Why Does Hard Seltzer Taste So Bad? Or does it?

The sheer variety of alcoholic drinks available to you now is mind-blowing, even compared to 10 years ago. One of the newer sectors is the hard seltzer. They build on the popularity of seltzer waters but with an alcohol spike. But does that combination make for a good drink? One of the questions i get asked a lot is… “Why does hard seltzer taste so bad?”

Why does hard seltzer taste so bad?

Taste is subjective and personal but some people might not like the taste of hard seltzers. The style is to be as light with as few carbs as they can. This can lead to the drink feeling a bit think and with limited flavour compared to a higher sugar or carb alcoholic drink.

What actually is a hard seltzer, what alcohol is in and and most importantly, what do i think they taste like? Are they really so bad?!

What is a hard seltzer?

Hard seltzers are basically an evolution of the ever popular seltzer water. You just carbonate plain water for a refreshing drink that has no carbs, calories or sugar. What’s not to like?

Well, plenty of people don’t like the empty type taste of fizzy water.

The hard seltzer then adds a shot of bespoke spirit and a very light flavouring. The result is a drink with the same alcohol as a beer or glass of wine but not much more calories than a shot of vodka.

The flavouring is very low on carbs and sugar which can mean it isn’t very strong or think tasting, which again isn’t to everyones tastes.

What alcohol is in a hard seltzer?

Despite the common misconception, basically no (apart from Smirnoff) hard seltzer is based on vodka.

The alcoholic base in White Claw hard seltzers is a pure spirit which is five times distilled from corn. Corn is not an unusual base for a spirit but will initially make a pure and flavourless alcohol to mix with the seltzer flavours.

Topo Chico is based on agave and most of the others like Truly is from a sugarcane base, like a rum would be.

The thing they all have in common is they add no flavour or odour as the pure alcohols are tasteless and odourless.

You may be able to smell the hard seltzer flavouring on breath but you will not be able to smell the alcohol. Alcohol itself has no smell and what you associate with alcohol smell is the other aromas that make up the drink, like hops in beer.

How much alcohol is in a hard seltzer?

Hard seltzers (in the USA) has 5% ABV. That means it has 5% alcohol by volume. To understand what this means we can look at how much alcohol is in other standard drinks.

The USDA have devised a list of “standard” alcoholic drinks. Each one contains precisely the same amount of alcohol – 14g of alcohol (0.6 ounces).

Below is a list of the standard drinks, volumes and ABV that all give 14g of alcohol.

Drink and volumeAlcohol content
12fl oz Beer5%
5fl oz Wine12%
1.5fl oz Spirit40%
Standard Drinks

So as you can see, a standard beer is a 12fl oz and 5% alcohol by volume beer, which has the same alcohol as 5fl oz of 12% wine and a 1.5fl oz shot of 40% spirit.

As a hard seltzer has the same alcohol and size as a standard beer, 5% ABV and 12fl oz, it is the same as all the standard drinks in terms of alcohol content.

What is the nutrition in a hard seltzer?

One of the biggest marketing angles for the hard seltzer PR teams is the vastly reduced calories and carbs compared to a lot of other alcoholic drinks.

As a sort of industry standard, nearly all the hard seltzers come in at 100 calories, but why is that, surely it isn’t just a coincidence.

100kcal in a 12fl oz can works out at about 28kcal per 100ml, which for an alcoholic drink, is just about as low as you get.

Calories in a hard seltzer

Around 95% of the calories in hard seltzers are directly from the alcohol. Hard seltzers contains 14g of pure alcohol. The other 5% of calories come from the carbohydrates which is usually sugar. Alcohol is much more calorie dense than carbohydrate but the minimal amount of carbs in a hard seltzer helps keep the calories to 100.

We can compare this calorie total to beer to give it some further perspective.

The USDA say that the average alcoholic beer has 43kcal per 100ml which works out at 153kcal in a 12fl oz serving, this mirrors my own findings. 

I took a sample of 35 alcohol beers and found that the average calorie count was 43.2kcal per 100ml and 153.3 in a 12fl oz serving.

So i think a fair value is in the 150kcal per 12fl oz ball park for an alcoholic beer.

Carbs in a hard seltzer

If you are advertising a drink at 100kcal and the alcohol in it is taking about 95kcal to start with, you are not left with much to play with.

Most of the hard seltzers on the market have around 2g of carbs per 12fl oz can, which is basically nothing.

In terms of calories the carbs contribute, it is basically nothing, or about 5kcal to be more precise.

This can have a know on to the taste and the feel of the drink. As a rule of thumb, the more carbs you have the bigger the mouthfeel and the fuller you think the drink is. The less carbs there are, the thinner the drink will feel.

Carbs also provide a lot of the flavour in the form of sugars.

Again, to give it context we can compare the beers…

I found the average non alcoholic beer has 4.75g of carbs per 100ml and 16.85g of carbs per 12fl oz.

The USDA state the average alcoholic beer has 3.55g of carbs per 100ml and 12.6g of carbs in a 12fl oz serving. 

So 2g per 12fl oz is really impressively low.

Sugar in a hard seltzer

Of the 2g of carbs, usually at least 1g, if not both grams, is in the form of sugar. You really need at least a little bit of sugar for the taste.

Sugar is where the alcoholic beers come into their own tho…

The USDA state the average alcoholic beer has 3.55g of carbs per 100ml and 12.6g of carbs in a 12fl oz serving. 

I found the average non alcoholic beer has 4.75g of carbs per 100ml and 16.85g of carbs per 12fl oz.

Beers of course turn their sugar into alcohol and then no more is added, in the non alcoholic versions, sugar is often added for flavour and the all important mouthfeel.

How do they taste to me?

I’ve reviewed hundreds of drinks and drinks plenty of hard seltzers. I think they serve a purpose rather than are especially delicious.

This is an exert from a White Claw Natural Lime review i did…

“With any hard seltzer, you have to dial yourself in to exactly the amount of flavour you are going to be getting.

It is the nature of the beast or lack of a sugary carb beast, that the flavour might be mooted and slightly thin. A seltzer water is supposed to take like that not a hugely sugary lime soda.

This actually has a pretty decent amount of flavour and it is tasty too.

It certainly isn’t too sweet but you are looking for more sugar either.”

Why do people think hard seltzers taste so bad?

Gathering up all the information above i think the reasons some people hate the hard seltzers is the very reason others love them.

They are very light and thin in the mouth. If you like fizzy water, then you will probably like these. Anyone expecting a big heavy stout type mouthfeel will be bitterly disappointed. They are literally as thin as water.

The second reason is the flavour, or lack of to be specific. With the addition of only 2g of carbs, you can’t expect a flavour fountain in your mouth. To be fair to the hard seltzers, they are decently flavoured without being as full as a Coca Cola or Fanta say.

If you tailor your expectations to a thin, refreshing and lightly flavoured drink then you should be fine!

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Hi im Phil. Im the sole writer on this site. For more info look at my about page https://www.openingthebottle.com/about-us/

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