The Amsterdam lawyer Lodewijk Pessers and his office partner Milan Voet saw it happen with their own eyes last summer during one of their business trips to the United States. Where the refrigerators at Americans’ homes were initially still full of beer, they ‘faded’ within a few months to half beer, half hard seltzer. The two saw an opportunity, and decided to try to import the drink to Europe. That was not in it. Producers were also taken aback by the sudden popularity and could barely keep up with demand in the US. A drink that did not suddenly exist ten years ago, had suddenly become good for more than a billion euros in turnover that summer.
The brilliance of hard seltzer is that it is quite a bland drink. Producers mix neutral alcohol (think: vodka), a seasoning and sparkling water. Usually they do it in a fashionably designed tin with prominent letters written that it contains only a few percent alcohol, no sugar and few calories. Then they pour the drink into a gaping hole in the market.
Hard seltzer tastes like sparkling water with a memory of fruit and an echo of alcohol. You can call it boring and weak, or refreshing and thirst-quenching. In any case, it appears to be able to count on a huge number of (mainly young) drinkers. This has not gone unnoticed by the major beverage producers. Beer brewers in particular see their opportunities. The drink already nibbles on their sales, and they can easily produce it themselves.
The history of the hard seltzer goes back to 2012, when the American brewer Nick Shields saw women ordering vodka with sparkling water at the bar in search of new products. He came up with SpikedSeltzer, which is now owned by beer giant AB InBev, which now sells it under the name BON V!V.
The two largest brands, Truly and White Claw, have similar origins. Truly is the brainchild of someone who wanted something refreshing and healthier for herself and her friends for post-workout. White Claw from a Canadian beverage billionaire seeking a light, low-calorie alternative to the wandering lager dropout. That’s the story of hard seltzer. No nostalgia, just a can of water with a commercial party hat on.
Netherlands, Belgium, Hong Kong
When Pessers and Voet noticed that their import plans would not succeed, they took a different approach. “Then we thought: then we will try ourselves whether we can start a drink from scratch.” With a number of acquaintances from the marketing and advertising world and with some help from a second cousin from the drinks industry, they started Stëlz.
The first 100,000 cans from the factory in Germany were sold within a few months, says Pessers. Half a million more to come. Stëlz is on the shelves in the Netherlands, but also in Belgium, Ireland and even Hong Kong. The influential beer distributor and importer Bier&co (part of the Bavaria Swinkels family) stepped in and talks with a US investor are in the final stages. Everyone is betting that hard seltzer will not turn out to be a hype, but is at the beginning of a long future.
Not bad for a company that has only been around since April. You can drink on that.