We're Officially In A Spiked Seltzer Bubble

I was on Twitter Tuesday night when I learned that Four Loko, ruiner of college livers everywhere from the years of 2009-2011, was coming out with a hard seltzer. In true Four Loko fashion, each can is 14% ABV, which is higher than a glass of wine. “Jesus Christ,” I said to myself (and then, approximately six seconds later, to my Twitter followers). “I’m going to end up in the morgue once these things hit shelves.” We all joked “Four Lokos walked so spiked seltzers could run” enough times that Four Loko called our bluff and f*cking ran all the way with it.

This came just one day after Natural Light, equal ruiner of college livers everywhere, announced its two new seltzers, puzzlingly named Catalina Lime Mixer and Aloha Beaches.

When the two drinks you equate to puking in a communal toilet have graduated to a beverage you would bring to a barbecue, we have officially reached a spiked seltzer bubble. 

I first became aware of spiked seltzers as a concept in 2015, when we wrote an article about its existence. At the time, we wrote, “Spiked Seltzer is a refreshing, bubbly alcoholic seltzer drink that betches will love for being low carb, all natural, and this year’s hottest trend that no one really understands and never legitimately follows: gluten free!” Honestly, still true. Back in 2015, BON & VIV was one of, if not the, only companies making hard seltzers, and its mermaid logo became iconic. But, I’ll be honest, even though I knew spiked seltzers existed, I’d had maybe a few at my brother’s apartment (his roommate and his girlfriend were big on them and always had some in the fridge). They existed, but they were not really a ~thing~. They were more of a novelty than a go-to drink.

Until the summer of 2019. 

Fast forward four years, and spiked seltzers are everywhere. BON & VIV no longer has the monopoly on the alcoholic sparkling water market, with companies like White Claw and Truly in the mix, plus apparently every other alcohol brand racing to invent their own equivalent. And, look, I’m not just making this up from anecdotal evidence. Chelsea Phillips, Vice President, Beyond Beer Brands at Anheuser-Busch, said, “It’s no secret this is the year of hard seltzer.” She added, “BON & VIV has seen tremendous growth since our founder Nick Shields invented the category back in 2013.”

Nowhere is that growth more evident (besides your friend groups) than on Twitter and Instagram. Memes about all types of alcoholic seltzer have cropped up, seemingly out of nowhere, with each brand getting its own unofficial slogan and accompanying fanbase. You’ve got “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws,” a battle cry uniting all those who have ever gotten wasted and made a bad decision, especially when day drinking was involved. (So, all of us.) 

In the other corner, you’ve got the smaller but mighty “Let’s get unruly with Truly” and its variants. 

Whatever team you’re on—and truthfully, I’ve yet to meet a single person who solely drinks one type of spiked seltzer—it’s clear we are f*cking obsessed with spiked seltzers.

How did this happen? Last summer, it was all about rosé and its frozen counterpart, frosé. Millennial pink, Instagrammable, and slightly bourgeois to pronounce, it’s no wonder it took over the internet. This summer was poised to be dedicated to the aperol spritz—bright orange and equally eye-catching—and then somehow, spiked seltzers muscled their way into our Twitter and Instagram feeds, backyard parties, and even bars, with bars selling cans of White Claw and, in the case of one of my local dives, offering Truly on tap.

As for how exactly we got here, it’s actually pretty simple to piece together. The popularity of hard seltzers can pretty easily be traced back to that of its sober counterpart: regular seltzer. But not just any seltzer—LaCroix. No brand of seltzer blew up quite as astronomically as LaCroix, with its ubiquitous sh*tty script, weird neon cloud design, and subtle flavors that spawned a million jokes, like “LaCroix tastes like someone whispered the word ‘banana’ in another room.” 

It’s not shocking that the popularity of hard seltzer is due in part to the success of LaCroix, considering Phillips says, “we’ve heard consumers refer to BON & VIV Spiked Seltzer as a ‘boozy LaCroix’ more than a few times.” What many millennials who swear by the stuff probably don’t know is that LaCroix has been around since 1981. Yes, it existed even before there was Twitter on which to make jokes about it, or Instagram on which to post pictures of fridges stocked full of it. But LaCroix really started to blow up in 2015—two years after BON & VIV was invented. That year, LaCroix sales tripled, pulling in $175 to $226 million dollars a year. The reasons are pretty simple: LaCroix’s eye-catching packaging, combined with consumers’ flock to healthier alternatives to soda, and a few savvy marketing techniques (to simplify the phenomenon) created the force it’s known as today.

Then, if you have two brain cells to rub together, you can take a guess that people’s desire to make healthy drink choices doesn’t stop at their alcoholic beverages. Phillips states, “Hard seltzer’s growth path mirrors that of non-alcoholic seltzer.” She explains, We find our key consumers are health-aware men and women who want something that tastes great, requiring no sacrifices.”

I was sitting in my friend’s backyard a few weeks ago, where we had blown up a kiddie pool to turn an ordinary Sunday afternoon into a makeshift pool party. A group of guys we knew showed up, toting a box of BON & VIV. My roommate turned to me, sipping from her can of hard seltzer.

“It’s funny,” she says. “Spiked seltzers are basically just wine coolers, which guys in the past would make fun of us for liking. But now they’re all obsessed with spiked seltzers.”

Coming in brightly colored cans and fruity tasting, I would have thought bros everywhere would be eschewing these drinks, clinging desperately to their masculinity. But the opposite has happened. In fact, men are embracing seltzers so much that the term “White Claw Bros” is a thing.

I asked a few male friends, and they disagreed with me that hard seltzers are seen as “girly” drinks in the first place (more on that problematic characterization in a sec). Mike, 35, said, “I think the perception about ‘girl drinks’ is about how sugary and sweet they are, and I think that’s Mike’s Hard, Smirnoff Ice, etc. way more than spiked seltzer.” Melvin, 30, chimed in, “They’re easy on the stomach, not heavy, and the alcohol content isn’t high enough to where you’ll get sh*t faced if you just want to hang (like at a beach or bbq).”

Bruce, 38, says, “My first experience with the Claws was literally because I went to the beach with females and they brought like 24 of them. I brought beers, and then I saw black cherry and I was like ‘sh*t, I like black cherry’.” He adds, “I was already drinking LaCroix every so often, and a La Croix option with alcohol? Sheeeeeiiiittt.” 

Aron, 31, asserts, “They’re heavy on taste (especially mango!) and light on calories.” But also, he says, “on a side note: it’s always amusing to me how we as a society claim we want modern men who’re less focused on gender norms and yet we’re still having this conversation because deep down many women still seem to want ‘manly men’ and thus as men we need to justify why drinking a claw, or any drink deemed “girly,” is okay and isn’t dissonant or otherwise at odds with our identities as men.” And yes, he really said this—I will show you my group texts.

Phillips says the BON & VIV demo is “split even” but female-skewing. White Claw reps didn’t get back to me for comment, but I would assume their demographic is similar. Basically, the conclusion we as a group came to was, as Aron put it: “It’s just a great drink for everybody and men and women both appreciate a lot of the same characteristics” (taste, sugar content, calories, alcohol content). Or, as Bruce said, “You won’t feel like you went on a bender, fun for both genders.” After having four seltzers last week at the beach and feeling hungover by 9pm, I’m going to disagree with the “not feeling like you went on a bender” claim, but I’m here for the gender universality.

Whether or not spiked seltzers will reign supreme next summer remains to be seen. But for now, stock up on the brand of your choosing and crack one open. Because right now, we’re in a spiked seltzer bubble, and just like any trend—podcasts, festivals—this one is eventually going to burst.

Images: bonandviv / Instagram; sluttypuffin, ruthlee_, somecallmehay, pitchjokes, whiteclawcrew / Twitter

Sara Levine
Sara Levine
Sara cares about a few things, including cheese, cheap white wine (never chardonnay), and the Real Housewives of Potomac. She co-hosts Betches' Not Another True Crime Podcast and posts her tweets to Instagram.