Craft Breweries Are Making Hard Seltzers That Actually Taste Great

We’ve found our summer drink of choice.

craft brewery hard seltzers
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Smirnoff, Anheuser-Busch, Corona, Sam Adams -- these are just a few of the powerhouses that have recently joined market giant White Claw aboard the hard seltzer express. And while the big guys have been engaged in a dead heat to conquer America’s bubbly future, microbrewers were quietly dipping their own toes into the same enticingly spiked waters. And their efforts are beginning to pay off.

“It was probably three years ago that we started dabbling in producing a hard seltzer,” recalls Jen Whyte, one half of the husband-wife duo behind Southwest Florida’s Fort Myers Brewing. “About a year before we released them we were almost there, but there was still a cloudy element to it, a little bit of an aftertaste. We tried a few different yeasts before we finally settled on what we're using now. From that point, it was another year before we were really, really proud of the product.”

All of that scrutiny, trial and error, and tinkering resulted in a crystal clear beverage with just the right amount of fruitiness balanced by a burst of crisp carbonation. The use of real grain and that special top-secret yeast strain contributes to the seltzer’s extra-appealing zero-carb, zero- sugar, 90-calorie makeup.

“We have a lot of health-oriented people coming into our taproom,” Whyte says. “To create something lower in calories, lower in carbs, zero sugar -- that became a real draw. A light beer can do the trick, but sometimes people want something that's even lighter than a light beer. Seltzer is refreshing, it’ll easily quench your thirst.”

Whyte and her team initially planned to can just two of the team’s dozen or so flavors, which run the gamut from orange and watermelon to mojito and the forthcoming cherry limeade. But with the COVID-19 shutdown all but drying up draft sales the demand for packaged booze, specifically packaged hard seltzer, has skyrocketed.

“It flies off of our shelves in our taproom. We can't keep up with it,” Whyte says. “Especially in this new normal, it’s a good problem to have. Now we've got five in cans and we’re planning to package at least two more. That's been one of the silver linings in all of this.”

And that reflects a larger national trend. As cited by VinePair, a report by research firm Nielsen CGA shows that on-site hard seltzer sales reached $1.2 billion in 2019, an increase of more than 470 percent from the previous year. And while White Claw (owned by the company responsible for Mike’s Hard Lemonade) and Truly (owned by the Boston Beer Company) overwhelmingly dominate the market, smaller breweries are getting their slice of the pie -- and ensuring that the quality is top-notch.

So keep your drinking dollars local this summer by picking up a handcrafted alcoholic seltzer from one of these standout craft producers.

Fort Myers, Florida
Available in an ever-expanding range of hot weather-friendly flavors like mojito, strawberry-lime, and watermelon, these ultra-refreshing 5% ABV bad boys weigh in at just 90 calories, 0 carbs, and 0 sugar. The slim cans also sport a pretty slick, straight-forward graphic treatment -- a very intentional move, as Whyte explains. “The designer we worked with talked about how he loves hard seltzers but doesn't love telling people that he loves them,” she notes. “He wanted a can he would be proud to walk around holding at a party or an event.”

Naperville, Illinois
Chicagoland darling Solemn Oath Brewery made waves when they released this fizzy wonder in October 2019, marking the area’s very first locally concocted craft hard seltzer. The splashy, cartoon-strewn cans contain unexpected yet delightful flavors like lime-coconut and Valencia orange-cranberry and pack 110 calories into twelve ounces of 5% ABV deliciousness.

Stratford, Connecticut
Pure cane sugar and 100% real fruit serves as the base of this Connecticut stalwart’s new 4.5% ABV spiked seltzer line, contributing to the liquid’s bold flavor and distinct bright color. Depending on flavor -- raspberry, grapefruit, or cranberry-lime -- you’re looking at 95 to 115 calories, two to three grams of sugar, and two to four grams of carbs a pop… literally.

Washington, DC
This DC craft phenom took the market by storm when they dropped these 100-calorie, 5% ABV bangers back in November 2019. Variations include mango, black cherry, and raspberry limeade, but the real standout is POG, a tribute to Hawaii’s surfer-approved signature passionfruit, orange, and guava juice blend. Cowabunga, dude.

Ridgewood, New York
What started as a playful jab at the hard seltzer craze quickly blossomed into a hit product when thirsty New Yorkers discovered that their local Euro-transplant’s wise-ass release actually tasted fantastic. Marshmallows were the unlikely secret ingredient behind the initial 4.5% ABV iteration, providing the self-proclaimed “pastry seltzer” with a fluffy, delicate sweetness akin to a crisp cream soda. Follow up flavors run the oddball gamut from the scoop shop-inspired strawberry egg cream and blackberry-raspberry-vanilla to cherry cola and a wine-based Lambrusco number.

San Francisco, California
Locally sourced fermented orange juice gives this California original its unmistakable pep, imbuing cold-pressed flavors like blackberry, cranberry, grapefruit, and lime with a sturdy freshness and zesty finish. At 5% ABV with no added sugars and a mere 100 calories, cracking open of these is as fragrant and relaxing as a boozy stroll through a blooming orchard.

Longmont, Colorado
Longtime can champs Oskar Blues have done it again, this time without the gluten. Dubbed Wild Basin and bearing a two-tone outdoors-inspired label, the handsome 12-ouncers are available in classic lime, lemon agave hibiscus, melon basil, and cucumber peach and run just 100 calories each with zero grams of sugar.

Kona, Hawaii 
Tropical punch, starfruit-lime, strawberry-guava, and the inimitable POG top this iconic Hawaiian brewery’s game-changing new hard seltzer roster. To boot, the 5% ABV beachfront crushers are naturally gluten free, only 100 calories, and available year-round in more than 15 states.

Monroe, Wisconsin 
The cheeky folks that brought you Basic Vodka are behind this formidable 4.5% ABV, 90-calorie contender in the small-batch hard seltzer game. And with enticing flavors like cranberry, pamplemousse, and a curiously herbaceous cucumber chiller (which plays very nicely with gin, just saying) are deceptively far from basic.

St. Helena, California 
This wine-adjacent Napa Valley export is equal parts pastoral green hills and hot sandy beaches. Black cherry, grapefruit, white peach, and watermelon lead the effervescent pack, wooing sunny Californians with no added sugars and an easy-drinking 95 calories per serving.

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Meredith Heil is originally from St. Louis, now lives in Chicago, and in between has been to all 50 states (that's feet on the ground, none of that airport BS). She enjoys reading, thinking, talking, writing, putting on events, and drinking about craft beer. Follow her on Instagram.