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BHGP Reviews Hard Seltzers

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I’ve unironically tried a dozen brands of seltzer (over 40 flavors) so you didn’t have to

LIFESTYLE-US-FOOD-DRINK-ALCOHOL-food-drink Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

I’m not going to lie. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to write a post for Black Heart Gold Pants (dot) com. I began my journey on my Instagram, where I reviewed seltzers on first taste.

I’ve never received more positive feedback about anything I’ve done.

So, what better way to synthesize a half dozen’s worth of afternoons into a more comprehensive post where I break down the brands (a dozen!) and flavors (over 40!) I’ve had this summer. While it’s not comprehensive to seltzers I’ve had dating back to last year, it’s pretty much every seltzer I’ve had for the better part of this year.

Within each brand, the flavors are ranked in my preferred order. If you’re a lame-o, you can just go to the bottom to find my Mt. Rushmore of seltzer flavors.

Not really a seltzer

Corona Refresca (Corona); 12 oz, 4.5% ABV, 178+ calories, 22.8+ g carbs (stats)

Passionfruit Lime
Guava Lime
Coconut Lime

If you’re familiar with the seltzer, you can tell that Corona’s Refresca is anything but that. With nearly twice as many calories and 5-10 times as many carbs, this malt beverage lacks the easy drinking of many of the brands which follow. The flavors are not necessarily bad, but the lime notes impact otherwise unique flavors.

The context of my Refresca experience is they were the first non-White Claw, non-Truly variety pack I purchased and there are still like seven of them hanging out in our house.

Not even the fridge.

The one-timers

Natural Lite (Anhueser-Busch); 25 oz, 6% ABV, 277 calories, ? g carbs (stats)

Catalina Lime Mixer (Cherry/Lime)
Aloha Beaches (Mango/Peach)

When I saw the tall boys available at one of my local liquor stores, I knew I had to give it a go after some gentle prodding from friends. I wasn’t willing to get after one of their single flavor 12-packs, so this would have to do.

As you can see, I wasn’t able to find the number of carbs in the 25 ounces of what I presume to be diluted Four Loko’s version of seltzers. Simply put, this is the college kid’s seltzer by way of sweetness (too much), cost (incredibly cheap), and strength (alcoholic but not overtly so). I won’t drink it again, but don’t let it stop you.

Truly (Boston Beer Company); 12 oz, 5% ABV, 100 calories, 2 g carbs (stats)

Mango
Passion Fruit
Pineapple
Pomegranate

I basically gave up with Truly this time last year after buying White Claws for the first time, so it’s not really fair to share old feelings about my gateway seltzer (their Citrus & Berry packs). But their Tropical pack (flavors listed in preference above) was worth exploring.

Maybe they’ve gotten better!

They have not, in my opinion. Many of the flavors tasted like the inside of the aluminum can they were packaged in, so actually worse than I remember the original 8. My return to Truly proved futile but we all know they’re going to release a winter version with something like Pumpkin Spice and Cranberry and Apple Pie.

I’ll probably give that a go.

Wild Basin (Oskar Blues); 12 oz, 5% ABV, 100 calories, 1 g carbs (stats)

Lemon Agave Hibiscus
Cucumber Peach
Melon Basil
Classic Lime

With a unique and appealing can and marketed as a “boozy water” by the quirky, craft beer-ish Oskar Blues, I had high hopes for this one. Those hopes were quickly dispelled after every time I cracked into a new flavor as the seemed more and more lacking. They get to 1 gram of carbs by having absolutely no sugar and probably could have benefited by adding some to it.

While I commend them for going for a certain uniqueness of flavors, they just never hit for me. The melon leaned towards a cantaloupiness and the basil was a miss. The agave was weirdly overpowering of either the lemon or hibiscus. Even the cucumber lacked a crispness I expected, to say nothing of the weird pairing with peach. The classic lime is probably the worst straight lime of any brand I’ve had.

Will it stop me from trying their new black raspberry? To be determined.

Cape Line (MillerCoors); 12 oz, 4.5% ABV, 120 calories, 8-9 g carbs (stats)

Margarita
Strawberry Lemonade
Blackberry Mojito

One could argue Cape Line is not really a seltzer since they’re branded as “sparkling cocktails” but the measurables are basically in line with the rest of them. Though they’re a little higher on the calorie/carb side than many of these other ones, the extra sugar does add a nice sweetness to the balance of these more unique flavors.

The main concern I have with them is sparkling a marg or lemonade doesn’t really work for me but the blackberry mojito was a solid endeavor. They marketed a $10k giveaway to ditch frosé and freeze these bad boys. Too bad I didn’t notice it until researching this piece! The slushy alternative reminds me of those bagged daily drinks I’d pregame before heading to the Neon Cactus at Purdue, but that’s besides the point.

They were solid overall, but there are a ton of better choices. Plus, if I want a margarita, I’ll just make one myself. Like Wild Basin, the cans are a nice diversion from the classic white + pastel motif many of these brands use.

Henry’s Hard Sparkling Waters (MillerCoors); 12 oz, 4.2% ABV, 88 calories, 1.7 g carbs (stats)

Lemon Lime
Blueberry Lemon
Strawberry Kiwi

During my alcoholic soda phase shortly after college, I tended towards Not Your Father’s Root Beer over Henry’s option so I didn’t have high hopes for their sparkling waters. But I have to say that I did enjoy them!

The flavors are surprisingly unique and maybe a bit artificial and/or overpowering for some but I enjoyed each flavor to varying degrees. While the lemon lime was a sub-Sprite-y, it was fine, and the blueberry lemon was a nice change of pace. The strawberry kiwi was among one of my favorite flavors, though I’ve yet to have it since that initial go-round.

I’d take these guys in a pinch if I were left with no other options, which is more than I can say for some of the other ones in this bracket.

The [Northwest Arkansas] craft options

Ozark Hard Water (Ozark); 12 oz, 5.0% ABV, 110 calories, 2 g carbs (stats)

Grapefruit

I’ve had just one of three available flavors from a local brewery (Strawberry-Lime and Pineapple-Coconut are forthcoming) but the early returns are a little underwhelming. It’s framed as a “naturally fermented” malt beverage, so credit to the Ozark for keeping the nutritional within reason. I just didn’t particularly care for the overt grapefruitness, though it did drink easy unlike the Coronas they most resemble.

Scarlet Letter (Core); 12 oz, 4.3% ABV, 84 calories, 0.8 g carbs (stats)

Passionfruit, Elderflower, Coriander, & Key Lime
Cucumber, Lime, Ginger, & Hibiscus

While there is a lot to unpack with these flavors, they’re very drinkable with a base alcohol of vodka. As my wife said, the vodka/soda/lime was the original seltzer so it goes back to the basics in that regard. The passionfruit does have a slight peppery taste because of the coriander but not so aggressive to make it unpalateable. The cucumber is as crisp as any seltzer I’ve had and the secondary flavors make for a very easy drink. With just 84 calories, this is as good as it gets calorie-wise. Unfortunately it’s available in my little corner of America.

The recurring players

White Claw (Mark Anthony - Mike’s Hard Lemonade); 12 oz, 5% ABV, 100 calories, 2 g carbs (stats)

Mango
Black Cherry*
Natural Lime*
Raspberry*
Ruby Grapefruit*

There’s a reason there’s a White Claw shortage. (and the memes) It’s as good as it gets. The flavors are simple and all very good. Except for Mango, which is horrible, but that is great news because it isn’t in the variety pack.

After messing around with some other flavors, I recently dove back into the game and forgot just how good they are. The cherry is the best of the worst flavors in any multipack. The Lime is the best lime out there. Outside of Truly, the only raspberry available is White Claw and it bops. Ruby Grapefruit hasn’t been knocked off the pedestal after claiming it as the best grapefruit despite nearly everyone developing one.

There’s no easier brand to get into the seltzer game.

Crook & Marker (Markers Edge); 11.5 oz, 4% ABV, 80 calories, < 1 g net carbs (stats)

Coconut Pineapple+
Mango+
Strawberry Lemon+
Nectarine+
Peach*
Grapefruit*
Black Cherry*
Blackberry Lime*

Crook & Marker is an interesting brand because it is far and away the most bougie. They’re sold in eight-packs for roughly the same cost as a most of the 12-packs the rest of seltzers have. At 11.5 ounces, the math checks out to the lowest calorie count of any seltzer listed. They have a proprietary booze made from quinoa, amaranth, millet, and cassava root. The seltzers each show more than a hint of the color on their cans. The variety packs are broken, in my view, into “A” (asterisked above) and “B” (plussed) teams above.

As for the flavors, they are admittedly very bold and the mouthfeel is a little different. But they’re consistently very good and blackberry lime is among my favorite. The other equivalents to White Claws stack up very well and have more authentic flavors right on the edge of being aggressive.

The brand isn’t one I go to often, but it is a recurring purchase and normally very enjoyable.

Bon & Viv (Boathouse Beverages, Anheuser-Busch); 12 oz, 4.5% ABV, 90 calories, 2 g carbs (stats)

Lemon Lime
Pear Elderflower*
Grapefruit*
Clementine Hibiscus*
Cranberry*
Prickly Pear

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed when this brand became the official seltzer of the NFL:

This isn’t because of a MANCOTT or anything like that. It’s just that it felt like they were a band I loved (the only one who reached out during my Instagram videos) went mainstream and got too big for the peons like me.

There are positives to the mainstreaminess, though. They sell B&Vs at Razorback Stadium, which is nice if I ever get free tickets to a game again.

The flavors are varied and all tasty. The Pear Elderflower is the weakest of the 12-pack I’ve gotten but really grew on me in a way I didn’t expect. Clementine Hibiscus is also pretty tasty but the varieties really shine with the Cranberry, Grapefruit (my wife thinks it’s the best grapefruit seltzer), and my favorite of the brand: Prickly Pear. It’s totally unique in that it isn’t really fruity but floral. In a way, it’s a bit craft beer-y but it drinks smooth. I’ve only found that flavor in six-packs and regularly get them.

Super tasty.

The best

Mighty Swell (Mighty Swell Spritzers); 12 oz, 5% ABV, 110 calories, 4 g carbs (stats)

Peach
Cherry Lime
Grapefruit
Watermelon Mint

Perhaps it’s too regional but it is easily my favorite. Hailing from Austin, TX, I first encountered the brand during last years Austin City Limits Music Festival when it became my drink of the weekend. When I returned to Arkansas and my White Claw ways, I largely forgot about them before it popped up in an area liquor store.

Boy, was I glad they returned.

Since I rediscovered them, it’s been difficult to stray. Like all brands, they have the grapefruit as the foundation but the peach and cherry lime offer enough differentiation to continue returning to the variety pack. Where they really shine, though, is the Watermelon Mint.

It’s crisp and easy and not too minty like you might expect from a shot of the Doctor (McGillicuddy). It’s almost herbal in flavor profile and the mouthfeel isn’t as carbonated as other seltzers. One downside is the extra 20 calories (vs. Bon & Viv) but the flavor is worth it.

And yet my wife thinks I’m crazy for liking them. I don’t care.

Mt. Rushmore of Flavors

Scarlet Letter’s Cucumber, etc. & Mighty Swell’s Watermelon Mint are my two favorite flavors but too regional to dictate among the Mt. Rushmore, as follows:

Ruby Grapefruit (White Claw)
Raspberry (White Claw)
Blackberry Lime (Crook & Marker)
Prickly Pear (Bon & Viv)

In your comments below, please tell me where I am right, where I am wrong (nowhere), and what other brands or flavors I need to try.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Given recent events, it seems prudent to remind everyone to please drink responsibly and never drink and drive.