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White Claw, Other Hard Seltzers Are All the Rage

by The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr

Surely you remember Bartles & Jaymes. They were those wine coolers in the mid 1980s with two old geezers sitting on their porch in suspenders and yakking away at enjoying a refreshing drink on a summer day. Those coolers were all the talk for quite a few years or until excise taxes were raised on alcohol. Gallo stripped the beverage of alcohol to avoid the taxes, but then the coolers weren’t much more than lime-ade. Sales plummeted. That opened the door to a spate of malt-based concoctions, like Zima and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

In 2019, Bartles & Jaymes launched a comeback and put the wine back in the cooler with only 4 percent alcohol. But today the boys don’t own the market like they did in the 1980s. In fact, they share it with a flood of seltzers hoping to capitalize on the millennial market.

We decided to take a look at the seltzers, sangrias and other concoctions that are competing for your summer attention. Roll up the sleeves for warmer weather -- there is a lot to digest.

Most popular are the hard seltzers made famous by White Claw. Also called spiked seltzer, these canned drinks add alcohol from fermented sugar cane or malted barley to flavored sparkling water. Consumers like them because they don’t have the same high carbs as beer, although the alcohol content (calories!) is about the same. They come in a rainbow of exotic flavors to keep you interested, but we find them to be a lot of bubbles without much flavor. But we’re as old as the actors on Bartles & James, so what do we know?

Millennials are drifting away from once-popular craft beers to join the seltzer craze, so much so that beer manufacturers such as Budweiser and Corona have launched seltzer products. White Claw is still on top.

Wine producers also pivoted by getting into the seltzer market. Just recently, Decoy, which is part of California’s Duckhorn portfolio, launched a wine seltzer. With 5.5 percent alcohol and only 80 calories, these seltzers are even gluten-free and have no added sugar unlike the most hard seltzers. They are sold four 8.4-ounce cans to a pack ($15).

A crowd favorite at a recent tasting was the Decoy Premium Seltzer Chardonnay with Clementine Orange. It has the most flavor for us. It also comes in a rose with black cherry, chardonnay with lemon and ginger, and a sauvignon blanc with vibrant lime.

14 Hands also has a delicious canned rose ($35 for a six pack) with delicious strawberry and watermelon flavors.

Spritzers are usually wine-based and have more calories and alcohol. Fruit & Flower out of Washington state is made from grape wine and natural flavor, but the alcohol level is 13 percent. We liked the passion fruit flavor. Four-pack cans cost $11.

Not in a bottle, but perhaps the most enjoyable of the lot, was Flybird Baja Lime Margarita made in Mexico. Called a wine cocktail, it is made entirely of agave wine, fresh lime and natural citrus flavors. It has the unmistakable aroma of a margarita and about 15 percent in alcohol. With 11 grams of sugar and about 160 calories a serving, this is hardly a hard seltzer recipe.

Flybird also makes a strawberry margarita mix. The cost is about $10-12 for a 750 milliliter bottle.

The seltzers offer the best healthy recipe, but we feel the urge to add some spirit to them, which of course would defeat their purpose. Still, they fit neatly into ice coolers, which makes them appealing to the tailgate and boating crowds.

Of course, you can buy canned wines without the bubbles that usually taste a lot better if you can ignore the calories and carbs. Bonterra Organic wine is a good choice.

We also like A to Z Bubbles and Underwood spritzers.