Nothing is safe from the alcohol trend machine. Vodka comes in every flavor from peanut butter and jelly to smoked salmon. Hard cider had a moment, but then nostalgia overcame us all and hard soda took a bite out of the craft beer market. Now sparkling water — the drink that shot up in popularity partly as the La Croix lifeblood of Brooklyn hipsters — is part of the alcohol movement.
Companies like Boston Beer Company (which makes Sam Adams) are in on the trend with Truly Spiked & Sparkling, as well as alcohol trendsetter Mark Anthony Brands with its White Claw Hard Seltzer. Then there’s the aptly named SpikedSeltzer, which was started by Nick Shields and Dave Holmes and is part of Boathouse Beverage LLC.
Alcoholic sparkling water didn’t come out of nowhere. The bottled carbonated water market grew more than 150 percent from 2001 to 2015, Marketwatch reports, and flavored water has grown 400 percent. They’re slightly sweet, low calorie and, to capitalize even more on trends, gluten free. An alcoholic version just seems like the next natural step.
“We’ve seen fads come and go,” Jeremy Kosmicki, the brewmaster at Founders Brewing Company, told me in September. Cider, he said, was supposed to dominate the market until it leveled out, and he expects hard soda to do the same. “Or how about alcohol water. Like, what? That doesn’t seem like a good idea at all.”
SpikedSeltzer started in 2013 and made it into the New York City market in 2015. So it’s at least had a three-year staying power and appears to be growing.
Standing in the impossibly long checkout line at the Trader Joe’s in lower Manhattan, I spotted a variety 12 pack of SpikedSeltzer for $16.99. Good idea or not, it was right there.
It comes with four flavors: Indian River Grapefruit, Valencia Orange, West Indies Lime and Cape Cod Cranberry. All the variety packs were opened and the grapefruit cans were taken out, so it apparently has a market of some sort — a fact the cashier confirmed, although he also added they sold faster in the summer.
Back at the VinePair office, we opened each flavor (minus the missing grapefruit). All of them tasted like what you’d expect from a lightly sweetened seltzer. And that’s all it tasted like: seltzer, sans alcohol. There’s some alcohol in the smell, and a slight alcohol taste stays in the back of your throat, but to a totally unsuspecting and unknowing person, it could just as easily be a non-alcoholic seltzer.
SpikedSeltzer comes in at 6 percent alcohol by volume, and here’s where the “not a good idea” part can come into play. People will down alcohol that doesn’t taste like alcohol much faster than, say, tequila shots. Studies have found that carbonation increases the absorption rate of alcohol. Put those both together and SpikedSeltzer proves itself a drink that can sneak up on you to get you drunk fast without you even realizing it.
But for the responsible, seltzer-loving adults out there, SpikedSeltzer seems like a product that is meant to be. It’s got six ingredients, 140 calories (120 of which come from the alcohol) and has five grams of sugar. And the brightly colored, mermaid-logo cans are a fashionable, less depressing way to imbibe alcoholic, flavored sparkling water than dumping vodka in your La Croix.
In all honesty, it’s amazing it took alcoholic sparkling water this long to hit the supermarket shelves.