As hard seltzer’s popularity continues to soar and hard lemonades bombard grocery store shelves, there’s another emerging category that’s growing at a remarkable rate: hard tea. A recent report from online alcohol retailer Drizly’s BevAlc Insights says that hard iced tea sales increased 462 percent in 2020 on its platform; Nielsen data reported a 34 percent increase in hard tea sales in the off-premise market overall.
Bringing in Southern comfort with sweet tea and botanical florality, the still and sparkling hard tea market is full of innovative options for any palate. The category is now the top-selling hard seltzer alternative on the off-premise market, with sales reaching over $582 million in 2020, according to Nielsen data.
Following in the footsteps of the original Twisted Tea, widely known hard seltzer brands like White Claw, Truly, and Bud Light Seltzer are also dipping their toes into the world of hard teas — some more successfully than others. While lemon-based teas mostly won the day of our tasting, some unexpected flavors were hits as well.
To uncover the best in this up-and-coming category, VinePair’s team of thirsty panelists cracked open dozens of cans of hard teas, both sparkling and still, to compile a ranking of the tastiest teas to take home — or on the go — this summer. Here are 15 hard teas that stood out from the pack, tasted and ranked.
15. Arnold Palmer Spiked Half and Half
This extremely sweet classic was practically made for fans of Arizona tea. Our panel gave this large, 1-pint can bonus points for authenticity and simplicity. With no bubbles and a honeyed taste, Arnold Palmer Spiked Half and Half is nostalgic, fun to drink, and we imagine it would be sipped readily at any pool party.
Coming from Long Island, N.Y.’s Blue Point Brewing Co., this aptly named LIIT (Long Island Iced Tea, but pronounced “lit”) veers away from the sweet tea formula used by the classic brands and opts instead for a hard tea seltzer recipe. This tart offering reminded our panelists of a sour beer, with infusions of hibiscus tea and a carbonation level that’s present and refreshing without overpowering the palate.
13. Bully Boy Italian Iced Tea
Aperol Spritz meets iced tea in this uniquely anise-scented product made with Italian amaro, black tea, and orange. Bully Boy’s Italian Iced Tea presents a nice tart taste that’s complex yet easy-drinking. While it may not be for everyone — and certainly not for those craving a classic Southern sweet tea — this liqueur-based beverage is certainly distinct and would make for a lovely al fresco apéritif.
12. Bud Light Seltzer Iced Tea Apple
A lighter alternative to hard cider, this crisp apple flavor emerged as the panel’s clear favorite of Bug Light Seltzer’s hard tea offerings. Actual tea flavor is barely perceptible, so this offering reads more like a fresh, summery apple seltzer with a hint of iced tea on the finish.
11. Cisco Brewery Hard Tea Island Lemon
Camellia sinensis — an East Asian plant often used to produce green tea — adds a floral perfume to this citrus-scented tea. A delicate balance of zesty lemon and a welcome kick of sweetness made this slightly fizzy tea a hit among the panel, which noted that this flavor’s strength lies in its subtlety.
The sweetness of lemon pound cake meets the brightness of plump blueberries in this boozy tea. Jasmine brings florality to offset the sweet fruit flavors, while also setting this offering apart from its predominantly black tea-based competitors.
A sleeper sensation, PBR’s line of hard tea seltzers generally impressed the panel with a lack of artificiality. Though its name is an amalgam of flavors, on the palate, this label reads much clearer: more tea than seltzer, but with a slight carbonation offering a welcome burst of prickly refreshment. Ripe raspberry cuts the bitterness of black tea for a balanced finish.
8. LIIT Hard Tea Seltzer Lemon
Botanical flavors sing on the palate for an elevated take on spiked tea from Blue Point Brewery. With delicate tastes of hibiscus and rooibos tea, this lightly carbonated beverage could easily replace your favorite summer spritz.
7. Narragansett Del’s Rhode Island Hard Tea
This hard tea comes out of another collaboration between Rhode Island’s Del’s Lemonade and one of the state’s most historic breweries, Narragansett Beer. The two New England staples have partnered in the past, coming out with the classic Del’s Shandy in 2014 and a variety of shandy flavors in 2019. Last June, they released this hard tea. With blue and yellow lettering, the can’s resemblance to Twisted Tea didn’t go unnoticed by our panelists, though its slightly sparkling mouthfeel set it apart.
6. White Claw Hard Seltzer Iced Tea Lemon
The brand that’s almost synonymous with hard seltzer has also proven successful in the hard tea space, with a natural, bright lemon taste that has all the flavors we crave in a cold glass of iced tea with a squeeze of lemon. While all of White Claw’s hard seltzer teas read more as seltzer than as tea with a crushable, fizzy mouthfeel, the lightness of this bubbly expression is begging to become a beach bag staple.
5. Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea and Botanicals Matcha
With a tropical feel and slightly vegetal aroma, this tea pleasantly surprised the panel with its ability to marry the bold flavors of pineapple and matcha seamlessly. Chamomile and honey offset the earthy, fruity notes that could have otherwise been overpowering.
4. Twisted Tea
As one of our panelists wisely said, “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” The product that laid the foundation for the hard tea trend when it launched in 2001, Twisted Tea is satisfyingly sweet, with a welcome hint of citrus. The beauty of “Twea” is its simplicity, and its lack of bubbles make it even easier to sip.
3. Cisco Brewery Hard Tea Atlantic Orange
Smelling of freshly expressed orange rind, this fragrant, lightly carbonated tea excites the senses. Its depth of flavor comes from rooibos — a South African herb known for its earthy, floral flavors often used for tea brewing — pairing nicely with the zingy sweetness of orange, achieving a flavor that’s crisp, natural, and easy-drinking.
2. Two Chicks Sparkling Vodka CuTea
Also standing out among the pack is this light and floral carbonated tea made with cucumber, peach, and thyme. This combination of flavors translates to an electrifying palate, and the herbal blend with fruity and refreshing flavors proves immensely satisfying on the taste buds. Bonus points for eye-catching floral packaging that matches this tea’s sophisticated flavors.
Pabst Blue Ribbon was not only the best, most authentic lemon tea flavor of the bunch, but also one of the most fresh flavors we tasted. With the zestiness of expressed lemon and the slight bitterness of black tea, this bubbly option is sessionable and would pair deliciously with everything from Southern-style pulled pork to a simple BLT.