As summer ebbs, it’s difficult to ignore the presence of hard seltzer this season. As its popularity waxes, craft brewers increasingly enter the frothy fray.
It’s tempting to dismiss seltzer as something of little substance — just another twist on boozy pop, perhaps. In fairness, pop was once hand-crafted at soda fountains — shot of syrup pumped into a tulip, covered with carbonated water. Soda jerks forever changed the American beverage landscape.
Business eggheads argue hard seltzer is here to stay, not fated to fizzle in the line of hard root beer, lemonade, etc. Why? Indeed. Evidently, the answer is rooted in a robust sparkling water market. Sparkling water sales are up in the U.S., pop sales down. Folks are shying away from the empty calories for which soft drinks are famous. Hard seltzer is the alcoholic analog. Bonus: few allergens. These changing tastes may be codified by the Brewers Association lifting the requirement that a majority of a brewery’s output must be based on traditional beer ingredients in order to de identified as “craft.”
Maybe it’s the old chef in me, but I like a hint of alchemy. I like to imagine a brewer surfing the elements, setting out on the adventure of fermentation. Turning his back at the pivotal point to mask the secret, or secret ingredient, like a grandmother unready to reveal the keystone to some signature recipe. Seltzer seems sort of insipid by contrast. To be fair once more, I do suppose there is the potential for romance in the ingredients. Consider again that drugstore soda jerk, as-likely-as-not poaching from the apothecary’s wares to assemble aromatic elixirs to make magic in his carbonated water. Of course the carbonation itself increases pressure in the stomach expediting the release of his elixir’s active ingredients into the bloodstream.
In contrast to all that, the allure of modern soft drink production is as cloying as the products themselves. But ... and I shade you not ... I had a blue cheese pop at Blue Sun Soda Shop up in Spring Lake Park that set me straight. It was surprisingly good. It sounds absurd, I realize. Such a feat should be impossible. There were other, less audacious, achievements as well, but this is another story. Point being: There is craftsmanship to be found here, even as you strip away the sugar. That revelation leased me a little latitude for brewers branching into hard seltzer. It’s understandable that tap rooms would choose to offer this alternative — and that it should catch on.
I appreciate Fair State Co-op’s approach with their Hard Water Brewed Seltzer, selecting whole ingredients that harken back to a time the design might’ve been to settle the stomach rather than strip tooth enamel. Lemongrass Ginger Lemon is a clean, dry and subtle reflection of its ingredients. Some will want something sweeter and overtly fruity. Lift Bridge’s St. Croix Berries brings that. I wouldn’t hesitate to have the former with Thai. The latter, maybe red sauce. Both are local breweries.