Hard seltzer is this summer’s biggest scamAugust 22, 2019
It’s the summer of 2019, and you are drowning in hard seltzer. Those White Claw variety packs are everywhere you look, from the park to the barbecue to the grocery store checkout aisle, where the customers in front of you and behind you are loading up on 100-calorie cans of gluten-free, ruby grapefruit-flavored fizz. You’re probably, inexplicably, drinking hard seltzer all of a sudden, even though 10 months ago you didn’t know such a thing existed, and you’re still not quite sure it’s actually seltzer, and you don’t know how this can got into your hand.
Hard seltzer is “the drink of the summer,” according to the Washington Post and every other media outlet. White Claw, the brand which if we’re splitting hairs is the actual drink of the summer, has transcended its existence as a mass-produced canned beverage and transformed into a series of viral memes. The comedian Trevor Wallace had a particularly successful run satirizing the prototypical “White Claw guy” on social media — so successful that when he tried to sell T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “AIN’T NO LAWS WHEN YOU’RE DRINKING CLAWS,” he got a cease and desist from the company’s legal team. (“We are incredibly grateful for all the support,” says Sanjiv Gajiwala, White Claw’s vice president of marketing. “Unfortunately we do have a trademark. There are laws.”)
When Four Loko announced that it would also be getting into the hard seltzer game, we started to get a sense of what this category will look like when taken to its illogical extreme. “Hard seltzer ran so we could fly,” read the tweet that introduced Four Loko Seltzer Sour (flavor: “with a hint of blue razz”), identified on its label as “the hardest seltzer in the universe,” at a lofty 14% alcohol by volume. (The other hard seltzers, by comparison, are between 4% and 5% abv, though Natural Light and Pabst have announced plans for future releases that will clock in, respectively, at 6% and 8%.)
By the beginning of this summer, hard seltzer sales were up 193% year over year, said a Nielsen report. Beer sales, by contrast, declined by 1.6% last year. White Claw, which comprises 9% of the total flavored alcoholic beverage category (and about 60% of the hard seltzer category specifically, the company says), was up 289% by volume in 2018 over the previous year, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis; Truly, a close second with 6% of the category, was up 278%. The Bay Area loves White Claw even more than the rest of the country, it seems: Sales in San Francisco and Oakland are up 791% over last year, even outpacing the 524% growth in California as a…