In a beverage industry that last year suddenly became inundated with alcoholic seltzers, it only seems natural that a product would come bubbling up from somewhere in the Vermont craft beverage industry.
It’s happened in Lamoille County twice, as Stowe Cider and Rock Art Brewery both dropped their own adult seltzer lines in the past month or so.
Neither beverage-maker knew the other was doing it, and both have distinctly different methods in their fermentation process.
Rock Art co-owner Renee Nadeau said her husband and lead brewer Matt started toying with the idea about five months ago, and brewed a couple of test batches before unveiling the finished products, a raspberry seltzer and a mango flavor carrying the label Vermont Spiked Seltzer.
She said it was a fairly simple switch for the veteran brewer to make a batch of seltzer, since many of the same techniques are used to brew beer, just with different ingredients.
“We can use all of the same equipment. Nothing changes,” she said.
Around the same time Rock Art was working on Vermont Spiked Seltzer, Stowe Cider was making its foray into the realm, with Stowe Craft Seltzer. It comes in four flavors — classic, citrus ginger, cranberry lime and blood orange.
“Neither of us had any idea the other was doing it,” said Mark Ray, co-owner of Stowe Cider. “We probably both wanted to be first on the scene.”
Business Insider magazine reported last year that the hard seltzer market was worth $550 million, up about 200 percent from the previous year, and cited industry analysis suggesting it could grow to $2.5 billion by 2021. That’s billion with a B.
White Claw, the queen of memes last year on social media, held a 50 percent market share last year, but anyone who has watched the NFL playoffs the past few weekends has seen Bud Light going big with its new line of seltzers.
Even Boston Beer Company, whose Samuel Adams was once the East Coast standard for microbrews, has a major player in the seltzer game, with its Truly line of fizzy lifting drinks.
And then there’s Four Loko, whose “hardest seltzer in the universe” packs a 12 percent alcohol content into its cans, because why the heck not.
Melissa Corbin, executive director of the Vermont Brewers Association, said the trade organization hasn’t surveyed its members to see who is experimenting with hard cider, but she said it’s a trend that’s hard to ignore.
The craft beer industry is nothing if not malleable — witness the move to double IPAs, wait, no, here come the sours, in a four-pack of 16-ounce cans, wait, here come the tall boys, and by the way does anyone remember bottles?
“I have to admit that there’s White Claw in my fridge,” Corbin said. “In the industry I’m in, beer can be a high-calorie thing, so I can see why there’s a demand for this.”
Renee Nadeau said when she met Matt in the late 1980s, pretty much all there was for beer was the stuff put out by Budweiser and its ilk. You might get lucky and find a Sam Adams on tap. She found vodka tonics more her style, and she’s fond of her company’s lime seltzer, coming soon.
“So, this is right up my alley,” she said, although she added she’s long become a craft beer fan and that’s what she’s sticking to. “But (seltzer) is good for people who come in and don’t like beer.”
Ray said Stowe Cider is more akin to a winery, and it uses the same methods making seltzer as it does for wine.
“It’s what we’re good at. We’re good at fermenting fruit,” he said. “I think it’s here to stay. People are looking for healthier alternatives and low calories.”
He said the cidery has advocated the “keep cider dry” ethos for years now, creating products without adding sugar, unlike other hard cider companies.
The seltzer follows that logic, containing no residual sugar.
Fans of Polar seltzer know just how far out there one can go with the flavors, and Stowe Cider plans to put out special one-offs after its base flavors — cranberry lime, blood orange and citrus ginger — take off.
“I don’t know if we’ll be making a gummy bear seltzer anytime soon, but maybe some abstract herbs like lavender or something,” he said. “We’re having fun with it, experimenting with all kind of flavors.”