Gotta Come Clean:
This post is practically a repost of something I wrote in September of 2019. Then, it was prompted by being assailed by several seltzer addicts. Today, it’s because of a Twitter dust-up about “kiddie beers”, that stratum of brewery pandering to the demands of arrested development cases who refuse to give up their childhood beverages and embrace actual beer. None of this icky-sweet infused crap is the fault of breweries. It’s the fault of kids who really, in most cases, don’t even try craft beer to see if they’d like it before haranguing brewery owners and staff with requests like, “Why don’t you have anything with gummy bears in it?”
“Let me put this out there and anyone reading it can think what they like…just DON’T even bother trying to rebut it with me:
White Claw and all those “hard seltzer” beverages are not ONLY or even primarily, as this faux-learned article in the otherwise exceptional The Atlantic suggests, a youthful reaction to carbs and health-conscious concerns. That’s putting lipstick on a pig. I submit that it is mainly the inevitable result of an entire generation of young drinkers – the first generation ever – whose tastes were formed by their parents’ insistence that drinking juice boxes over soft drinks and embracing fortified drinks like Hi-C and Juicy Juice and Snapple was better for their kids’ health than all that soda pop. These kids reach drinking age and have consumed a virtual ocean of weird neon-blue colored, tropical fruit flavored, fizzy or flat, and some mixed fruit juices and have totally bought into the idea that these beverages are healthy, when MOST of them contain gag-inducing levels of sugar. These kids who guzzled this shit for their first 17 years on the planet formed preferences for those flavors that will NEVER evolve. Beer, with its traditional bittering hops and unsweet flavors has swung with that pendulum, (in an honest attempt to just survive in a new aesthetic) spawning a rather sudden tsunami of those fruit-dominant milkshake IPAs and pastry Stouts and many, many “beers” that show little or no hops presence, mild or no malts, and textures far more suited to those juice boxes and Sunny D.
At first, young males rejected the hard seltzers as “unmanly” and that was inevitable. MOST young men are at least as concerned with their manhood and the accessorizing thereof as they are about What’s In The Glass. (That’s how the Extreme IPA thing got started. “I can drink 250 IBUs…can you?”) Then, some clever marketing types came up with a (faux, allegedly) manly brand – “White Claw”! Claws, blood, maiming, rending flesh, y’know…guy stuff? And that gave young men who can’t handle the hops and bitterness and lack of tropical fruit and blue raspberry flavors of beer the license they needed to chug hard seltzers. One of the early cartoons about Hard Seltzers is here and it was just too funny to leave out, even though even I think it’s in questionable taste.
So…Is there anything WRONG about this wave of Seltzer Madness? No, in one sense there is NOTHING wrong about it at all. If we who make up the craft beer culture had not rejected the tastes of our ancestors, we would all still be mindlessly swilling BudMillerCoorsPabst and have never tasted any such thing as an IPA. Today’s kids have ZERO obligation to study and learn what brewing means, so they have taken the easy way out: they get to hang in those hip beer bars and all the brewery taprooms which have responded with uber-fruity ales and stocking hard seltzers, so all the newbies can hang out there are feel like they’re at The Cool Kids Table.
See, craft beer is POPULAR. All caps intentional. It’s WAAAY popular, despite all the geek/wonk bullshit about “the death of craft beer“. (How over 7,000 working breweries and more opening every week constitutes “death” remains a mystery) People love hanging out in taprooms, with groups of friends, talking about beer and work and families and Life and feeling included in something larger, something welcoming, as the craft culture has always been. A new wave of kids reach drinking age, they’re hearing/seeing all this cool stuff about their local breweries – names like Heathen Brewing and Headless Mumby Brewing and Jester King Brewing, beers like Oak-Aged Batshit Crazy and Tricerahops and Hop Zombie and Leafer Madness – and they realize, “Hey! These are not stuffy, stodgy, toe-the-line places. These are FUN!“
And they want IN.
But they start trying beers and…Holy Cow, these are bitter! And they’re NOT sweet! And I can fake enjoying ’em but for how long? My friends say I’ll evolve into craft beer…but I studied evolution in school and it took 2 million years for dinosaurs to evolve into birds and I’m not going to live that long!
But now, they have a way to hang and Stay Cool and not look like wimps. Because Hard Seltzer. “It’s got alcohol, it’s fizzy…Jesus, if they just colored these things some shade of amber, nobody would ever know the difference!“
And don’t imagine for a second that some seltzer maker isn’t working on that as you read this.
There was even a hard seltzer festival in in Denver, a couple of years back, and they patterned it after GABF, judging these things as if there was any more than fractional differences in them. I had a fairly acrimonious email exchange with the show’s promoter, who sneered at my disdain (I made ONE joke about it on Facebook) and challenged me to “go brew one”. I could have easily done it (more on that below) but I declined, as I have no interest in making something I have no desire to drink. But, after talking to several people who do make hard seltzers, the truth is that “brewing” has nothing to do with it. “Blending”, yeah. I’ll stipulate that. But most of making hard seltzer is dumping fruit skins or juices or purees into water and mildly infusing the liquid before carbonating it. Add alcohol and Voila! Can it, sell it, rake in the $$$.
“Brewing” – the actual process, as opposed to the fraudulent idea that Mister Fizzy was trying to sell me – involves fermentation, the conversion of grain (or any other kind of) sugars by adding yeast to the grain tea and allowing them to eat sugar and piss alcohol. That’s gross, I know, but that is basically what is happening. And it is NOT as easy as it sounds. There are a LOT of elements of judgment and yeast strains and sugar content and on and on and on. Seltzer is made by dumping grain alcohol into flavored water and carbonating it. NOT “brewing”. NO. WAY.
In fact, if the flavor and fizz were all that the Seltzerites were after, they can easily make their own at home. They can do it properly and get more flavor by slow-simmering the fruit additives in water for about twenty minutes, straining out the lemon or orange peels or cinnamon sticks or mink pelts or Whatever, cooling it, running that through a Drinkmate Beverage Carbonation Maker or an Innovee or Soda Stream system, and adding a bit of vodka or grain alcohol. Ta-da: Hard Seltzer – better seltzer than what’s in those cans. They could have the fun of experimenting with little risk of burning their house down. But flavor and fizz is NOT what this is about. This is about Cool Factor and the low horizons of an entire stratum of American Young Drinkers who want the hipness without having to grow an adults set of taste buds.
PEOPLE SHOULD DRINK WHAT MAKES THEM HAPPY. If that is hard seltzer, go for it. But striking poses about it and claiming rationales that try to paint a happy, healthy face on them is absurd. This is fizzy flavored water with alcohol and a hint of fruit. That’s IT. I have now been sent a metric ton of these and asked to review them. Here it is, all you happy, bright-eyed seltzer PR folks:
“Tastes like seltzer with mostly undetectable flavorings and zero body or texture but will get you drunk if you’re willing to chug a gallon or so. 60 Points“. (I’m feeling generous today)
I won’t be reviewing ANY hard seltzers as there is nothing to review and even less that interests me.
But here is An Idea:
As all of us in the craft beer culture rejected Anheuser Busch and Coors and Pabst, etc., it would be a GREAT idea if the Seltzerites would reject us.
Form your own bars and tasting rooms, make your own cool pubs and taprooms, yammer on endlessly about “brewing” and ABV and residual sugars and whatever else fulfills your Experience, and make flavored water fashionable on its own merits, so that you don’t have to endure the taunts and irrelevant observations of all us dinosaurs who prefer hops and grains and structure and balance and BREWING and all that goes into beer. We’re not a part of your community, anyway. Why not just acknowledge that and make your own future?
But until that happens, EXPECT abuse about your chosen beverages. If you walk into a brewery taproom and start extolling the virtues of seltzer over beer, expect to evoke laughter and derision. Nobody, except for arrested-development assholes, are going to ridicule you if you sit quietly and drink your beverage of choice and the assholes are Irrelevant. They deserve to be ignored, so ignore ’em. If you get mouthy and make your hard seltzer fixation an Issue, you’re going to be humiliated and will deserve to be, just as a Hophead will get abused if he (or she)(I guess. Women are generally smarter than men.) walks into a fine whiskey bar or tasting and starts telling everybody that his chosen IPA is just SO superior.
You can sneer and screech, “Gen X! Gen Z! Just geezer sour grapes!” all ya like. But long after Gummy Bear Ambers are gone, actual beer with be around. And you will have missed it.