If there's one thing I look forward to doing most over the summer, it's sitting outside—be it on a beach, rooftop, grassy knoll, or, heck, even my fire escape—while sipping an ice-cold beverage (usually something with a little kick, if you know what I mean).
My go-to is a dry rosé (usually this well-priced bottle by La Vieille Ferme) or a pitcher of something herby, citrusy, and refreshing, like a Pimm's Cup or this Bowery Punch.
But this summer, I've been finding myself more and more sipping on spiked seltzer. Basically, it's sparkling water with some type of booze and fruity flavoring, all packaged up in a convenient can.
I haven't been staying loyal to a particular brand, and will often pick up the first kind I encounter at the corner store down the block from my apartment. But after one random six-pack left me and my friends with a bad taste in our mouths (literally), I needed to know which one specifically to turn to.
So I rounded up six of the most popular hard seltzer brands I could find (I stuck with citrus flavors as something of a control) and gave my coworkers the task of blind taste-testing them to determine the very best one. You're welcome, coworkers.
Here are the results, ordered from their least to most favorite:
The cute, mermaid-adorned packaging on Bon & Viv's Lemon-Lime spiked seltzer couldn't help it from falling to the bottom of our pile—a tie with Truly Spiked and Sparkling. One taste tester didn't mince their words, writing, "Flat AF. Not much flavor. Weird gasoline-y smell and taste! NO." Others were just as blunt: "Tastes like the underside of my armpit after hot yoga." Ouch.
One of the most prominent players in the hard seltzer game, we were a bit surprised to find Truly Spiked and Sparking's Lime flavor would be tied for last place.
One taste tester described the flavor as "flat, bitter, and chemical-y," while another described it as being "not bubbly enough" and faintly familiar of "fake citrus candy." Not all hope is lost though, as one taste tester wrote, "I love the subtle lime flavor—not too overpowering."
This wildcard entry—lime-flavored sparkling water spiked with tequila, as opposed to the "alcohol from cane sugar" you'll find on the back of most cans—went straight to the middle in terms of flavor and effervescence. Some taste testers quite liked it, with one calling it "fruity and delicious," while another enjoyed that "the alcohol was masked pretty well"; someone also noted it had "good bubbliness."
But there were a few who weren't so keen on this entry: Someone wrote that it "tastes like laundry detergent," and another said, "Oh my god this is so bad."
Rounding out the top three is The Shell House—a Trader Joe's brand—in the Meyer Lemon flavor. This pick was actually the favorite of two of our taste testers, one of whom wrote, "Club soda-y smell, which I quite like. Good citrusy, not-fake taste."
The other said, "This one is really tasty! I like the sour-ish flavor and can't taste the alcohol at all—very dangerous." But for another taste tester, this one happened to be their least favorite: "Kind of like a sour beer. I don't care for it. Funky."
This "smooth, delightful, bright" lime and lemongrass-flavored option from Press wasn't too far off from taking the top spot on this list. Most taste testers enjoyed the flavor, with one writing, "Sweet! I actually liked this one—it's pleasantly bubbly." One even added, "This is somewhat enjoyable because it tastes like gummy worms." All around, this one was well liked, with a lot of taste testers throwing around words like "solid" and "a good one."
Just eking ahead for a first-place finish is the ever-popular White Claw hard seltzer in the Natural Lime flavor. Our taste testers liked that it was "the bubbliest" of them all and that it's mild flavor tasted the "most like normal seltzer." Others simply called it "the best," while one wrote nothing but: "favorite."
If you're tempted to try our new fan favorite, know that it comes in a bunch of flavors other than lime, like black cherry, mango, and ruby grapefruit. I've spotted it at most major grocery and convenience stores, but you can also snag a case online here.
If we’ve learned anything about the hard seltzer market, it’s that the hits just keep on coming. Additional recommendations from the editors, as of July 2021:
You may already be familiar with Amass’s botanical spirits (both alcoholic and non!); they launched hard seltzers this past May. With flavors like hibiscus-ginger-turmeric, jasmine-cardamom-raspberry, and mandarin-vanilla-oak, these hard seltzers, which are made with botanical extracts and fermented cane sugar, are one of our current favorites on the market.
Beer fans know and love Evil Twin—if you’re in the market for something less hoppy, try their Evil Water. There are simple flavor options like watermelon, lemonade, and key lime; as well as more flashy options like Tiger’s Blood (watermelon-strawberry-coconut), cherry blossom-cucumber-yuzu-marshmallow (a collaboration with MáLà Project), and blue-raspberry candy.
Popular for their hard kombucha, Flying Embers’s hard seltzer doesn’t compromise on flavor. With “Sweet & Heat” (pineapple-cayenne, watermelon-chili, and guava-jalapeño) and “Fruit & Flora” (clementine-hibiscus, black cherry-rose, and passionfruit-elderflower) lines, there’s probably a seltzer to suit every palate.
For those who like their spiked seltzers simple, turn to High Noon vodka & soda. Brewed with vodka, fruit juice, and seltzer, these (gluten-free!) spiked seltzers are just as good at happy hour as they are with dinner.
Inspired by a craving for more authentic drink options while munching on Korean fried chicken, the founders of Lunar launched the first Asian American-inspired hard seltzer line. Their original line offers Japanese yuzu, Korean plum syrup, and Thai lychee-based seltzers; Lunar is also making speciality options, like mango and chili salt (a collaboration with artist Vanessa Nguyen), pineapple cake (with Manhattan restaurant 886), and tamarind (with Brooklyn’s Di An Di).
Available in simple fruity flavors like raspberry-lemon, lime, mango, and peach, Nude’s hard seltzers are basically like mixing your own fizzy mixed drink, but infinitely simpler.
We already know and love Spindrift's flavored seltzers, so naturally their spiked options peaked our interest. Available in pineapple (our favorite of their classic sparking waters!), mango, lemon, and lime, these harder options would be welcome at any party we throw.
Considering it was already one of our favorite plain seltzers, we were psyched to try Topo Chico’s spiked offerings—all four fruity options are great for a day at the beach, but we’re partial to the strawberry-guava and mango cans.
With 12(!) flavor options from citrus spritz and melon-basil to mango mai tai and habañero piña colada, whether you’re chilling by the pool or having a more formal cocktail hour, Wild Basin seems committed to being a one-stop hard seltzer shop.
What's your favorite spiked seltzer brand? Tell us in the comments below!
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