Since my daughter came home from college, there are always a few cans of hard seltzer in the fridge. Hard seltzer is the wine cooler of the 21st century, apparently. They’re low-calorie, sweeter than beer, and measurable (unlike vodka shots, another popular party drink for Gen Z). But until I looked into it, I had no idea what kind of crap can be in these cans! Want to know more? Read on!
I tried out a few different types of hard seltzer from my daughter’s stash and found them pretty refreshing, although they taste deceptively non alcoholic — this may be part of the draw for new drinkers.
A friend told me that her friend had reportedly drunk one hard seltzer every afternoon for weeks before she realized they were spiked. (That must have made dinner prep a whole lot more interesting.)
BELIEVE THE HARD SELTZER HYPE?
I was curious. How can these drinks provide the same alcoholic content as beer — but only half the calories? Why do they come in such complicated flavors — grapefruit quince, raspberry lime — but show so few ingredients on labels? So, when Mamavation announced that they had tested 45 brands of hard seltzer to find out which were safest, I was all in.
As per the usual with Leah and her amazing team, the report was comprehensive. I learned the differences between these drinks:
- Spritzers — like wine coolers — are basically wine and soda.
- Hard seltzer is made of fruit juice, soda, and alcohol (usually from fermented cane sugar).
- When hard seltzer is made with malted barley it is, technically, a “flavored malt beverage.”
WHO’S BEHIND HARD SELTZER?
I also learned that most hard seltzer brands are owned by large corporations, which didn’t come as a surprise. Transnationals control our entire food system — in fact, a new report shows that because of weak regulation and strong lobbyists, mega-companies dictate everything from what farmers grow to what’s on our supermarket shelves. (Although organic food is still putting up a good fight.)
Today, just fifteen cents of every dollar spent on food goes to producing it. The rest goes to packaging and marketing. That seems to apply here, as the first types of hard seltzer introduced in the 1990s failed miserably, while last year was declared “White Claw Summer” and the industry raked in $4.1 billion in sales.
Like most canned beverages, hard seltzer poses a danger from the can itself — most are lined with endocrine disrupting plastic. And, just like the beauty industry, the conventional alcohol industry isn’t legally required to disclose the ingredients in hard seltzer. (Although, like all other products in this category, the certified organic alcohol industry is held to disclosure standards.)
Conventional companies can put whatever the hell they want in their products, without adding names to the labels. And just like the deceptively innocuous word “fragrance” on beauty labels, “natural flavors” mean f**k all when it comes to drinks — there are 2,500 different chemical substances that can fall into this category.
What’s the takeaway? Look for hard seltzer brands that show the USDA certified organic label, which means the product can’t contain any artificial flavors or ingredients made with pesticides or insecticides. Try to choose “BPA free” cans (although keep in mind this doesn’t guarantee the absence of endocrine disrupters — only glass can promise that). And for more information on specific brands, check out Mamavation’s big list of hard seltzers!