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14 best hard seltzers to have on your radar this summer

Love it or hate it, the much-hyped fizzy booze is bang on trend

Claire Dodd
Monday 24 May 2021 12:06 BST
<p>Essentially a boozy sparkling water, brands use an array of alcoholic bases for their hard seltzers, from gin to vodka</p>

Essentially a boozy sparkling water, brands use an array of alcoholic bases for their hard seltzers, from gin to vodka

Hard seltzers made their way over from the US last year, and in a flurry of new launches, attempted to dominate the summer. Tipped by us as one of the big drinks trends to look out for, this year they’re back in earnest with an astonishing number of new launches coming from British and US brands alike.

Marketed on their appeal as a better-for-you, lower calorie option, and packed in convenient single-serve cans, shrewd minds would say they’re well-placed to take advantage of another summer dominated by greater health awareness, as well outdoor gatherings.

But what exactly is a hard seltzer? Simply put, they are an alcoholic, flavoured sparkling water. Low-ish ABV, low calorie and often low sugar, gluten-free, or with no added sweeteners (though not all), brand owners use an array of different booze bases – from gin and vodka to fermented fruit and cane sugar, or a neutral grain spirit, and even now white rum.

They aren’t claiming to be the most flavoursome, characterful drinks out there, but if you’re looking for a lighter pre-mixed option – or you simply don’t enjoy boozy-tasting drinks – then there’s a wide array of tasty flavour choices.

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From our taste testing – which this year included a staggering 60 flavours from over 24 different brands – we found a very varied approach when it comes to quality. Where some brands proudly display sugar-free claims on cans, others opt to use artificial sweeteners or sugar (while still being low calorie) to boost their appeal to consumers that like things more on the sweet side. We’ve made that clear in our list.

We’re looking for a balance of flavour, light and clean liquids that don’t feel cloying, and that simply put, that we’d be happy to drink more than one of. Here’s our round-up of the best.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent. 

The best hard seltzers for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Dalston’s hard seltzer, rhubarb, 4%: £26,
  • Best for functional benefits – Whisp alcoholic sparkling water, cucumber and mint, 4%: £10,
  • Best for floral flavours – Bodega Bay elderflower, lemon & mint alcoholic sparkling water, 4%: £23.99,
  • Best lighter option – Two Days vodka raspberry soda, 3%: £29.95,
  • Best for sustainable sipping – Served lime, 4%: £10,
  • Best for a picnic treat – East London Liquor Co, pomegranate & vodka seltzer, 4%: £24,
  • Best for a day at the beach – High Water, lemon and elderflower premium alcoholic sparkling water, 5%: £3.75,
  • Best for fruit fans – Funkin passion & mango sparkling water & vodka, 4.5%: £2.50
  • Best for natural flavours – BrewDog clean & press, crushed mango and white peach, 5%: £9.75,
  • Best for cooling refreshment – Two Books alcoholic sparkling water lime cooler, 4%: £20,
  • Best for a bit of a change – Island Bay hard seltzer, watermelon, 5%: £15,
  • Best for mixing cocktails – Long Shot grapefruit, 4%: £26.50,
  • Best trend setters – White Claw black cherry, 4.5%: £2.50,
  • Best for summer sipping – Fountain hard seltzer, mango, 5%: £25,

Dalston’s hard seltzer, 4%, 330ml, pack of 12

Best: Overall

The tricky ask of a hard seltzer is to have enough fruity flavour, but not taste at all artificial, and all while still remaining clean and light. This is water after-all. Dalston – erstwhile makers of craft sodas – have taken on the hard stuff with their first alcoholic product. Founder Duncan O’Brien says the drinks “are based around finding one really great ingredient and showing it off simply.” And there’s a grapefruit or rhubarb option to choose from.

We’ve chosen the latter for its true-to-life rhubarb taste; not overpowering, but definitely there. There’s also a slightly creamy finish, a big mouthfeel without it feeling cloying, and overall, a crisp cleanness to it. It may sound obvious to say, but having a good quality seltzer base that’s discernable alongside the fruit flavour, hasn’t been ignored here. Made with vodka, there’s no-added sugar or artificial sweeteners, and each can is gluten-free, and under 90 calories.

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Whisp alcoholic sparkling water, cucumber and mint, 4%, 250ml, pack of 4

Best: Functional benefits

It can’t have escaped your notice if you’ve made it this far down our list, that one of the main selling points of hard seltzers is their better-for-you credentials. That is to say, strictly speaking, they’re less bad for you than many other alcoholic drinks. However, the Whisp brand is aiming to take things one step further. Both drinks in the range – which also includes fruity option, raspberry and elderflower – contain milk thistle, said to target inflammation and support a healthy liver.

Flavour-wise, many seltzers containing mint can come off a little too menthol. Whisp instead takes more of a culinary approach, with the mint not shouting over the cucumber, but rather adding a little nuance to it. In fact, it’s the cucumber that’s the dominant flavour here, and again, it feels true-to-life. We can envisage this pairing with beautiful fresh salads, and minted lamb burgers from the BBQ. Another one on the lighter side, this is just 63 calories per can. It’s also vegan, gluten-free, with no added sugar, sweeteners or preservatives.

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Bodega Bay elderflower, lemon & mint alcoholic sparkling water, 4%, 250ml, pack of 12

Best: For floral flavours

One of the early birds in the UK hard seltzer scene, Bodega Bay launched in 2019 with two flavours (apple with ginger and açai berry, and elderflower with lemon and mint), and have since added a third (cherry, mango and goji berry). Neatly avoiding the overly syrupy taste some brands stray into, they’re flavourful but still feel light.

For us, the elderflower stands out to us for its delicate, but bold and fresh floral flavours. Buy them as a single or mixed flavour pack. The brand has also pledged to donate one per cent of all its sales to the Thirst Project, which brings clean drinking water to people in need across 13 countries worldwide. All flavours are 73 calories per can, contain 4.5g of naturally occurring sugars, are vegan-friendly and gluten-free.

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Two Days vodka raspberry soda, 3%: £29.95 for 12 x 330ml

Best: Lighter option

The story behind Two Days goes that founders Elise Marks and Brendan Bennett, discovered lighter session-able drinks while on a trip to Canada, and launched their own upon returning to the UK during the height of lockdown. Described as being so low-strength they’re suitable for all-day hangouts with friends, relaxing at home, or even a post gym treat, the drinks are made from a single measure of five-times distilled British vodka, lightly sparkling water and fruit extract. They are also gluten-free, vegan and keto friendly, and under 63 calories a can. Though there’s also a vodka lime soda in the range, our pick is Raspberry, for its satisfying hit of berry fruit.

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Served lime, 4%, 250ml, pack of 4

Best: For sustainable sipping

Served claims the honour of being the first hard seltzer brand to feature on a menu of a World’s 50 Best Bars, listed as it is, at the acclaimed Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel, where it’s been used in two of its cocktails. The brainchild of brothers and former restaurateurs Ryan and Dean Ginsberg, clocks in with one of the lowest calorie counts on our list, at just 57 calories per can, and has zero sugar.

Made with sustainably sourced “wonky” fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste, Served is available in a raspberry flavour also. But it’s the clean refreshment of the lime variety we like best. Sipping like a fresh lime and soda, it’s crisp and lightly zesty. Also, five per cent of profits will be invested into environmental projects, including those working to save critically endangered species around the world.

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East London Liquor Co, pomegranate & vodka seltzer, 4%, 250ml, pack of 12

Best: For a picnic treat

You may have noticed that numerous hard seltzer brands don’t actually stipulate what alcohol type is actually in their cans, with many using a neutral grain spirit, or malt base instead. East London Liquor Co – Bow and Victoria Park’s purveyor of gins, rums, whiskies, and vodkas – is one of the few that does. Made with the brand’s 100 per cent wheat vodka, produced in Bow Wharf, they include all-natural ingredients, no preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and clock in at 88 calories per can.

Though the lime & vodka flavour is sharp and quaffable, it’s the pomegranate we’re opting for, due to its winning combination of being both a fruity, and a little dry, meaning the natural qualities of the fruit come through, while offering a bold enough burst of flavour without it feeling artificial or synthetic, a common pitfall of lesser quality liquids.

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High Water lemon and elderflower premium alcoholic sparkling water, 5%, 250ml

Best: For a day at the beach

As the name and packaging suggest, High Water has been made with outdoor drinking in mind; be it at the beach, a BBQ or a picnic in a beauty spot. We absolutely love the delicate cucumber and mint flavour, which we can see mixing well with some elderflower liqueur and a touch of prosecco to make a bright and refreshing summer cocktail. Naughty.

But for sipping straight from the can, we’re opting for the fruity, floral, and even a little herbal lemon and elderflower, which clocks in at 98 calories a can. All use triple distilled vodka as a base, mixed with Cotswolds spring water. And with sustainability in mind, one per cent of all profits will be donated to UK marine conservation charity, Just One Ocean. Get the windbreakers ready.

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Funkin passion and mango sparkling water and vodka, 4.5%, 330ml

Best: For fruit fans

Cocktail brand Funkin has recently joined the fray, with three flavours designed, it says, to appeal specifically to British tastes. There’s passion fruit and mango, strawberry and raspberry and lemon and lime. All contain triple distilled vodka, fruit flavours, and sparkling water, and all are 97 calories per can.

Our pick is the passion fruit and mango, which we have to say, very much reminds us of the peach flavoured sparkling spring waters we’re used to sipping when we’re swerving the booze. Fuller flavoured than many others on our list, it is still light and crisp.

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BrewDog clean and press, crushed mango and white peach, 5%, 330ml, pack of 4

Best: For natural flavours

With hard seltzer eating into beer sales in the US, many brewers Stateside have launched boozy waters over the past few years, and indeed a number of UK launches herald from brewers too.

But with BrewDog famous for marching to the beat of its own drum, what makes clean and press different from other seltzers? Well, rather than being fermented like a number of products on our list, the clean and press seltzer uses BrewDog’s own single malt vodka, rogue wave, as a base combined with sparkling Scottish water, and infused with natural fruit flavours. All are zero carb, zero sugar, and weigh in at 90 calories per can.

There’s currently three flavours in the range, including cactus and lime and crushed black cherry. All are more subtle and nuanced in flavour than many others here, which will likely divide those who like their drinks a little sweeter. But for those looking for something more natural tasting, we like the tropical style of crushed mango and white peach, with its underlying notes of coconut and vanilla.

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Two Books alcoholic sparkling water lime cooler, 4%, 250ml, pack of 12

Best: For cooling refreshment

Founded by London-based siblings Francesca and Fabio, the Two Brooks seltzer is made using a fruit spirit base derived from British apples. Add filtered sparkling water, and natural fruit flavours, and that’s it. Gluten-free, vegan-friendly and clocking in at 80 calories per can, the range is available in three flavours, including passion star, and mango hi-ball.

But we like the lime cooler best of all. The first thing you’ll notice is the strong mint aroma, which leans towards peppermint. In fact, even though there’s of course lime in here, the mint dominates, with the citrus coming in a clear second in the overall balance of flavours. Serve chilled with a mint or lime garnish.

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Island Bay hard seltzer, watermelon, 5%, 250ml, pack of 12

Best: For a bit of a change

Offering a welcome change from the plethora of mango, grapefruit and berry flavours that seem to dominate hard seltzers, is this watermelon option, which is fresh and juicy, and not too sweet. Island Bay is made from “natural flavours”, with zero added sugar, 70 calories per can, and is vegan and gluten-free. There’s also a strawberry flavour in the range which we rather fancy poured over ice, with a fresh strawberry and basil garnish. However, we do have to note there was something a little cloying here, with some flavours feeling a little sweet.

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Long Shot grapefruit, 4%, 250ml, pack of 12

Best: For mixing cocktails

The founders of Long Shot are on a mission to banish “artificial ingredients and fake flavours” from hard seltzers, and as such have made a point of sourcing fresh ingredients from within 20 miles of its Hertfordshire base. Though the range – which includes raspberry and blackberry, and strawberry and rhubarb and is made with a grain alcohol-base – can be sipped straight, they can also be used to make low calorie cocktails.

Add tequila and fresh lime to the grapefruit flavour to make a low calorie paloma. That said, if you’re looking for that sour, bitter grapefruit tang, you won’t find it here. Instead, the flavour when sipped on its own is much more delicate. The range is vegan, low-sugar, less than 70 calories per can, and keto friendly.

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White Claw black cherry, 4.5%, 330ml

Best: Trend setters

The brand that started it all, White Claw has become something of a cult hit in the US as the nation’s, albeit self-described, most successful new alcohol brand in a generation. Initially launched in the States in 2016 it now claims a whopping 60 per cent share of the market there, with the UK being its first overseas foray.

At 4.5 per cent ABV, there’s four flavours – black cherry, natural lime, raspberry, and their newest flavour, mango – which are 95 calories each and contain 2g of carbs, no artificial sweeteners, use natural flavours, and are gluten-free. We like the black cherry variant the best, for its slightly subtler, refreshing flavour.

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Fountain hard seltzer, mango, 5%, 355ml, pack of 12

Best: For summer sipping

American brand Fountain stands out for its stout, chubby cans, and groovy pack design, not to mention the wide array of flavours it’s available in. There’s a blueberry, tart cherry, and pineapple, all of which we felt had some odd flavour notes, at times a little medicinal, and sometimes even a little musty.

However, we did enjoy the slight hint of coconut in the mango, and couldn’t help but try it in a lighter spin on a piña colada. Hands up, with a splash of rum, a little coconut and smidge of pineapple juice, it was a very, very liberal interpretation. Made with a gluten-free fermented alcohol base, and curiously, “real New York City water”, there’s 100 calories per can.

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The verdict: Hard seltzers

A good hard seltzer is one we’d want to return to, and have more than one without it feeling cloying. And quite honestly, for a product that markets itself on natural and better-for-you claims, it shouldn’t taste artificial. On this point, many of the products that didn’t make our list failed.

We’ve chosen Dalston’s rhubarb hard seltzer as our best buy for its ability to neatly straddle having a true-to-life fruit flavour that’s interesting enough to keep our attention, all while still feeling light and crisp.

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Fore more tipples, why not try our best canned wines – perfect for packing in your picnic basket

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