After the rise of the highball, could the next big trend for British drinkers be the “hard seltzer”?
The US has seen phenomenal growth in hard seltzers which are a blend of carbonated water and alcohol, usually with added fruit flavourings. According to Nielsen data, sales of pre-packaged hard seltzers in the US have grown 200% year on year, with UBS predicting the $550 million (£425 million) category could grow to reach $2.5 billion (£1.9 billion) by 2021.
Leading brands of canned hard seltzers in the US include White Claw, with flavours including mango, black cherry and lime, and Truly, available in pomegranate, passion fruit, pineapple and mango – all at 5% ABV. White Claw is reportedly being eyed up for a UK launch but, for now, the nearest equivalent in the UK would be alcoholic spritzers. One challenge is the word “hard” which is a distinctly American term for alcoholic drinks – if cider isn’t described as “hard” in the US, it’s simply apple juice.
However, the team at Diageo’s scotch whisky J&B Rare have already embraced this trend, promoting the historic brand as a base for “hard seltzers”. At an event at London whisky bar Black Rock this week, leading drinks experts Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison from World’s Best Spirits presented ideas for making your own hard seltzers at home or in a bar.
This concept taps into the history of J&B Rare itself which was developed by Justerini & Brooks in the 1930s as a light-bodied scotch specifically to appeal to the American palate after the end of Prohibition. The brand has continued to thrive over the years but its current owner Diageo is now promoting its mixability, and this is where the hard seltzer comes in.
For the presentation at Black Rock, Neil and Joel provided a selection of naturally infused waters including cinnamon and apple, cucumber and mint, lemon and lime, and fresh ginger (pictured). After adding this to 25ml, or 50ml, of J&B Rare over ice, there was the added option of bitters, drawn from the Fee Brothers line-up including rhubarb, plum, grapefruit, cherry and apple – fruity flavours that they felt complemented the whisky serve. The choice of garnishes included cherries, rosemary and lemon peel. Pictured top are two of the hard seltzers created by cocktail expert and Instagrammer Harp Mann, aka MixMann, who opted for visual appeal and lots of flavour.
“The concept of hard seltzers is all about flavour,” Joel explains, “looking at whisky through the lens of mixability. It’s introducing people to a fun way to enjoy whisky.” As Neil adds, “Hard seltzers are massive in America at the moment. It’s now tipped to come over here.”