While there are some sales numbers that suggest the hard seltzer category is slowing down and consumer preferences are shifting, there is still interest in the bubbly alcohol water and a chance for smaller producers to create a product that can have a solid impact on their home markets.
While there is already a lot of choice on the market and several brands have left the scene as quickly as they arrived, for small brewers who offer a hard seltzer in their taprooms, it can only help to add to the bottom line. There are several steps and considerations to follow before embarking down this sugary road.
“What we sought to do early was to make a really good base, which can be easily overlooked,” says Alex Meyer the Head Brewer of Colorado’s Upslope Brewing Co. which makes Spiked Snowmelt Hard Seltzers. “When we first started doing it we thought it was just straightforward, just fermented sugar water. It was a different approach to how we make beer.”
He noted that taking the time to learn about yeast nutrients, equipment, and flow process helped the brewery streamline the process and turn out a clean base liquid in a manageable amount of time.
Having a good base act as a canvas for all of the other flavors and ingredients that hard seltzer demands is critical. Finding the right flavor combinations is also important. It has been established that citrus flavors are always popular and tropical fruits can do no wrong, but for the small seltzer maker finding regional flavors that can resonate with a local consumer should be a focus.
Giving customers something that is familiar and offers a sense of place and that cannot be found from a larger producer can help a product stand out on the marketplace and in the minds of drinkers.
Meyer says the brewery was an early adaptor of hop oils in hard seltzer and has more recently been using electrolytes along with herbs, fruits, and more. The brewery is also been releasing higher alcohol seltzers, around 12% ABV, that are designed to be served over ice and are meant to compete with the ready to drink cocktail segment.
“We are always trying to keep new things coming out,” he says. In seltzer market you need to always come up with something new to stay relevant, it’s even more competitive than beer in that way.”
The keys to success are to stay within an ethos of the company, to focus on regionality and local flavors, and to continually remind customers that small batch offers are important. Combining all of that with a well-crafted product and there is still room to ride the clear wave.