Sorry beer purists, hard seltzers are here to stay

by Amanda Push

If you didn’t have a White Claw Hard Seltzer hangover this summer, were you even there? Apparently not as White Claws sold out across the country this year.

According to CNN, spiked sparkling water has turned into a billion-dollar industry. Hard seltzer sales hit the roof and even surpassed $1 billion for the past year which ended in August. That means there was an increase in sales by nearly 200 percent compared last year, according to Nielsen Holdings.

In any case, it’s pretty apparent to people in the booze industry that the beverage is here to stay which is why Durango businesses like Ska Brewing and Steamworks Brewing are jumping on the bandwagon.

“I think a lot of it has to do with that a lot of people are looking for more variety,” said Kristen Muraro, sales and marketing director at Ska. “They also associate it with a healthier alcoholic drink especially in today’s day and age where there’s a lot of focus on low calories, working out and having a healthier lifestyle. It’s what people are looking for in a drink.”

Turns out, the demand for hard seltzers isn’t an exception in the Durango area. We’re downing them like everyone else.

“There are people asking for it,” said Ken Martin, head of brewing operations at Steamworks. “Here, we serve a wide breadth of people. It’s a huge restaurant and there’s all walks of life walking through the front door. It’s a place you can bring your whole family and we’re trying to fill that niche. A lot of people are counting calories these days and malt-based beverages are higher in calories but people don’t want to give up alcohol.”

To make hard seltzers, brewers typically ferment the drink with sugar instead of malted barley which results in lower sugar and carbohydrates than in beer. This is one of the many reasons the drink has spiked in popularity among consumers. That and it’s delicious.

“It’s a lot different than making beer,” said Joe Hull, a brewer at Ska. “With beer, we’re trying to make as much flavor as possible. … With this, it’s the opposite. We’re trying to make it super watery so when we’re adding our hibiscus lime flavor and stuff like that, that’s what you get. You don’t get the taste of the ingredients like the grain.”

Both Ska and Steamworks plan on canning their hard seltzer lines. Ska will release variety packs of black raspberry, blood orange, and hibiscus lime in December, Muraro said. Steamworks is still in the early planning stages of canning their line.

However, if you want to get your hands on Steamworks’ flavors, there is hope. The brewery has its spiked sparkling water on tap. It’s as easy as ordering any of their beers. There are usually two different flavors for patrons to sip on and they are always changing. The Steamworks brewers have experimented with flavors ranging from elderberry to ginger.

“We’re trying to use better ingredients and up that game a little bit. We have the luxury of not doing it on such a large scale,” Martin said.

Martin is also tossing around the idea of making holiday-themed flavors, though pumpkin spice is not on the table.

“I don’t know if the world is ready for pumpkin pie spice hard seltzers,” Martin said. “And I have my limits.”

So, is it actually a beer? Turns out, brewing has evolved so much over the years, it’s hard to say.

“I don’t really know what the definition of a beer exactly is anymore now,” Hull said.

However brewers and patrons want to categorize hard seltzers, everyone agrees that the beverage is here to stay, for better or for worse.

“It’s a trend that probably isn’t going to go away any time soon so we thought it’d be something fun to play around with and experiment with,” Muraro said.

Amanda Push


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