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'Ray hard seltzers
Photograph: Kate Shanasy

Why 2020 is the official summer of hard seltzer

Here's everything you need to know

Written by
Rushani Epa
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If there's one thing that makes a Sydney summer, it's a novelty booze fad. Two years ago, Aperol spritz icy poles were all the rage. Last year, the fashionably thirsty sipped frosé by the gallon. In 2020, the hottest contender for the summer's must-drink beverage is a little less fussy. In fact, it's essentially just slightly alcoholic water. Yes, my friends, the tipple of the season is hard seltzer.

Hard seltzer is one of those drinks that will slowly sneak up on you. It’s the ultimate session drink but boozehounds beware, it’s so smooth that you might fool yourself into thinking you’re drinking lightly spritzed water. And after you innocently knock back a few of them, that’s when it will catch up with you.

But despite including the word ‘hard’ in its title, hard seltzer is effectively the kombucha of the alcohol world, minus the scobies. It generally contains fewer calories than most pre-mixed drinks (here’s looking at you, Smirnoff Double Blacks) and is set to be a staple of everyone’s summer of socially distanced mingling.

Seltzer is the American term for sparkling water, and the US happens to be the home of hard seltzer. Does White Claw ring a bell? It’s the leading brand of hard seltzer in the US, and Americans have been guzzling down so much of the stuff lately that the brand has struggled to keep up with demand. 

So, what exactly is it? Aside from being a glorified vodka, lime and soda, it’s generally known as a combo of either vodka, gin or tequila, mixed with soda water and a splash of fruit flavouring. 

In the US, leading brands often brew theirs from fermented grains or cane sugar, technically making it a sort of beer. Its alcohol content changes from brand to brand, but you can expect to find between 4 and 6 per cent in each can, as well as a low calorie count of around 100 calories. In most brands, one can equates to about one standard drink, but it varies depending on strength.

We have hard seltzers to thank for normalising alco-pops for adults, and naturally, it’s an easy way to lug pre-mixed drinks to the park for outdoor picnics and parties. 

Own your desire to enjoy a cocktail in front of your beer-drinking friends and try it for yourself. Here’s a list of some that are out now in Australia, including quite a few brewed right here, in Sydney.

‘Ray

Blackhearts & Sparrows has joined forces with new hard seltzer brand 'Ray to release a limited-edition grapefruit flavour. 'Ray, which is run out of Footscray, is from the team behind Hop Nation Brewing Co. Flavours include watermelon and mint; peach; lemon and lime; and grapefruit. You can buy them via Hop Nation's online store or at Dan Murphy’s, Blackhearts & Sparrows and independent bottle shops. 

Moon Dog Brewing

Moon Dog Brewing’s Moon Dog Fizzer comes in four nostalgic flavours. The flavours include Coco Magic, Piney Limey, Strawbs & Cream and Tropical Crush, with all flavours expertly crafted by Moon Dog’s own Chris Hysted-Adams (a three-time winner of Australian Bartender of the Year). Purchase some via the online store.

Nosh Boozy Seltzer

Nosh is a cheeky Aussie brand and the latest seltzer kid on the block to be reckoned with. Its drinks are blended with natural flavours and brewed to remove most sugars, and it comes in two flavours: peach, and mango and pineapple. Both flavours contain five per cent ABV and can be sourced at Dan Murphy’s or BWS.

Delvi

The team at Delvi pride themselves on using locally sourced ingredients in their latest range of hard seltzers, which come in desert lime or blood orange passion. They’re available in packs of four or 24, for those looking to let loose on the fizz. Get yours via Fizztopia.

Splash Vodka

Splash Vodka is here to fulfil all your basic drink needs without having to visit the bar. The Splash Vodka Lime and Soda Cans are pretty self-explanatory – and remember, soda is seltzer. Grab a four- or 24-pack from Dan Murphy’s.

Vacay 

Vacay had an award-winning sommelier working on the Vacay Alcoholic Seltzer. It’s light and comes in raspberry; lime; pure (that is, unflavoured) and Kakadu plum. These cans haven’t been released into the wild yet, but watch this space.

Fellr

Formerly part of the team behind the aniseed spirit at the back of every grandparents' liquor cabinet, Pernod, the two fellas behind Fellr, Andy Skora and Will Morgan, saw such a ripe opportunity in the ascendant popularity of hard seltzer that they jumped ship to start their own distillery dedicated to the stuff. Based in Sydney, they're now producing a three flavour range of boozy seltzers – watermelon, lime and lime and ginger – which you can find in bottleshops or buy direct.

Smirnoff

Smirnoff has recently announced its line of Smirnoff Seltzers available in natural lime; raspberry rosé; and passionfruit. Each can is 250ml, and you can get a four-pack from your closest Dan Murphy's or BWS.

White Claw

The McDonald’s of hard seltzers. These babies are imported straight from the US, and you can sample flavours like mango, lime and ruby grapefruit. The White Claw team are set to release more flavours in Australia as time goes on, but for now, you can get yours via Dan Murphy’s.

Two Birds

It's known for being Australia's first all-women-owned brewery, but the cans coming out of Two Birds need no qualifying caveat to stand shoulder to shoulder with nation's best cold ones. Made in Melbourne, it's one watermelon-flavoured hard seltzer, named Chirpy, was one of the first homegrown seltzers to enter the market. It's available at Dan Murphy's or direct from the Two Bird's Brewery online store.

Dad and Dave's Brewing

Wildspirit is the name this Sydney craft brewery has given to its seltzer range, which is promising a big game given it's really a very well behaved beverage on paper. Not only is a modest 3.5 per cent ABV, but it's also made with a gluten-free grain spirit so it's gentle on those with dietary restrictions. There are four flavours on offer – lime, passionfruit, mago and raspberry – and you can pick them up direct from Dad and Dave's.

Lust Liquor

Enfants terrible of the Sydney boutique distillery scene, Mark Lindberg and Nick Rowell launched Lust Liquor in Sydney in 2018 at the tender age of 20, and have since settled into a lucrative hustle in the alco-pop aisle. Now they've branched into hard seltzer with a solitary flavour, classic lime and soda, which you can find in bottleshops or from their website.

Brookvale Union

After a time solely dedicated to boozy ginger beer, the pre-mixed drinks branch of Sydney brewery 4 Pines has recently added two flavours of hard seltzer to its range – grapefruit and orange and lime and bitters. You can find them in Liqourland or First Choice.

Saintly

Sydney is a city of fitness fanatics, but even gym tragics need to let their hair down now and then! Enter Saintly's four sugar-free hard seltzers, that offer all the fun of 4 and 6 per cent AVB drinks, with none of the empty calories. Saintly comes in four flavours at too different alcoholic levels: at 4 per cent, mango and watermelon with mint, and at 6 per cent, lime and pink grapefruit. You can get your mitts on them at Dan Murphy's or BWS.

Quincy

The OG Australian hard seltzer, made by drinks juggernaut Lion, draws an interesting quirk from its Japanese parent company Kirin. The 'hard' comes courtesy of rice-based spirits, pushing its ABV up to a dizzying (for hard seltzer) 4 per cent. It's available in passionfruit or lime flavours from BSW and Liquorland. 

In search of some more quality drinking? Check out the 50 best bars in Sydney right now.

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