Sussing Out Spiked Seltzer

In summer, it’s the right choice to spend as much time as you can with friends outside on a porch or patio. It’s also an excellent choice when porching, (my technical term), to have a cold, refreshing beverage.

One of my favorite summer beverages is a spiked seltzer. It’s refreshing, light, and often a lower-calorie choice. Last summer, it was a newish beverage with few options But this summer, the spiked seltzer industry has exploded.

I recently convinced several friends – in the name of science and journalism – to sample several brands and share their thoughts.

Eight brands are reviewed here: Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, Crook & Marker, Golden Road Spiked Agua Fresca, Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water, Mighty Swell Spritzers, Truly Spiked & Sparkling, White Claw Hard Seltzer, and Willie’s Superbrew.

I got everything at Oliver’s Beverage Center at 105 Colvin Ave., Albany. They have a wide variety of beverages, including some of the newest spiked seltzers on the market. The brands reviewed are a mix of newer products and some that have been around for a while.

For consistency, I chose to review flavors that were either lemon or lime, or some derivation of the two. Each reviewer was asked to give each sample an overall rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, and was asked to think about aroma, flavor, aftertaste, and design of the can.

Our reasoning on that last category: Sometimes good design might hoodwink you into purchasing a bad seltzer, and sometimes bad design might make you pass a good one over.

It turns out that opinions on spiked seltzer vary widely. Some brands generated consensus, while others were divisive. Keep in mind, these drinks are not terribly strong. If that’s what you’re looking for, opt for a nice gin or vodka tonic.

Before this sampling, I was a die-hard White Claw fan – especially their new mango flavor. But after this sampling, I’m now on board with Crook & Marker. It has great, unusual flavors, but remains very low calorie and carb.

Happy porching!

1) Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer
Flavor: Lemon Lime
Calories: 90
Carbohydrates: 2
Sugars: 0
ABV %: 4.5
Overall Rating: 3.2

Reviewers liked the natural, citrusy smell, but thought the flavor didn’t deliver. Some described this as nice and citrusy, while others felt it was too medicinal. Most agreed that the aftertaste had a strong metallic flavor. High marks on the appearance – most people loved the mermaid motif.

Notable quote: “The mermaid one is better if you chug it, but not much better.”

2) Crook & Marker
Flavor: Strawberry Lemon
Calories: 80
Carbohydrates: 3
Sugars: 0
ABV %: 4
Overall Rating: 3.5

Most reviewers agreed this smelled and tasted like not-yet-set strawberry Jello – but bizarrely, in a good, adult-like way. You couldn’t taste the lemon or any citrus, which was disappointing. There is a saccharine aftertaste that some reviewers didn’t mind and others did. The can design is bold and was appreciated.

Notable quote: “Oh my goodness! This smells just like Frankenberry!”

3) Golden Road Spiked Agua Fresca
Flavor: Cucumber Lime
Carbohydrates: 5
Sugars: Unsure, hard to find
ABV %: 4
Overall Rating: 4

This was by far the most well-received of the different brands. The cucumber-lime flavor was innovative, refreshing, and interesting – bold, but not overly sweet. However, if you’re looking to watch your sugar and carb intake, this one’s not for you. The carbs are higher than most competitors, and vary widely depending the flavor.

Notable quote: “I love this! It’s just so cucumber-y! It even smells like a cucumber!”

4) Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water
Flavor: Lemon Lime
Calories: 88
Carbohydrates: 1.7
Sugars: 0
ABV %: 4.2
Overall Rating: 2.3

This ranked the lowest of all sampled brands. It also has among lowest the calories and carbs. Most reviewers did not appreciate the strong can taste and aftertaste, and felt both the carbonation and flavor were weak. Everyone agreed this might be best as a mixer. The polka dot design on the can got high marks.

Notable quote: “I think maybe if I put a shot of vodka or gin in here it wouldn’t taste that bad? (Takes another sip). Actually, make that a couple of shots. And lots of ice.”

5) Mighty Swell Spritzers
Flavor: Cherry Lime
Calories: 120
Carbohydrates: 4
Sugars: 4
ABV: 5
Overall Rating: 3.2

This reminded most of reviewers of cherry cough medicine – thanks to the aftertaste. This might sound like a big turn off, but several reviewers were surprised by how much they liked it. One felt it tasted like watered down Kool-Aid, in a good way. Calories and carbs are on the higher end, but reasonable. All agreed the taste is pretty strong, and the design mediocre.

Notable quote: “This tastes just like a Luden’s cough drop, but in a really good way, kind of like all of those 80’s cherry flavors wrapped up for grown-ups.”

6) Truly Spiked & Sparkling
Flavor: Lime
Calories: 100
Carbohydrates: 2
Sugars: 1
ABV %: 5
Overall Rating: 2.7

This is one of Oliver’s best selling brands. But across the board, reviewers were turned off by the strong can aftertaste. The flavor was light. Again, the general consensus was this would be better as a mixer.

Notable quote: “Smells like iocane powder, I’d bet my life on it! I’m not even kidding.”

7) White Claw Hard Seltzer
Flavor: Natural Lime
Calories: 100
Carbohydrates: 2
Sugars: 2
ABV %: 5
Overall Rating: 3.1

If you are looking for a lower calorie/carb beverage that is generally refreshing, this isn’t an offensive choice. However, it’s not a really inspiring choice, either. There was a nice lime flavor, but it was as blah as its design.

Notable quote: “It kind of tastes like you just let a drink get watered down by ice and then drank it.”

8) Willie’s Superbrew
Flavor: Sparkling Ginger & Lemon
Calories: 120
Carbohydrates: 8
Sugars: 8
ABV %: 4.5
Overall Rating: 3

This was the most divisive of the brands tasted with the ratings going from 1 to 5 by our reviewers. Some people loved the unusual ginger flavor and praised it for being totally different than other spiked seltzers, others thought it tasted like you were drinking patchouli or licking deodorant. The can design had mixed reviews as well, with some admiring the “abstract expressionism” feel and others feeling it was just “okay.”

Notable quote: “Oh my god, this tastes like someone made me walk into a hippie shop and chug my grandma’s perfume!”

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