The drink “Hard Seltzer” is an invention from the USA. In the United States, sparkling water is simply called “Seltzer.” The word is reminiscent of the German word seltzer, which means mineral water, and it is very likely actually a modification of it. Literally translated, “Hard Seltzer” simply means “hard sparkling water”. However, the term “hard” does not refer to the degree of hardness of the water, but to the alcohol content: Hard Seltzer is nothing more than alcoholic mineral water. Many manufacturers still mix fruity flavors underneath.
In the USA, the fashionable drink Hard Seltzer is often referred to as Spiked Seltzer, Hard Sparkling Water or Spiked Water. The marketing takes place under the label “light wellness product”. It is usually sold in visually appealing cans like energy drinks and thus falls into the “ready to drink” category. The drink is considered a light alternative to sweet alcopops and cocktails. Hard seltzer is advertised as low in calories (keyword: low carb) because often no additional sugar (keyword: zero sugar) is added. It is also gluten-free, because the alcohol used in the USA usually comes from sugar cane or malt. Incidentally, the alcohol contained in Hard Seltzer is fermentation alcohol, which comes from fermented sugar. This sugar is often obtained from starch during malting and converted into alcohol via a brewing process. The alcopops, on the other hand, which are now somewhat out of fashion, tend to contain distilled alcohol. Rum or vodka is therefore often added to them.
While hard seltzer is developing into a cult drink in the USA and is definitely stirring up the beverage market by ensuring enormous growth rates there, the light drink is not nearly as popular in Europe.
The legal framework in Europe is not that simple and makes it difficult for the major manufacturers to implement their own hard seltzer strategy. Because it is not quite so clear whether the new beverage class falls under the 2004 enacted alcopop tax. The Federal Ministry of Finance only writes that alcoholic sweet drinks that have an alcohol content of more than 1.2% volume but less than 10% volume and are filled ready-to-drink in sealed, ready-to-sell containers” are subject to this steering tax. With its four to six percent alcohol content, hard seltzer initially falls under this regulation – but it hardly contains any sugar or sweeteners. In some countries, it has even gotten popular to enjoy a drink together with nicotine pouches for an extra buzz. This is particularly true in Sweden where, if you go to a bar, you’ll likely see several cans of nicotine pouches on the tables according to Swenico.
However, since the classification depends on the ingredients and ingredients used as well as the entire manufacturing process including the production line, it is not so easy to say whether the alcopop tax is due for hard seltzer. A case-by-case assessment is therefore essential.
While the large beverage manufacturers are still hesitant, startups and small companies in particular are setting new standards with ingenious ideas. This is how an insider tip first becomes a trend and then a cult.