You could call the boom of hard seltzers a "right place, right time" thing, but even that would be selling it short. The sudden dominance of the new mixed drink, led by brands like Truly and White Claw, was a combination of smart branding, a new crop of thirsty millennials, and a low-calorie, gluten-free, legitimately tasty product.
It wasn't long before seltzers brought Minnesotans under their spell. In the past few years, breweries from all over the state have gotten in on the trend and found their audiences thirsty for more.
Ryan Petz, CEO and co-founder of MN-based Fulton Brewing Company, says his company started talking seltzer in 2018. "We'd been selling beer for years by then," he says. "But we noticed around that time that a lot of people were drinking White Claw – including us."
What Makes Hard Seltzer So Popular?
"I think the broad appeal of [hard seltzer] is that it serves a functional purpose," Ryan says. With a lighter flavor, smaller serving size, craveable flavors, and fewer calories, he thinks it "meets a need that wasn't exactly being met." Many seltzers are also naturally gluten-free, opening the door to an entire segment of gluten-intolerant consumers.
Then there's the generational aspect. Millennials – many of whom turned 21 around the dawn of the seltzer boom – were more willing to try new drinks than previous generations. "People my age had a lot more options when coming of age than people older than us," Ryan says. "Through the decades, a lot of wines, spirits, craft beers, and more have come into prominence."
Alongside new ways of making beer (like micro- and nitrobrewing), that expanding portfolio gives incoming generations the chance to try new, interesting takes on hard beverages. It's become less and less of the, 'Oh, I'm a Bud guy' or 'I'm a Miller guy' dynamic than it used to be. There are a lot more great beers out there now, but there's so much more that has nothing to do with beer."
With the right product and the right audience, the only thing left for seltzer to do was blow up.
How to Pick the Right Hard Seltzer
Minnesota wasn't immune to seltzer's many charms. In fact, Ryan says Minnesota was one of the markets that helped early hard seltzers soar to such unbelievable heights. That means there are more options to reach for every time you make a liquor run. Finding the right one for you is a process of elimination.
"Try a few examples," Ryan says. "Just because you like or dislike one flavor from one company doesn't guarantee you'll love or hate another flavor from the same company."
For Fulton, Ryan says the flavoring (with fruit purees, zests, and oils) is done in the last 20% of the process, meaning the alcohol base is the most influential element of the seltzer's overall quality. "You can tell when a seltzer producer didn't get the base right. No matter what flavor we add, [the can] can only be as good as the job we did with the base fermentation."
That simple flavoring process means each producer has a range of flavors, often between four and eight flavors of seltzer. Try a couple that seem interesting to determine what you like (do you like citrus? Sweetness? A stronger flavor or a lighter blend?) and refine your palate from there.
For a taste of local seltzer, try variety 12 packs from Fulton (with Berry, Lemon Lime, Grapefruit, and Blood Orange) or Lift Bridge (with St. Croix Berries, Northwoods Juice Box, and Voyageur Citrus) on your next liquor run – or right now by shopping at our online store!