Hard seltzer becomes the new favorite beach-day beverage.
It’s basically fact: All the best Michigan summer activities require a cold beverage in hand. Beach bumming on one of the Great Lakes, hiking around a state park, or kayaking down a lazy river just wouldn’t be the same any other way. For most Michiganders, the go-to beverage has always been an ice-cold beer or a pre-made cocktail; but now, there is a new kid in the cooler—hard seltzer.
In recent years, a handful of breweries have started to notice drinkers gravitating towards more health-conscious options. Hard seltzer is the industry’s answer to changing tastes. Here’s a primer for the seltzer rookie: The drink’s production is not unlike that of beer, as both are fermented beverages. However, beer is usually made using malt and barley to extract alcohol during fermentation, and hard seltzers use pure cane sugar. This method allows the drink to be low-calorie, low-carb, gluten-free, and naturally flavored—with a tasty kick. Clocking in at around 100 calories, this new alternative to beer and wine has been gaining popularity since 2013, when it was first spotted through cooler doors. Its growth shows no signs of stopping.
“The shift in consumer trends is about as reliable as your local weatherman,” said Jon Sutton, Imperial Beverage beer category manager. “One can predict what people are going to grab when they go to their local retail outlet, but we can only really see the effects after the storm has broken. It’s great to be at the forefront of this emerging category and growing with it.”
Imperial Beverage distributes the two leading hard seltzer brands in the Southwest Michigan market: White Claw Hard Seltzer and Truly Hard Seltzer. Mark Anthony Group Inc., the same company that produces Mike’s Hard Lemonade, owns White Claw. It was one of the earliest adopters of hard seltzer, and it offers flavors like lime, mango, and black cherry. Truly Hard Seltzer is manufactured by The Boston Beer Company, which also owns Samuel Adams Brewery, Twisted Tea Hard Iced Tea, and Angry Orchard Hard Cider. Truly has a whopping 13 flavors, including raspberry lime, pineapple, passion fruit, and pomegranate. Both brands are widely available in chains and independent retailers across the U.S.
“The hard seltzer category has exploded despite criticism that this would be just another in-and-out [fad],” explained Justin Stoneburner, national brand manager at Imperial Beverage. “Even though Michigan’s winter months are slower for this category’s sales, the numbers have continued to climb, and we don’t see them slowing down anytime soon. Having the top two brands in our warehouse helps increase sales and our presence in the Southwest Michigan market.”
To keep up with this rising trend, breweries have started to jump on the hard seltzer bandwagon, each developing its own style. Big Sky Brewing out of Missoula, Montana, has created a line of spiked seltzers that will be available in Michigan later this year. Big Sky takes the craft approach, boasting the fact that its product is made with pure Montana water and comes in an unusual assortment of exciting flavors, including strawberry mint, cucumber melon, and ginger lemon basil. “As this category evolves and starts to take shape,” said Sutton, “Imperial Beverage is excited to bring new and exciting brands into local retailers across Michigan.”
Hard seltzer sales surged last year, and Southwest Michigan businesses expect another banner year as the summer heats up. In “Off-Premise Beer Sales Flatten in 2018 as Hard Seltzer Sales Near $500 Million,” market research firm Nielsen reported that in 2018, national sales grew 169 percent, totaling nearly $487.8 million, while volume increased 181 percent. These data showed that a majority of this growth occurred between Memorial Day and Labor Day, confirming that this summer sipper sees peak sales occurring during the Fourth of July holiday.
So the next time you’re soaking up the summer sun in Southwest Michigan, dive into your new favorite beach-day beverage! Hard seltzer may just be the drink you never knew your summer adventures needed.
Chaz Parks is events and donations coordinator at Imperial Beverage, a long-standing member of the Michigan beverage distribution community. Established in 1933 after the repeal of prohibition and purchased by Kalamazoo’s Cekola family in 1984, Imperial has grown from a one-county beer distributor to a top 10 statewide beer, wine, and spirits wholesaler. With 390 employees and four locations in Kalamazoo, Livonia, Ishpeming, and Traverse City, Imperial provides statewide coverage that serves every Michigan County, every week, all year long.