There are two reasons I’m sharing this story on the Washington Beer Blog. First, it involves one of our local breweries. Second, it concerns something that actually qualifies as beer. Whatever the case, if you consider yourself a well-informed enthusiast of potent potables you need to know about hard seltzer, which is considered beer by the federal government and is a rapidly growing part of the alcohol industry. Maybe you’ve seen T.V. commercials for Truly Hard Seltzer and wondered, as I did, “What the heck is that?”
Another Adventure for Two Beers Brewing and Seattle Cider Co.
I am, of course, talking about alcoholic seltzer. It is sometimes referred to as spiked seltzer but more commonly it is called hard seltzer. Essentially, it is exactly what it sounds like: flavored seltzer water that contains alcohol. Usually, hard seltzer clocks in at about 5% ABV. Helping to drive its rise in popularity, it is usually gluten-free and only runs about 100 calories per 12-oz can. Drink it straight up or use it as a mixer.
Beginning in late June, Sound Hard Seltzer taps its products at The Woods tasting room in Seattle alongside beers from Two Beers Brewing and ciders from Seattle Cider Co. They plan to release the seltzers in cans later this summer. Out of the gate, they’ll offer cucumber, grapefruit and rose (blackberry and raspberry).
I have tasted one of Sound Hard Seltzer Company’s products. I should say, I’ve tasted what will become one of their products. I tasted it alongside the industry’s three leading products. I share my thoughts about all of that below. I also share Sound Seltzer Company’s official press release below.
For the record, I was not paid to write this, I just think it’s interesting and newsworthy.
What is this Stuff?
Hard seltzer is not beer, but then again it is beer. Some are grain-based, most are not. All of them get their alcohol content from some type of fermented sugar, whether it be barley or, more commonly, sugar (cane sugar seems to be common). Hard seltzer is not simply seltzer water spiked with distilled spirits or wine, it is brewed and fermented like beer and is then flavored, so I guess that makes it beer. The federal government requires all cans/labels to somehow state that it is beer. Pick up a can at the grocery store, look closely and you will see the word beer somewhere.
Just as Seattle Cider Company did in the emerging cider industry, Sound Craft Seltzer is taking an approach that differentiates its product from fray.
Maybe it will make more sense if I explain how to produce hard seltzer, even if only in super-simplified terms. You start out by creating a fermentable liquid. In beer terms we’d call it wort. Usually seltzer producers use sugar instead of barley. You ferment it into a strong beer-like beverage. You create something that is, let’s say, 15% Alcohol by Volume. Then you filter the heck out of it, or clarify it by some other means, so that it looks as clear as water.
Next, you take that 15% ABV water, which essentially has little or no beery flavor, and you dilute it with straight-up water until you end up with a beverage that is about 5% ABV. Then you use essence of blackberry, or blackberry extract, or blackberry “flavoring” to achieve a blackberry-flavored, alcoholic fizzy water. I am only mentioning blackberry for illustrative purposes. You could use any sort of natural or unnatural flavoring.
In very elementary terms, that’s what most players in this emerging alcohol category are doing. It is NOT what Sound Craft Seltzer is doing.
Just as Seattle Cider Company did in the cider biz, Sound Seltzer hopes to create a new segment within the larger seltzer category of the alcohol industry. Seattle Cider created a product that landed somewhere between the very expensive ciders, like estate-grown ciders that can go for $25 per bottle, and the cheap crap that some people buy in 24-packs at Walmart. Seattle Cider was different because it was good and it was affordable, proving that quality and affordability were not mutually exclusive.
Hard Seltzer is priced comparably to craft beer. Sound Craft Seltzer will come in just a tick above the other non-craft seltzers. Like, maybe a $1 more for a six pack.
What Will Make Sound Hard Seltzer Different?
Right now there isn’t really a high-end product making an impact on the hard seltzer category. There really isn’t a craft seltzer. That’s the niche that Sound Craft Seltzer hopes to create and fill. How? They will produce seltzer using a different approach.
Instead of doing it the way I described above, they will actually ferment fruit and sugar. In large part, this is possible because of their experience producing both beer and cider (Two Beers Brewing and Seattle Cider are, in essence, the same company). It certainly helps that they have access to cider-making equipment. For example, a normal brewery probably doesn’t have access to the kind of hardcore filtering equipment required, which is more common in the cider and wine industries.
Sound Craft Seltzer is not fizzy alcohol water with added fruit “flavors,” it is actually made with real, fermented fruit juice. They intend to use organic ingredients as much as possible. All-natural and mostly organic is the ethos.
Vandenbrink, the CEO of all three companies, tells me that he doesn’t want to pursue USDA organic certification because he operates a brewery and a cidery at the same location that are not organic. He does, however, say that Sound Craft Cider will primarily use certified organic ingredients.
And check this out, Sound Hard Seltzer products will be about 5% ABV, gluten-free, and only about 100 calories per 12-oz can. Because the residual sugar content is very low, the prospect of getting a nasty hangover is also low, a phenomenon you might have noticed if you’ve ever gotten tanked on Seattle Cider Company’s Dry Cider. Uh, I mean, that’s what I’ve heard.
As the hard seltzer category of the alcohol biz continues to grow, I have no doubt that other companies will emerge and do what Sound Hard Seltzer is doing.
The Taste Test
I tasted four hard seltzers, side by side, before writing this article: Truly’s Colida Lime Seltzer, White Claw’s Black Cherry Seltzer, Shell House’s Meyer Lemon Seltzer, and Sound Craft’s Rose Seltzer. The first three come from the largest, most popular seltzer producers. Obviously, the fourth comes from Sound Craft Seltzer.
I’m a beer lover. You probably are too. That said, these beverages are thin and watery. Not just in terms of their mouthfeel, as you’d expect, but in terms of their depth of flavor. It’s seltzer and not beer so, by design, there’s just not a lot there. Well, not when you compare it to any decent craft beer, a good cider, or a nice glass of wine. Intentionally, seltzer lacks that kind of body.
I tasted my way up to Sound Craft Seltzer. Of the first three, the only one that had significant aroma was the White Claw Black Cherry Seltzer. Also, it had the most flavor. Was it the best flavor of the three? I don’t know. It was pronounced and it was unmistakably black cherry. Although it is pleasant, it does have a medicinal quality. Think Robitussin. But at least it had some aroma and flavor.
The Shell House seltzer and the Truly seltzer were just very thin, containing little fruit flavor to mask a vague watered-down alcohol flavor. Like a can of La Croix with a bit of watered down whiskey in it. (I’m probably being too harsh in my judgement. After all, a lot of people love this stuff.)
Eventually I tasted the Sound Craft Rose Seltzer, which is made with actual blackberries and actual raspberries, and found it to be the most enjoyable. As you’d expect, the fruit aroma and fruit flavor were more authentic. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, but just enough to remind you that there is alcohol in this beverage.
A lot of people are going to like hard seltzer because it is gluten free and low calorie. I can understand that. I cannot really imagine myself drinking it straight up. I think this stuff will make a great mixer. I mean, why not mix a cocktail using a 5% ABV mixer, right? Make a margarita but use half as much margarita mix, replacing it with 5% ABV lime seltzer. Skinny margarita! Muy bueno!
I am definitely not their target market, but I appreciate hard seltzer and I appreciate that one of our local breweries is delving into this market.
Here is the press release from Sound Craft Seltzer Company.
Sound Craft Seltzer Co. Uses Fresh, Organic Ingredients to Craft Hard Seltzer
Scheduled for package product launch in August 2018, Sound Craft Seltzer Co. focuses on simple, organic, whole, fresh ingredients putting the “craft” into hard seltzer
SEATTLE (May 10, 2018) – Three is certainly the magic number. Sound Craft Seltzer Company, the newest craft beverage brand from local Seattle sister companies Two Beers Brewing and Seattle Cider Company, is slated to hit the market as the craft answer to the burgeoning hard seltzer trend. The cornerstone of Sound Seltzer emphasizes putting ingredients first- simple, whole, fresh, and organic ingredients. Sound Craft Seltzer Co. is a naturally gluten free sparkling hard seltzer with no added colors or artificial flavors.
Sound Craft Seltzer Company is born of years of craft beverage experience in Seattle focused heavily around how to make the best tasting product with the freshest ingredients. Passionate about creating an accessible and delicious handcrafted option for the hard seltzer category, Sound Seltzer’s flavors start with the highest quality organic ingredients resulting in a refreshing drinking experience where real flavors are the emphasis of every sip.
Sounds Craft Seltzer Co. will release Rosé, Cucumber, and Grapefruit flavors available in single flavor 6-packs of 12 ounce cans, and in a 12-pack variety pack featuring all three flavors. At 5% ABV, each flavor of Sound Seltzer contains a subtle and crisp flavor derived directly from fermenting on fresh and organic ingredients.
“Creating Sound Craft Seltzer is an incredible opportunity to elevate a new category by offering a craft option,” says Founder and CEO, Joel VandenBrink. “The most important thing that sets us apart from other hard seltzers is our use of real and organic ingredients throughout the process.”
Sound Craft Seltzer’s quality is rooted in simple, unprocessed, and organic ingredients. Each batch is fermented on organic produce to achieve their signature flavors – organic berries and fresh organic juices, whole organic cucumbers, and organic grapefruit pulp and rind. The resulting hard seltzer is crisp, refreshing, and naturally gluten free. Coming in at 5% ABV, Sound Seltzers have sparkling carbonation and a hint of color obtained from being fermented on fresh ingredients.
“It was always important to remain true to the ingredients during the process,” explains Scott Katsma, Head Seltzer Maker and Lead Innovator for Sound Seltzer. “The fresh, organic ingredients add subtle, beautiful colors to each of the seltzers, and the natural flavors imparted by fermenting on fresh ingredients are incredible.”
At 5% ABV, Sound Craft Seltzer is available in three, distinct, fresh flavors:
· Rosé Hard Seltzer – subtly pink, rosé hard seltzer gets its amazing color naturally from organic Washington blackberries and raspberries
· Cucumber Hard Seltzer – the refreshing, crisp taste of cucumber works both as a fantastic cocktail mixer or perfectly as a stand-alone invigorating drink
· Grapefruit Hard Seltzer – light, tart, and tangy, the grapefruit seltzer is bright and citrusy from start to finish
Sound Craft Seltzer will be available on draft at The Woods Cider House & Tasting Room (4660 Ohio Ave S. in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle) starting in June 2018 and package product will be widely available at bottle shops and retailers throughout Washington and Oregon late August 2018 through Columbia Distribution.
About Sound Craft Seltzer Co.
Stay Cool. Sound Craft Seltzer Company was born from the idea that every beverage category deserves a delicious craft option. Fermented on unprocessed, organic, and whole ingredients, Sound Seltzer elevates hard seltzer to another level where real, fresh ingredients are the Sound choice. For more information, visit us on Facebook and Instagram @soundseltzer or online at soundseltzer.com