Suburban breweries craft hard seltzer as a lighter alternative to beer
Pilsners, pale ales and porters have long been craft brewery staples. But in recent years, microbreweries -- including several in the suburbs -- have added another beverage to their menus: hard seltzer.
In its simplest form, says Eric Hobbs, chief operations officer of Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville, hard seltzer is a fermented, sugar-based beverage that is lighter than other adult beverages for people "looking for a healthier alcohol alternative." City Water, Solemn Oath's signature hard seltzer, is "gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb and low calorie."
"That's the appeal," Hobbs said.
Other suburban breweries are creating hard seltzer as well.
Buffalo Creek in Long Grove began brewing hard seltzer about a year ago, said Connor Norton, a sales representative with Buffalo Creek. Interest has increased since then.
"It's a small part of what we do, but it's growing," he said.
Hobbs credits White Claw -- which debuted its brand in 2016 -- with sparking passion for hard seltzer.
"They couldn't keep it on the shelf at retailers," he said.
In response, Solemn Oath released its version on Nov. 1, 2019, after director of operations JP Vander Veen created a seltzer they could package into cans and fit the Solemn Oath brand.
"We wanted it to be something we would want to drink," he said of City Water. "It had to fit the vibe we already created."
The launch was "wildly successful," Hobbs said. Current options include mixed berry and grapefruit.
And while millennials were among the first to embrace the beverage, Hobbs says an appreciation for hard seltzer transcends every age group and every segment of alcohol consumer.
It's also a drink associated with summer.
"I would say it's a very approachable drink for people who typically prefer a lighter beverage," said Norton. "Also it goes great with hot weather ... and the lower calories are definitely something people enjoy."
With about 5% alcohol by volume, it has about the same alcohol content as beer, he said.
"The early adopters were younger and female as a general rule. But as it's grown in popularity, more and more people across the spectrum are getting into it," Norton said.
Lisa Gregor, owner of Church Street Brewing in Itasca, says that consumers see them as a healthier alternative to beer. Raspberry peach and blueberry strawberry lemonade are popular picks.
Church Street uses real sugar, which she says gives their hard seltzers a more natural taste.
"People really like that because it's like drinking lemonade," said Gregor, whose brewery began experimenting with hard seltzer last summer.
While popularity has increased at Half Day Brewing Company in Lincolnshire, where flavors include pineapple and lime, manager Taylor Thoma says hard seltzer is unlikely to outsell beer.
"We're primarily a brewery," he said. "Beer is definitely our biggest seller."