The Hard Seltzer Masters 2022 resultsBy Melita Kiely
The lack of any real rules or regulations in the hard seltzer sector allows producers to let their creativity run wild, with impressive results, as discovered in this year’s blind tasting of what the industry has to offer.
Confidence in the future success of the hard seltzer market is high. Looking at the industry, all the signs indicate a prosperous future for this trendy tipple. The big players have been betting on the category’s lucrative future, and in January, Beam Suntory took a stake in Flying Embers, a hard seltzer and hard kombucha brand from California, US.
Analysts also predict optimistic times ahead for hard seltzers. The global hard seltzer market is expected to be worth US$49.4 billion by 2028, driven by demand for lower-ABV drinks, according to analysis firm Grand View Research. The US company believes the hard seltzer market will increase by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31.4% from 2021 to 2028 – that’s up from a value of US$5.6bn in 2020, according to Grand View Research.
As any serious spirit producer will know, a product’s longevity is intricately tied to the quality of the liquid inside the bottle – or in the case of The Hard Seltzer Masters, the can. A panel of expert judges assembled at the Ibis hotel in London Bridge, UK, last month to see what was on offer in the hard seltzer sector, and if producers are living up to the hype. Each entry was packed and shipped by Sensible to ensure all entries were tasted completely blind.
Sitting on the first panel were: Sarah Miller, founder of the Gin A Ding Ding blog; Ivan Dixon, independent spirits consultant; Emilia Wrelton, bar manager at Electric House private members’ club in London; and Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business magazine, and chair of The Global Spirits Masters.
A second team of judges, chaired by Bernadette Pamplin, freelance spirits writer and founder of the Under the Ginfluence blog, included: Evan Prousaefs, bar manager and assistant general manager of the Los Mochis restaurant in Notting Hill; and Alan Uresti, head of agave spirits at Annabel’s in London.
The third panel was chaired by David T Smith, spirits consultant, writer and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo; and featured Dimple Athavia, founder of All Things Drinks; Sara Jane Davis, freelance spirits writer and founder of Negroni Club UK; and Christine Perrett, director of A Twist of Citrus, and The Spirits Hub.
A lasting impression
All three panels shared the opening flight: Spirit-Based Hard Seltzers. This was by far the biggest round of the competition – and the seven Master medals left a lasting impression on the judges.
Say Vodka Seltzer Grapefruit-Lemon secured the top award for its “lovely bright nose” full of “grapefruit and lemon”. Pamplin added: “The tartness of these flavours is captured really nicely on the palate before it turns slightly sweet, which gives a really nice weight to the drink.”
Yan Tan Damson & Rhubarb Hard Seltzer was awarded a Master medal after delivering flavours of “sweet stone fruits, and a touch of rhubarb spice”. Fellow Master medallist Mike’s Hard Seltzer Raspberry had “lush raspberry tartness” on the nose, which “carried throughout the journey onto the finish, leaving a nice round note”.
Long Shot Drinks delivered a double dose of Master winners: Pink Grapefruit Hard Seltzer, and Raspberry and Blackcurrant Hard Seltzer. Perrett found the Pink Grapefruit expression to offer “nice light carbonation and a tart finish that is perfectly balanced”. Smith said of the latter expression: “Lovely berry notes with sparkling water; excellent alcohol integration – really good.”
Pals Vodka, Central Otago, Peach, Passionfruit and Soda also bagged the top award. The Master medallist impressed with its “tart passion fruit and juicy, fresh peach” on the palate, and ability to ensure the overall product was “not too sweet, perfectly balanced”.
Completing the Master medal haul was High Water Mango and Peach. The hard seltzer showcased its “juicy, bold mango aroma” with “tinned peaches”. “Good carbonation and lovely juicy mango and peach flavours,” noted Kiely. “This would be a real crowd-pleaser – delicious and fruity.”
No fewer than 19 Gold medallists gave the opening round a boost. Among the award winners was “really refreshing and tasty” Féfé Cucumber and Eucalyptus. The French hard seltzer had a “fresh, vibrant aroma” with “punchy flavours on the palate – cucumber is fresh and the eucalyptus balances well”.
Allendale Brew Company bagged four Gold medals in this flight, including one for “bold, fruity” Ride Mango and Passionfruit, which impressed with “definite mango and passionfruit character”.
Bad Water picked up two Gold medals, one for Pink Grapefruit & Yuzu, and another for Cherries & Berries. A “zesty grapefruit aroma and pith bitterness on the palate” was a winning combination for the first variant. The second, meanwhile, had a “lovely fruitiness” on the palate and managed to avoid being “overly sweet – this had good balance”.
The first heat concluded with 17 Silver medals being awarded.
Wrelton described the round as “quite a seasonal category”, noting the vast assortment of fruity flavours sampled.
Dixon noted: “It’s interesting to see the wide range of flavours and experimentation that producers are going into. Flavour combinations seemed quite creative, innovative and imaginative. It’s great to see so much experimentation from a relatively young category.”
The judges’ attention then turned to a flight of Brewed expressions. Standing out from the crowd was Fellr Passionfruit, which was deemed deserving of a Master award. Tasting notes included “lovely passionfruit with some tannic tea notes – very inviting”.
Four Gold medals also kept the panellists happy. Young Heart Seltzer Pink Grapefruit and Orange Blossom won a Gold for its “good complexity and fizz”, and its “distinct pink grapefruit and orange blossom” notes. Yeaah Elderflower also took home Gold for having “big round elderflower notes on the nose”. Six Silver medals rounded off the flight.
Davis was left pleasantly surprised by the round: “It was really interesting to see such exciting flavour combinations elevated through the production method. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this flight.”
Three Master medallists were celebrated in the following Fermented flight. Young Heart Seltzer – Green Tea & Muscat Grape nabbed the top award for presenting “tannins from the green tea and some meadow florals” on the nose, leading to “hints of sweetness from the grape” when sipped.
Lovely lime lingers
The remaining two Master awards in this round went to Two Brooks. The producer’s Lime Cooler collected a Master medal for “doing exactly what it says”, with “a lovely zesty lime palate that lingers, with good carbonation”. Stablemate Two Brooks Mango Hi Ball bagged a Master for its “tropical and refreshing” qualities, with “forward and well-balanced mango”.
Seven Gold medallists elevated the flight further, including a double-Gold win by French firm Pernod Ricard. The producer’s Bewiz – Lemon Ginger Grapefruit can was found deserving of a Gold, with each named flavour “complementing the others well and harmoniously”. Gold-winning Bewiz – Raspberry Hibiscus Lime had an aroma likened to a “roly-poly pudding”, the palate balancing “raspberry cordial and citrus”.
Dixon said about the flight: “The Fermented flight brought a different aspect to the style of hard seltzers, with great balance and mouthfeel across many of the entries.”
The judges then proceeded to the Malted round, where three Gold-worthy entries were enjoyed. AB InBev collected two Gold medals in this round. One was awarded to Bud Light Seltzer Strawberry, which delivered “jammy strawberry flavours” on the palate. Bud Light Seltzer Passion Fruit also won Gold, hailed for its “good carbonation and fruitiness on the palate”.
Club Local Cocktails and Spirits secured a Gold medal for Shape Mango/Tea. The entry impressed with its “well-executed” flavours, which were “fresh, with good carbonation”. The judges agreed they “would happily drink this”. Two Silver medals brought the round to a close, including Fellr Watermelon Margarita and AB InBev’s Bud Light Seltzer, Lemon Lime.
Bear Back Hard Seltzer scooped two Gold and two Silver medals in the following flight: Spirit-Based – Flavoured. The Gold awards went to Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Mango & Passionfruit, with its “nice round flavour and delicious puréed sweetness”, and Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Black Cherry, described as “generous, with lovely big, round flavour”.
In the Flavoured – Berry heat, Lot 42 Gooseberry and Green Apple joined the Gold ranks. Smith said the entry was “bright, refreshing and very nice” overall, with “tartness and then green apple”. Two Silvers were handed to Mont-Rouge Seltzer Berry Hibiscus and White Claw – Berry.
Looking at Flavoured – Citrus, and another Goldworthy product was enjoyed: Oshlag Seltzer Limonade Mûre. The judges liked the product’s “zesty finish”. Two Silvers were also uncovered. The flavour segment then assessed two Mango offerings, awarding a Gold and a Silver medal. White Claw Mango received Gold for being “fruity and soft”.
In the Flavoured – Pineapple flight, Spindrift Spiked Pineapple took home a Gold medal. Uresti liked the product’s “green notes from unripe pineapple, and nice acidity”.
The penultimate Flavoured – Other flight delivered a selection of awards, with a Master given to Adán & Eva Hard Seltzer Coconut Lemon. Uresti said: “This was an excellent product, with great flavours coming through.” Tasting notes included “vibrant coconut on the nose and expressive flavours on the palate”, with a “very long aftertaste”.
Among the five Gold medallists were “fresh, light, not overly sweet” White Claw – Watermelon, and Adán & Eva Hard Seltzer Wild Berries, awarded for its “vibrant berry aromas”. Two Silver medallists were also sampled.
The initial tasting concluded with a flight of Infused hard seltzers, with a Gold award given to Natz Ginger Crush. The expression was described as “dry and very gingery”. Natz Fresh Lemon secured a Silver medal.
The tasting then turned back to the Master entries awarded throughout the day to determine the best in class. Among the high-calibre of hard seltzers sampled, the judges voted in favour of Young Heart Seltzer – Green Tea & Muscat Grape, from the Fermented flight, being The Hard Seltzer Taste Master 2022.
“Fermented was probably the most interesting flight of the day for me,” said Miller. “It was a very strong flight, with more variety than I would have given credit for.”
Dixon also agreed that there was great diversity to be found in the category, indicating a bright future ahead. “There’s a lot more to hard seltzers than meets the eye,” he said. “The absence of any real rules, regulations and parameters is allowing producers to be creative and cater for different tastes with different styles. The category is still at a young stage and finding its feet, but there’s plenty of quality already on the market.”
|Anora Group||Say Vodka Seltzer Grapefruit‐Lemon||Master|
|Yan Tan||Yan Tan Damson & Rhubarb Hard Seltzer||Master|
|AB InBev UK||Mike’s Hard Seltzer – Raspberry||Master|
|Long Shot Drinks||Pink Grapefruit Hard Seltzer||Master|
|Long Shot Drinks||Raspberry & Blackcurrant Hard Seltzer||Master|
|High Water||High Water – Mango and Peach||Master|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Central Otago, Peach,
Passionfruit and Soda
|Oshlag||Oshlag Seltzer Pêche||Gold|
|Wolf Lane Distillery||Tropical Gin Seltzer – Wild Berry||Gold|
|Curio Spirits Company||Curio Yuzu & Mandarin Hard Seltzer||Gold|
|Féfé||Féfé Cucumber and Eucalyptus||Gold|
|SBG Beer||Take Five Cherry Hard Seltzer||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Hawke’s Bay Lime and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka Mango, Pineapple and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals American Whiskey, Hawkes Bay Apple and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Gin, Hawkes Bay Lemon, Cucumber and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Watermelon, Mint and Soda||Gold|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Tropical Guava||Gold|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Mango & Passionfruit||Gold|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Blood Orange||Gold|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Black Cherry||Gold|
|AB InBev UK||Mike’s Hard Seltzer Lime||Gold|
|AB InBev UK||Corona Tropical, Guava & Lime||Gold|
|Bad Water||Bad Water Hard Seltzer – Pink Grapefruit & Yuzu||Gold|
|Bad Water||Bad Water Hard Seltzer – Cherries & Berries||Gold|
|Oshlag||Oshlag Seltzer Framboise||Gold|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Juniper & Ginger||Silver|
|Allendale Brew Company||Ride Persian Lime||Silver|
|SBG Beer||Take Five Lemon Lime Hard Seltzer||Silver|
|SBG Beer||Take Five Cranberry Raspberry Hard Seltzer||Silver|
|High Water||High Water – Lemon and Elderflower||Silver|
|High Water||High Water – Cucumber and Mint||Silver|
|Anora Group||Say Vodka Seltzer Strawberry‐Raspberry||Silver|
|Anora Group||Say Vodka Seltzer Orange‐Guarana||Silver|
|Terry Beverages||Vodka Soda & Lemon||Silver|
|Wolf Lane Distillery||Tropical Gin Seltzer – Mango||Silver|
|AB InBev UK||Mike’s Hard Seltzer Black Cherry||Silver|
|AB InBev UK||Corona Tropical, Raspberry & Lemon||Silver|
|AB InBev UK||Corona Tropical, Grapefruit & Lemongrass||Silver|
|Bad Water||Bad Water Hard Seltzer – Raspberry & Pineapple||Silver|
|SBG Beer||Take Five Mango Hard Seltzer||Silver|
|Served Drinks||Served Lime Hard Seltzer||Silver|
|Served Drinks||Served Raspberry Hard Seltzer||Silver|
|Young Heart||Young Heart Seltzer – Pink Grapefruit & Orange Blossom||Gold|
|5PM Beverages||5PM Berry Pomegranate||Gold|
|Hopps Seltzer||Yeaah Elderflower||Gold|
|5PM Beverages||5PM Grapefruit||Silver|
|Hopps Seltzer||Yeaah Passion Fruit||Silver|
|Hopps Seltzer||Yeaah Grapefruit||Silver|
|Silver Ocean Club||Silver Ocean Seltzer||Silver|
|Young Heart||Young Heart Seltzer – Plum & Cedar Wood||Silver|
|Young Heart||Young Heart Seltzer – Elderflower & Basil||Silver|
|Young Heart||Young Heart Seltzer –
Green Tea & Muscat Grape
|Master & Taste Master|
|Two Brooks||Two Brooks Lime Cooler||Master|
|Two Brooks||Two Brooks Mango Hi Ball||Master|
|Sentz||Melon & Mint Hard Seltzer||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard||Bewiz – Lemon Ginger Grapefruit||Gold|
|Pernod Ricard||Bewiz – Raspberry Hibiscus Lime||Gold|
|The Italian Seltzer Company||Mulberry Street Sicilian Orange with Chinotto||Gold|
|Sentz||Raspberry & Lime Hard Seltzer||Gold|
|Drink Seltzer||005 Seltzer Zitrone||Gold|
|Drink Seltzer||005 Seltzer Orange||Gold|
|Two Brooks||Two Brooks Passion Star||Silver|
|Pernod Ricard||Bewiz – Lime Mint Elderflower||Silver|
|Sundays Hard Seltzer||Sundays Hard Seltzer Grapefruit Bergamot||Silver|
|AB InBev UK||Bud Light Seltzer Strawberry||Gold|
|AB InBev UK||Bud Light Seltzer Passion Fruit||Gold|
|Club Local Cocktails and Spirits||Shape Mango/Tea||Gold|
|Fellr||Fellr Watermelon Margarita||Silver|
|AB InBev UK||Bud Light Seltzer, Lemon‐Lime||Silver|
Spirit‐Based – Flavoured
|Bear Back Hard Seltzer||Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Mango & Passionfruit||Gold|
|Bear Back Hard Seltzer||Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Black Cherry||Gold|
|Bear Back Hard Seltzer||Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Lime & Mint||Silver|
|Bear Back Hard Seltzer||Bear Back Hard Seltzer – Rhubarb & Ginger||Silver|
Flavoured – Berry
|L42||Lot 42 Gooseberry & Green Apple||Gold|
|A Lassonde||Mont‐Rouge Seltzer Berry Hibiscus||Silver|
|Mark Anthony Brands||White Claw – Raspberry||Silver|
Flavoured – Citrus
|Oshlag||Oshlag Seltzer Limonade Mûre||Gold|
|Oshlag||Oshlag Seltzer Limonade Rhubarbe||Silver|
|A Lassonde||Mont‐Rouge Seltzer Lemonade||Silver|
Flavoured – Mango
|Mark Anthony Brands||White Claw Mango||Gold|
|Spindrift Beverage Co||Spindrift Spiked Mango||Silver|
Flavoured – Pineapple
|Spindrift Beverage Co||Spindrift Spiked Pineapple||Gold|
|A Lassonde||Mont‐Rouge Seltzer Tequila Pineapple||Silver|
Flavoured – Other
|Florida Ice & Farm Company – FIFCO||Adán & Eva Hard Seltzer Coconut Lemon||Master|
|Florida Ice & Farm Company – FIFCO||Adán & Eva Hard Seltzer Lemon Ginger||Gold|
|Florida Ice & Farm Company – FIFCO||Adán & Eva Hard Seltzer Wildberries||Gold|
|Mark Anthony Brands||White Claw Black Cherry||Gold|
|Mark Anthony Brands||White Claw Watermelon||Gold|
|Mark Anthony Brands||White Claw Natural Lime||Gold|
|A Lassonde||Mont‐Rouge Seltzer Grapefruit Rosemary||Silver|
|A Lassonde||Mont‐Rouge Seltzer Mango Yuzu||Silver|
|Natz||Natz Ginger Crush||Gold|
|Natz||Natz Fresh Lemon||Silver|