While battening down the hatches to prepare for the possibility of an extended stay at home in isolation, I made a resupply run to my friendly neighbourhood booze merchant and found the endcaps of the aisles were bursting with hard seltzers.
For the uninitiated, hard seltzers are a much like the vodka & soda water highballs that I pounded at the discotheque in those bygone days of my squandered youth, sometimes with a cloyingly sweet dash of lime cordial.
Yes, the new up and coming tipple is fruit flavoured alcoholic fizzy water in a can, with brands like White Claw, Nude, Nütrl, Pyur, and many others entering the market as popularity grows.
White Claw seems to have been the pioneer in this market, appearing on the scene in 2016, and quickly gaining popularity in California. White Claw came to Canada last year, and in true West Coast fashion, BC has been the hottest market for hard seltzers. Yoga moms and sorority girls were the first to jump on the hard seltzer bandwagon, thanks to its health-conscious claims of only 100 calories in a can.
Although White Claw was the first to make it big in this market, like most segments of the drinks industry, there are a handful of multinational conglomerates dominating the market, and dozens or even hundreds of tiny craft producers fighting over the scraps.
After this market segment started heating up, Bud Lite Seltzer, Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer, and a few other of the giants of the booze industry brought out their own offerings, but are entirely too sweet for my liking, made either with heaping amounts of cane sugar, or even worse, those chemical laden artificial sweeteners.
Fortunately, the craftier alternatives are using natural fruit flavours and no added sweeteners, so they are a bit pricier than their mass market alternatives, but do not glow with unholy artificial colouring or taste like a boozy creamsicle.
Hard Seltzers are typically gluten-free, no artificial sweetener, and low-carb, making them popular with those trying to shake off a beer belly, and their crisp and refreshing fruity flavours make them refreshing on a hot summer day.
I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking this might be another alco-pop aimed at the teenybopper college crowd, not for seasoned boozers like myself. Fortunately, there was a smiling booze rep handing out free samples, so I threw caution to the wind and sampled a few.
To my delight, Nütrl Vodka Soda is a canned hard seltzer from BC, made from 100% BC rye grains at a craft distiller that has been making artisanal vodka and gin since 2013, branching out into hard seltzers in 2018. In a nutshell, you are essentially drinking a vodka and soda highball in a can, with the addition of natural fruit flavours to make it more interesting. All the usual suspects of lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple, cherry, grape, raspberry, and doubtless a few others can be found, so be sure to check the picture on the can for your preferred fruit flavour.
Unlike some of the cloyingly sweet alco-pops of the past, Nütrl Vodka Soda has no added sweeteners, so has a crisp and clean finish, best enjoyed chilled on a sunny patio on a hot summer day, so I look forward to sampling them again when summer arrives.
Closer to home, the Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley has a similar line of canned cocktails made from their delicious artisanal gin, as well as my personal favourite, the EquineOx Mule, made with the prickly pear cactus that is native to Alberta, and canned as a ready to drink cocktail as a local version of the famed Moscow Mule.
The EquineOx Mule is a collaboration between the Eau Claire Distillery and Calgary’s Annex Ales, a local craft beer and craft soda brewer. A blend of crafty ginger beer from Annex balances the sweetness of the prickly pear liquor, and just might be my favourite cocktail of the moment.
Should cocktails be your thing, the rising popularity of ready to drink canned cocktails and hard seltzers will be a boon, letting you carry premixed drinks to your patio party or tailgate kegger. Look for one at your friendly neighbourhood bottle shop to see for yourself.