If you haven’t yet waded into the inviting waters of the hard seltzer and canned cocktail craze, now might be the time. The last two years have seen myriad new (and better-tasting) additions to the market, many of which are Texas-made.
Hard seltzer is essentially fermented sugar water combined with flavors and carbonation—a departure from fermented malt, the key ingredient in flavored malt beverages. (Think Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Corona Refrescas.) Americans have a seemingly insatiable thirst for the stuff: from 2018 to 2019, U.S. retail sales of hard seltzer more than tripled, topping $1.5 billion. This year, during the two weeks surrounding Memorial Day, hard seltzers accounted for nearly half of beer-category growth dollars, increasing sales by a whopping 250 percent.
The category is dominated by White Claw, which accounts for 55 percent of the dollar share of the market, followed by Truly. Major beer brands have also gotten into the game, with selections such as Bud Light Seltzer and Coors Seltzer. But with a low cost of production and advancements in technology, more and more producers are entering the seltzer market, using terms such as “craft” and “premium” to differentiate their brand.
What’s the appeal? In a Nielsen survey, more than 50 percent of respondents cited convenience as their top reason for choosing seltzers and other ready-to-drink (RTD) canned cocktails. These drinks are also generally lower in calories and alcohol, giving them broad appeal for health-conscious consumers who may already have a LaCroix habit. And it doesn’t hurt that they sell at a reasonable price point, usually $10–$15 for a six-pack.
One of the first to jump in the Texas game was Mighty Swell Spiked Spritzers, which we covered in depth in 2016. Many new seltzer and RTD brands have launched since then. While there are myriad choices at your local grocer or liquor store, we’ve included a few of our favorite local options, as well as recent additions to the Texas market.
Austin Eastciders Spiked Seltzer
Venturing beyond cider, Austin Eastciders introduced its line of cider-based hard seltzers earlier this year. Choose from black cherry, peach, or apple, each made with real fruit.
Alcohol by volume: 4.2 percent
Where to find it: Total Wine & More, Spec’s, and other liquor stores across Texas
Why we like it: Austin Eastciders has made a name for itself with its wide range of unique, well-balanced fruit ciders, including pineapple, blood orange, grapefruit, and, of course, apple. For fun, pop the top on both the original dry cider and the apple spiked cider to see which better suits your fancy.
Canteen Vodka Soda
Austin-based Canteen Vodka Soda offers a crisp, clean taste in its five-flavor line, including watermelon, lime, black cherry, grapefruit, and our favorite, cucumber mint.
Alcohol by volume: 5 percent
Where to find it: Spec’s, Total Wine & More, and other liquor stores throughout the state
Why we like it: Designed with the health-conscious in mind, Canteen Vodka Sodas are under one hundred calories and have no added sugar. Pour over ice for an even smoother taste.
Touted as the first hard seltzer using real fruit juice, this California-based hard seltzer recently expanded into Texas. Though the lime, cranberry, and blackberry flavors are all solid choices, our pick is the sweet and juicy grapefruit, made with Rio Red grapefruit juice from the Rio Grande Valley. These one-hundred-calorie seltzers contain three grams of natural sugars and use an alcohol base made from fermented oranges.
Alcohol by volume: 5 percent
Where to find it: H-E-B
Why we like it: Though single-flavor six-packs are available, Fick’s also comes in a variety twelve-pack, allowing you to sample all four flavors.
Lone River Ranch Water
An agave-based brand inspired by the signature cocktail of far West Texas, Lone River Ranch Water highlights the simplicity of an old ranch-style highball, typically made with tequila, lime, and soda. Made from 100 percent organic agave and natural lime, the subtle citrus and floral flavors make for a thoroughly refreshing poolside companion. Enjoy on its own, or punched up over ice with a tequila floater.
Price: $8.99 (six-pack)
Alcohol by volume: 4 percent
Where to find it: Statewide at major retailers such as H-E-B, Central Market, Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Albertsons, 7-Eleven, Total Wine & More, and Spec’s.
Why we like it: The original lime-centric offering will expand this summer to include Rio Red grapefruit and spicy flavors. The latter finishes with an enticing jalapeño-driven kick.
The Long Drink
Though this drink isn’t from Texas, it’s a tasty, thirst-quenching standout that earned an honorary spot on our list. The gin-based Long Drink dates back to the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, where it was the official welcome cocktail for visitors. It’s been a Finnish favorite ever since. This version is also available in a tangy cranberry flavor, a “zero” option with no added sugar, and a strong offering with a heftier 8.5 percent alcohol content.
Alcohol by volume: 5.5 percent
Where to find it: Spec’s and Total Wine
Why we like it: Combining gin with grapefruit, juniper berries, and soda, the Long Drink tops our list as the perfect summer sipper.
Waterloo Gin & Tonic
Diehard G&T fans can look forward to this new convenient canned option in the coming months. From Dripping Springs–based Treaty Oak Distillery, this drink uses the award-winning Waterloo Gin as the base for a canned spritzer. Treaty Oak also offers a bottled, premade version of the classic bourbon-based old-fashioned.
Alcohol by volume: 5 percent
Where to find it: Liquor stores around the state, starting in early fall.
Why we like it: Generous with notes of lavender and grapefruit peel, this light and breezy offering makes an already easy-to-make cocktail even easier. Just pour over ice and enjoy a balanced, boozy cocktail in the comfort of your own home.
Ranch Rider Spirits
This company began when two University of Texas at Austin MBA students started mixing drinks in their campus food truck, Ranch Hand. Now they sell three stylish flavors: original lime ranch water, tequila Paloma with grapefruit, and the Chilton with lemon.
Price: $14 for a four-pack
Alcohol by volume: 6 percent
Where to find it: Twin Liquors, Spec’s, and other stores statewide
Why we like it: The snappy, lemony Chilton flavor holds a special place in our hearts, since it was partly inspired by the Texanist’s column on the West Texas cocktail of the same name. (If you prefer to mix your own, get our recipe here.)