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 the Vermont craft beverage front.
Forbes reported last year that the hard seltzer market was worth $1.3 billion, up about 300 percent from the previous year, and the International Wines and Spirits Record predicts the U.S. hard seltzer category will triple by 2023.
White Claw, queen of the memes last year on social media, holds a nearly 60 percent market share, but companies like Anheuser-Busch (Bon & Viv, Natural Light Seltzer and the new Bud Light Seltzer), Polar (Arctic Summer, a collaboration with Harpoon Brewing), PBR and the rather unfortunately timed Corona are going big with new seltzer lines.
And there’s Four Loko, whose “hardest seltzer in the universe” packs a 12-percent alcohol content into its cans, because why the heck not.
In Vermont two beverage makers are clawing their way into the market: Stowe Cider and Rock Art Brewery both dropped their own adult seltzer lines earlier this year.
“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.”
Renee Nadeau, co-owner of the solar-powered Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville, said her husband and lead brewer Matt started toying with the idea last year, and brewed a couple of test batches before unveiling the finished products under the label Vermont Spiked Seltzer.
Nadeau 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. The seltzer is made with real fruit, contains no added sugar, and is free of gluten and hops.
“We can use all of the same equipment. Nothing changes,” Nadeau said.
Rock Art’s seltzer comes in at 4.5 percent ABV and 100 calories per serving, with flavors including black cherry, lime, mango and raspberry. It’s available in 12-ounce cans, and kegs by special order.
Around the same time Rock Art was working on Vermont Spiked Seltzer, Stowe Cider made its foray into the realm with Stowe Craft Seltzer.
It’s also made with real fruit, clocks in at 100 calories per 12 ounces and 5 percent ABV, and comes in flavors including classic, citrus ginger, cranberry lime and blood orange.
Ray said Stowe Cider 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.
Stowe Cider plans to put out special one-offs after its base flavors 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,” Ray said. “We’re having fun with it, experimenting with all kinds of flavors.”
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. She found vodka tonics more her style, and now her company’s lime seltzer is “right up my alley.”
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.
“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.”