The Hard Seltzer Masters 2023 results
Alcoholic sparkling waters, AKA hard seltzers, exploded in the US several years ago – and the popularity seems to be spreading worldwide.
Sales forecasts for the category project more success to come, with vodka-based seltzers alone expected to grow by 13.8% between 2021 and 2031, according to a report by Allied Market Research that was published in April. The report highlighted that the global vodka seltzer market was worth US$472.3 million in 2021, and is forecast to more than quadruple to US$2 billion by 2031.
So what is it about hard seltzers that has consumers gripped? For one, they are lower in alcohol, thus catering to the lower-ABV trend, and they also tap into the demand for low-sugar and low-calorie offerings. However, with new brands growing at a rapid rate, how can consumers trust which ones are made to a high-quality standard?
The Hard Seltzer Masters was designed to determine just that; only entrants that met the judges’ high standards were rewarded with Silver, Gold, or Master medals.
The tasting took place at the Novotel Hotel in London Bridge. The judges formed two panels, the first of which was chaired by Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business magazine. Carruthers was joined by Anne Jones, Waitrose, drinks expert, and Antony Moss MW.
Panel two was chaired by David T Smith, writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo. Also sitting on his panel were: Rosie Milsom, head of new product development at Atom; Rosie Lees, co-founder and director of Nineteen94; and Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at Sexy Fish in London.
A flight of spirits-based hard seltzers got the tasting off to a strong start, delivering one Master, five Golds, and four Silver medals. The Master award was given to Everyday Weekend Lime and Soda Hard Seltzer. Smith said this was “exactly what you’d want from a lime hard seltzer”. Tasting notes included “good fizz, nice level of lime and acidity”.
Four of the five Gold medals were awarded to Pals, including one for the company’s Pals Vodka, Red Peach, Yuzu and Soda. The judges liked the “beautiful light peach notes” on the nose, which led to “delicate yuzu” on the palate. “A solid flight from almost all beverages,” said Prousaefs. “Quite a diversity of flavours and styles, with a great average standard.”
Smith noted how some brands appeared too “ambitious” with their flavours – it was those that took a simpler approach that excelled. He added: “The real winners had a clear goal flavour-wise, and focused on it and succeeded.”
Up next came a flight of brewed hard seltzers, where four Gold medallists shone. Two of the Golds were awarded to products by Dom Tápparo/Cervejaria Petropolis. The company’s Cabaré Ice Limão secured Gold with “plenty of lime on the nose” and its “nice balance of sweetness towards the end of the palate”.
Fellr Mango also received a Gold medal for its “fresh, tropical” palate, while Hard Fizz was found deserving of a Gold award for delivering “plenty of pineapple, sweet vanilla and coconut” on the nose. Four Silver medals concluded the flight.
Milsom said: “There were some great ideas here with some really fun and interesting innovation; definitely a category to watch as it evolves.”
In the Fermented flight, Sparklys Switzerland secured two medals, one Master and one Gold. The top accolade was given to Sparklys Hard Seltzer Holunder for its “delightful floral notes and sweetness from the elderberry, with some funk in there too – complex and interesting”.
Sparklys Hard Seltzer Maracuja bagged a Gold medal after the judges enjoyed “really lovely bubbles, nice sweetness and a little sourness to balance”. “Some excellent products that focused on flavour – and delivered,” enthused Smith.
In the Malted flight, Pepito Sorbete – Cherry & Pineapple stood out, winning a Gold medal. Moss detected hints of “marzipan and pineapple”. Four Silver medals were also awarded in this heat.
In the Spirits-Based – Fruit round, a solid Silver medallist was discovered in the form of Adán & Eva Durazno Rosé con Vodka by Fifco. Carruthers said: “Quite refreshing, light with subtle sweetness. Rosé flavour comes through delicately.”
In the following flight, berry-flavoured hard seltzers were put to the test – and two entrants were deemed worthy of Silver medals. The first Silver was given to White Sands Mixed Berry, which offered a “slight wine note with some vanilla and raspberry”. Silver-winning Seagram’s Scapes Frutos Salvajes was liked by the judges for its “slightly sweet and plump” flavour with “gradual strawberry notes”.
A flight of citrus-flavoured hard seltzers followed, with a Silver medal awarded to Parce Hard Seltzer Limon. Jones found some “fresh, pithy, zingy aromas” leading to “sweetness on the finish”.
The final flight, Flavoured – Other Fruit, finished with a pair of Silver awards, both given to Fifco. The producer’s Seagram’s Scapes Durazno Paraíso was found to have “aromas of Tutti Frutti sweets, lots of sweetness, and a salty tang on the finish”. Stablemate Seagram’s Scapes Uva was found to be deserving of a Silver medal for flavours of “cucumber, fine mousse, and juicy green grape on the palate”.
The Master medals then underwent one final tasting to determine the Hard Seltzer Taste Master 2023 – which was awarded to Sparklys Hard Seltzer Holunder. Smith delighted in the hard seltzer’s “good elderberry on the nose” and its “rich and jammy” palate with “fruity and floral notes”.
Reflecting on the overall standard of this year’s tasting, Moss said: “The most drinkable hard seltzers were the ones that weren’t super sugary. They didn’t need to be complex, but just needed some flavour.”
Jones was encouraged to see the breadth of styles and production methods coming from the category.
She said: “There’s definitely some potential for a lot more quality and sophistication in the category. There are attempts to create something more complex and nuanced, and I look forward to seeing those in the future.”
|Everyday Weekend||Everyday Weekend Lime and Soda Hard Seltzer||Master|
|Everyday Weekend||Everyday Weekend Mango and Passionfruit Hard Seltzer||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Central Otago Peach, Passionfruit and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Red Peach, Yuzu and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Gin, Hawke’s Bay Lemon, Cucumber and Soda||Gold|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Watermelon, Mint and Soda||Gold|
|South St. Liquor||South Ave Seltzer – Mango||Gold|
|Fifco||Adán & Eva Maracuyá Piña con Ron||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Whiskey, Apple and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Mango, Pineapple and Soda||Silver|
|Pals||Pals Vodka, Hawke’s Bay Lime and Soda||Silver|
|Dom Tapparo | Cervejarioa Petropolis||Cabaré Ice Limão||Gold|
|Dom Tapparo |Cervejarioa Petropolis||Cabaré Ice Frutas Vermelhas||Gold|
|Hard Fizz||Hard Fizz||Gold|
|Dom Tapparo | Cervejarioa Petropolis||Cabaré Ice Frutas Amarelas||Silver|
|Dom Tapparo | Cervejarioa Petropolis||Cabaré Ice Tangerina||Silver|
|Fellr||Fellr Passionfruit Brewed Alcoholic Seltzer||Silver|
|Fellr||Fellr Watermelon Brewed Alcoholic Seltzer||Silver|
|Sparklys Switzerland||Sparklys Hard Seltzer Holunder||Master & Taste Master|
|Sparklys Switzerland||Sparklys Hard Seltzer Maracuja||Gold|
|Groupe Geloso||Pepito Sorbete – Cherry & Pinneaple||Gold|
|Romeo’s Gin||Romeo’s Sonic Grapefruit and Rosemary||Silver|
|Groupe Geloso||Shaker Seltzer – Tango Mango||Silver|
|Groupe Geloso||Pepito Sorbete – Coconut & Ginger||Silver|
|Romeo’s Gin||Romeo’s Sonic Cucumber and Rose||Silver|
|Spirit‐Based – Fruit|
|Fifco||Adán & Eva Durazno Rosé con Vodka||Silver|
|Flavoured – Berry|
|Aldi Stores Australia||White Sands Mixed Berry||Silver|
|Fifco||Seagram’s Scapes Frutos Salvajes||Silver|
|Flavoured – Citrus|
|Gogi||Parce Hard Seltzer Limon||Silver|
|Flavoured – Fruit Other|
|Fifco||Seagram’s scapes Durazno Paraíso||Silver|
|Fifco||Seagram’s scapes Uva||Silver|