopping 150 per cent increase in hard seltzer sales in March 2021 compared to the same time last year. Nicole Casey, Regional Product Coordinator, said: “We predicted the rise of the Hard Seltzer trend back in our trend report in 2018, with brands such as White Claw expanding over into the UK. Since then, we’ve stocked three hard seltzer brands across our seven London stores and are looking to expand by 50 per cent by the end of the year.”

The market is reportedly already worth £10m in the UK, and all signs point to it growing as summer 2021 rolls on. In fact, IWSR has forecast the global hard seltzer market to triple by 2023, underlining the fact that this trend won’t fizz out anytime soon.

Tasting crisp and clean, they come in ready-to-drink (RTD) cans and take it from us, they’re incredibly sessionable.

Big in America, now breaking into Britain

Though they’ve been big business in America for some time, it’s not just Stateside brands launching them here in the UK. Homegrown labels are jumping into the fizzy fray too. BrewDog launched Clean & Press Hard Seltzers in June 2020, and have since sold 60k cases across three flavours, proving their popularity even in the midst of the pandemic.

Why are they so popular? Steven Kersley, Head of Distilling at BrewDog Distilling Co says: "Many RTDs are seasonal and they tend to perform better in good weather. Hard seltzers fill the gap for people year round as they cater for those looking for lower sugar, lower alcohol drinks whatever the weather. We see hard seltzers filling the gap between mocktails and cocktails".

Nick Graham, co-founder of Berczy Hard Seltzers agrees: "Hard seltzers sit between the two [low/no and high ABV], attracting a wide demographic who still want to drink, but not in the same way they did before.” The middle ground never felt so refreshing.

A new, health-conscious wave of drinkers

Millennial and Gen-Z drinkers are leading the charge for hard seltzers, explains co-founder of Long Shot drinks, George Blurton: “The hard seltzer movement is being thrust into the limelight by a younger, more health-conscious generation, who have grown up with a much stronger ‘low/no’ mentality. While not technically low ABV, they are low in other areas (sugars, calories, carbs etc) so can tap into this market as well. Younger consumers are much more questioning about what they’re putting into their bodies, seeing greater demand for ancillary benefits, like being vegan or gluten-free. Hard seltzers – with their relatively ‘clean’ ingredients list - will appeal to this mindset.”

"The UK’s hard seltzer trend is here to stay,” confirms James Law, Brand & Development Director at East London Liquor Company. “There’s a group of younger consumers who are looking for drinks that are lower in sugar and fit their health-conscious lifestyle."

So, all the fun of a ‘proper drink’, none of the FOMO. Plus, less sugar and a lower ABV means less chance of a sore head in the morning. Hard seltzers allow you to join the party without risking your health, fitness goals or leaving your liver feeling like it’s taken a beating. Mindful drinking at its best.

Ready to crack open a cold one? Here are the hard seltzer brands you need on your radar.

Kopparberg Hard Seltzers

 (Kopparberg)
(Kopparberg)

The Swedish drinks brand, most famous for its sweet fruit ciders, has long been keeping thirsty customers on their toes, adding gins and vodka to its repertoire over the years. It jumped on the seltzer bandwagon early, offering RTD 330ml cans in flavours like Passionfruit, Mixed Berry and Dark Cherry packed into colourful ombre effect packaging. Refreshing with a tart berry twang, they’ll go down a treat at your next BBQ. Gluten free, and vegan friendly.

£2.20 | Tesco

Also available at Asda

White Claw Hard Seltzer

 (White Claw)
(White Claw)

At 95 calories per 330ml, White Claw is famous in the US and an easy sell for anyone watching their waistline this summer. Containing 4.5 per cent ABV, the range is made up of natural flavours like black cherry, raspberry, lime and mango, all mixed with a triple distilled spirit for added buzz. Named for the crest of a wave just before it crashes, we found the drinks delicious, tasty and a returning addition to our fridge.

Also available in-store at Whole Foods Market

Mike's Hard Seltzer

 (Mike’s)
(Mike’s)

Another US import hoping to make a play for your fridge shelves, Mike's may sound familiar if you've tried it's Hard Lemonade. It's joined the hard seltzer fray with three flavours: Raspberry, Lime and our favourite, Black Cherry. You can get packs of 12 or 24 of each flavour, but if you're new to the brand, we'd recommend the variety pack which gives you some of each. Each can is no more than 100cal, has 2g of sugar and includes real fruit flavour with 5 per cent ABV. Lovely stuff.

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Whisp drinks

Made in Cornwall and containing natural detox ingredient milk thistle, Whisp offers a healthier choice when it comes to your next session. Each can contains just 66 calories and it's all 100 per cent natural. While some hard seltzer brands use vodka or gin, Whisp gets its (mild) kick from fermented sugars that come from malted, gluten-free grains - music to the ears of anyone with gluten intolerances. Right now there are two flavour combos: Raspberry & Elderflower and Cucumber & Mint, so refreshing you can almost imagine you're at a spa day.

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Truly Hard Seltzer

 (Truly)
(Truly)

Fresh off the boat from across the Atlantic and making a splash here wtih Dua Lipa as its poster girl, Truly is a thirst-quenching hard seltzer. The cans are slightly bigger than its peeers at 355ml and while there are only two flavours in the portfolio now (Black Cherry and Wild Berry), we've heard Original Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade will be joining the line-up soon. Every one is just 100cal a can.

£25.99 | Amazon

Lilo Hard Seltzer

 (Lilo)
(Lilo)

If the name alone doesn't conjure up visions of floating on a sun-dappled pool, the refreshing flavours of this new Scottish hard seltzer just might. There are two: White Grape and Elderflower and Cranberry and Rosehip, both available in cases of 12 (£25.99), or a mixed case if you can’t decide. ABVs sit at 3.5 per cent and there’s zero sugar in these too, making them great for anyone who wants to cut out the white stuff. In fact, calories are a pleasingly low 50 each. Turns out you can have your cake and eat it.

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Bodega Bay

 (Bodega Bay)
(Bodega Bay)

Pairing fruit flavours with exotic superfoods like açaí, Bodega Bay brings a little welcome twist to the hard seltzer party. The packaging and refined flavours suggest this is a brand for older drinkers, but the flavours definitely appeal to all. As with its peers, it’s low cal at just 73 calories per can, and contains 4 per cent ABV.

To celebrate life resuming after lockdown, Bodega Bay has teamed up with dating app Inner Circle have collaborated to create the ultimate park date kit (£25). The package includes a selection of Bodega Bay hard seltzers, ingredients to create a Bodega Bay Collins and a Bodega Bay Spiced Tropical Fizz cocktail, a cooler bag and a Twister-style picnic blanket to help break the ice. Get your hands on one here.

£2.40 | 31Dover

DRTY Drinks

 (DRTY)
(DRTY)

Offering a trio of flavours, DRTY Drinks is self-described as giving ‘Friday 5.01pm vibes’ - make no mistake, this is a seltzer for the weekend. There’s Raspberry Rosé, Mango Passion and White Citrus, wrapped in clean white packaging in contrast to the brand name. Sip straight from the can if you’re on the move, or pour over ice and garnished with fruit or citrus slices for a classy at-home drink that’s carb-free and low ABV.

£24.99 for 12 | The Bottle Club

Berczy Alcoholic Sparkling Water

 (Berczy)
(Berczy)

Combining sparkling spring water with a beet-derived four-times distilled spirit before injecting in real fruit flavours, Berczy offers three flavours for easy, laidback drinking. Choose from 250ml cans of Passionfruit & Tumeric, Peach & Raspberry and Lemon & Lime, or if you can’t decide, a taster pack to find your favourite.

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Gerry’s Hard Seltzer

 (Gerry’s)
(Gerry’s)

With pastel packaging that will appeal to the Instagram set, Gerry’s offers low cal, gluten-free and vegan drinks in mouthwatering flavour combos like Watermelon + Mint - Vodka Seltzer, Cucumber + Lemon - Gin Seltzer, Pineapple + Coconut - Rum Seltzer, Passionfruit + Lime - Vodka Seltzer, Strawberry + Kiwi - Gin Seltzer, and Apple + Lime - Rum Seltzer. If it feels like easy drinking, that’s because it is: Gerry’s blends real fruit flavours, sparkling spring water and premium quality spirits, making everything in the UK. Tasty and textbook refreshing, Gerry’s hard seltzer packs of ten cans are all on offer £22.49 to £19.99.

£19.99 for 10 | Gerry’s

BrewDog Clean & Press Smashed Cactus & Lime Hard Seltzer

 (BrewDog)
(BrewDog)

From hops to hard seltzers, BrewDog has turned its attention to the drink of the season. Available in 12 packs of the Smashed Cactus & Lime Hard Seltzer and Crushed Black Cherry flavours (both with a 5 per cent ABV), the drinks are made using the distillery’s own Rogue Wave Vodka.

£30.95 for 12 | Master of Malt

Shop all hard seltzers at Master of Malt

Served

 (Served)
(Served)

Wonky fruit once shunned by shoppers find a welcome home at Served, who mixes their juices with natural spring water and a four-times distilled gluten-free spirit called ServedPure to make their hard seltzer. It tastes fresh with a mere touch of sweetness that won’t grow saccharine over an evening-long session. Choose between lime and raspberry flavours. All vegan.

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Also available at Amazon

Long Shot

 (Long Shot)
(Long Shot)

All-natural, fruit-infused sparkling water spiked with alcohol, Long Shot is a Great Taste award winner. Made in rural Herefordshire, cans come in 250ml volume in flavour combos that will make you salivate: we’re talking tart Grapefruit, Raspberry & Blackcurrant and juicy Strawberry & Rhubarb. Have them as is, or try them in a cocktail - there are plenty of recipe ideas on Long Shot’s website.

Shop now

East London Liquor Company

 (ELLC)
(ELLC)

Made in a canal-side warehouse in London’s achingly cool east end, East London Liquor Co. has a pair of hard seltzers to sink into. Both with 4 per cent ABV and 88 calories a pop, choose between Lime & Vodka and Pomegranate & Vodka.

£24 for 12 cans | ELLC

Also available at The Whisky Exchange

Ta. Hard Seltzer Box

 (Ta)
(Ta)

Capitalising on the growing demand for hard seltzers, this new gift box allows you to try two of Dalston’s 4 per cent ABV vodka hard seltzers (in grapefruit and rhubarb flavours) along with some snacks, making it the perfect addition to your picnic bag.

£14.48 | Ta

High Water hard seltzer

 (High Water)
(High Water)

Aimed at outdoorsy types, High Water is a seltzer designed for cracking open after a countryside ramble or wild swimming session. Made from all-natural ingredients and spring water from the Cotswolds, each drink contains less than 100 calories. There are three flavours to choose from: cucumber and mint, lemon and elderflower, and mango and peach. Best of all these are cans with a conscience: a portion of all profits go to Just One Ocean, a marine conservation charity.

£25.99 | High Water

Also available at Master of Malt

Two Days

 (Two Days)
(Two Days)

Made using a five-times distilled premium vodka, sparkling water and natural fruit extract, Two Days is available in a choice to two refreshing flavours - Vodka Lime Soda and Vodka Raspberry Soda. Each is low cal at just 65 calories a pop.

£29.95 | Amazon

Naughty Water

 (Naughty Water)
(Naughty Water)

On a mission to transport you to more exotic climes, Naughty Water is a slice of pure escapism. Mixed with vodka, pick from three flavours (mango & passionfruit, cranberry and blood orange) and enjoy moderate drink at just 5 per cent ABV.

£2.39 | Drinks Supermarket

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