Hard Times

Hard soda takes off

As consumer interest in health and wellness continues to swell, soda sales have plummeted to their lowest point since 1985. Nonetheless, the introduction of hard sodas, which are alcoholic beverages that taste like their soft counterparts with a kick, are finding an audience among Millennial drinkers who recognize that they can offset enjoyment of such sugary nostalgia with cleaner beverage choices the next morning.


Last year, AB InBev introduced Best Damn Brewing Co., a specialty hard soda brand. The first flavor, Best Damn Root Beer, leverages its parent company’s state-of-the-art brewing facilities, aging the brew on real vanilla beans for a creamy herbal tonic. Flavors launched since then include Best Damn Cherry Cola, which combines cola and caramel notes and is aged on whole cherries, and Best Damn Apple Ale, which boasts crisp apple notes. The brand recommends using the beverages to create dessert cocktails, from a classic root beer float to a java version featuring coffee ice cream and a splash of rum.


Launching later this summer, Indiana-based Garden Party Botanical Hard Sodas is targeting discerning drinkers who prefer local, artisanal products. Husband-and-wife co-founders Erin Edds (who also created Bloody Mary mix Hoosier Mama) and Stephen Edds conceived the idea for the brand upon recognizing a gap in the adult wine cooler category. Their forthcoming brand is both lower in sugar than many others on the market and uses all-natural ingredients, but also boasts a slightly higher ABV at 8%. The first two flavors are Ruby, a ginger soda infused with pomegranate and hibiscus, and Violet, a lemon soda accented with lavender and blackberry.


Calorie-free flavored water brands such as Sparkling ICE have become hugely popular alternatives to diet sodas (though the jury is still out as to how “healthy” they really are). Now, a new category of hard seltzers is starting to similarly disrupt the hard soda sector by reaching malt beverage fans seeking sweet boozy flavors but not the additional inches to their waistlines. One such is Nauti Seltzer, a low-cal, low-carb effervescent beverage available in subtle fruit flavors, including raspberry, grapefruit, lemon-lime, and cranberry—of course, even though drinkers may not have to track calories, at 5% ABV, they’ll still need to have limits of another sort.