What Alcohol Is In White Claw & Other Hard Seltzer Brands?
Hard seltzer is exactly as it sounds: seltzer with alcohol. But the bigger question is, what alcohol is in White Claw and other hard seltzers?
The answer is that it varies depending on the brand. Typically, it’s just fermented cane sugar with added fruit flavors. But sometimes they distill it from corn that is the case with White Claw, the best-selling hard seltzer today. It could also be made from malted barley or champagne yeast, among other natural ingredients.
In this post, we’ll explore what makes White Claw and other hard seltzer brands so famous — right down to the drink's origins, alcohol content, and health benefits or the lack thereof.
“Seltzer” is a generic term for carbonated water or soda water. Its name came from a place called Niederselters, Germany, where it was originally a brand of naturally carbonated water. The natural springs in the Niederselters had high carbonation with low mineral content and so it was turned into a product, bottled and sold as far back as 1728. Immigrants from Europe brought it to the US and eventually came to be what was used to call any kind of carbonated water.
Because “seltzer” was never trademarked as a term, any soda water brand can use it on their product names. Furthermore, there are no legal specifications as to what it should contain or not contain, other than carbonated water. That brings us to hard seltzer which is essentially a “spiked” seltzer. It is generally considered a “highball” drink — a mixture composed of an alcoholic base spirit and a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer, often a carbonated beverage.
The frenzy surrounding White Claw is that many consider the sparkling beverage as "vodka soda in a can". To the untrained palate, the drink does resemble everyone’s favorite refreshing cocktail from the bar. But the fact of the matter is this: White Claw is definitely not a vodka soda. So what exactly is it?
Technically, White Claw is a flavored malt beverage. A malt beverage is made by the alcoholic fermentation of malted barley and hops. Other cereals, malted or unmalted, and other carbohydrates may be included. This makes sense because White Claw is owned by Mark Anthony Brands, the pioneer of the flavored malt category by launching Mike's Hard. The company introduced White Claw in 2016 with nine different 100-calorie flavors.
The official answer to the question, as told by one of the brand’s representatives, is that White Claw is “a blend of seltzer water, its gluten-free alcohol base, and a hint of fruit flavor. The alcohol in White Claw Hard Seltzer comes from fermented sugars derived from malted gluten-free grains”. White Claw has 100 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates per 355 mL can, with an alcohol content of only 5%.
While White Claw accounts for a whopping 58.6% of the market share, other brands are doing pretty good for themselves during this whole hard seltzer mania.
This brand comes a distant second to White Claw in terms of sales (21.8% market share) but is nonetheless a powerful player in the hard seltzer arena. Truly Hard Seltzer also debuted in 2016 and was then named “Truly Spiked and Sparkling” until “Spiked and Sparkling” was swapped out for “Hard Seltzer” in 2019.
One of the latest brands to hop on the bandwagon after launching in January 2020, Bud Light Seltzer became so hot so fast that it already holds a spot as the third biggest seltzer in the US.
The name is a play on the French phrase bon vivant which means “the life of the party”, but is also based on two fictional founders, named Bonnie and Vivian. They’re the mermaids on the front packaging of each can.
Smirnoff released their very own spiked seltzer in the same year as White Claw and Truly, and immediately it became a top contender in the industry. Their version takes on a similar flavor profile to the popular Smirnoff Ice.
When Constellation Brands launched the Corona Hard Seltzer in the spring of 2020, it immediately leaped to the number 4 spot in the US hard seltzer category, mostly due to its $40 million marketing budget. It’s the last brand to join the seltzer party, but that hardly matters now as its staying power is likely to remain just like its brand’s beer counterpart.
The popularity of hard seltzers peaked in 2019, especially during what will forever be affectionately dubbed as “the summer of seltzer”. It has shown no signs of decline this year and will most likely stay that way soon, especially with Coca-Cola entering the hard seltzer market in 2021.
This sudden and colossal interest in hard seltzers is considered by many as the biggest shift since the introduction of light beer in the 1970s. As a result, every major beer company has at least one hard seltzer on the market, especially that beer continues to lose market share in favor of less alcoholic, less caloric options.
Currently a $550 million business, hard seltzers are projected to keep growing. Analysts are saying that it will be a billion-dollar industry by 2021. That’s not hard to believe, considering that sales of hard seltzer have grown about 200% over the past year.
It’s no surprise that millennials (born between 1982-1999) are the core demographic for hard seltzers. It was unprecedented the way White Claw, Truly and Bon & Viv hard seltzer sales skyrocketed just between June to August of 2019. It was so huge that those 3 brands alone outsold the top six beer brands combined.
Millennial drinkers are more likely to go for flavored malt alcoholic beverages, most commonly hard lemonade and prepared cocktails than other drinkers from another age bracket. That plus the fact that they’re already the foremost consumer of flavored sparkling water even before the summer of seltzer happened.
Another reason could be because this demographic is also more likely to be health-conscious and body-conscious compared to others. These are the people who like to count calories and give huge importance to physical attractiveness, exercise, and physical activity. Giving them something like White Claw, with all its low-carb, low-calorie attributes, is basically like creating the official drink of an entire generation.
Now, “White Claaaaaaaw!” is the new battle cry of spring break regulars and frat boys all over the US, and also sparked the now-popular adage, “Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws”. It is even the subject of a viral video about the hysteria over the sparkling alcoholic drink.
A lot of people think that just because White Claw and other brands are sold in grocery stores next to club sodas and ginger beer, a can of hard seltzer to them is like the innocent kind of alcohol with a halo above its head. On paper, hard seltzers are lower in carbohydrates and calories than other alcoholic beverages, but that’s not a lot to go on with when talking about “health benefits”.
On the pros column, it’s already established that hard seltzers are low in calories and carbs. Numbers-wise, it’s a safer type of alcohol compared to a regular beer, a martini, or a margarita. But on the flip side, health experts also warn that these very safe-sounding attributes — the low calories, the low carbs, and the low alcohol — are the very things that make hard seltzers dangerous. How? Binge drinking.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), having 4 or more alcoholic beverages for women or 5 or more alcoholic beverages for men over 2 to 3 hours is considered binge drinking.
Binge drinking puts people at risk of accidents, injuries, and other long term negative health effects. They’re also at increased risk of alcohol poisoning, a serious and potentially deadly effect of drinking too much alcohol over a short period. People who binge are usually drinking beyond their normal levels, and drinks like hard seltzers reinforce that by giving them the idea that it’s safe to drink no matter how many cans you consume.
That being said, one can deduce that the only real problem with drinking hard seltzers is that it could make you drink a lot — which, if you think about it, is a problem with any other drink anyway. Is it safe to drink? Definitely. Is it nutritious? Not even close.
Being aware what alcohol is in White Claw and other hard seltzers helps you drink in moderation and somehow gives you control over indulging in a can or not. Hard seltzers are here to stay and it’s only a matter of time until the variety of options will reach older demographics as well, and maybe we’ll all be shouting “White Claaaaaaaw!” next summer.
Did you enjoy reading about hard seltzers? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Really interesting post!