By Sharyn Jackson Star Tribune
FEBRUARY 10, 2019 — 9:09AM
Hard seltzer is the latest release from Stillwater craft brewery Lift Bridge Brewing Co., which joins a handful of others nationwide in brewing up the latest drinking fad. The spiked sparkling water is trending here and everywhere, fueled in part by LaCroix mania (that’s the wildly popular sparkling water originally from Wisconsin), and in part by rising health consciousness that has consumers looking for lower-calorie drinking alternatives.
Lift Bridge is touting their hard seltzer as just that.
“You don’t feel like you’re becoming too full from them,” said Brad Glynn, Lift Bridge’s co-founder. The brewery notes that one 12-ounce hard seltzer has 120 calories and 2 grams of sugar.
The thirst for lighter alcoholic beverages goes beyond breweries. The bestselling cocktail at some Parasole group restaurants, which include Good Earth and Burger Jones, is a vodka with club soda, said COO Donna Fahs. The trend dates back to the earlier part of this decade, when so-called “skinny” drinks got their own heading on cocktail menus.
“That’s really when we discovered that people were wanting less,” Fahs said. “I think some people are more interested in getting the buzz and not having the calories.”
That’s one way to account for hard seltzer’s meteoric rise — a 166 percent increase in 2018 from the year before, according to Nielsen data.
Because hard seltzer is made from fermented sugar as opposed to malt, it also gives breweries a new way to go after the gluten-free market.
But those aren’t the only drinkers they’re after. The craft brewery boom has led to what some analysts see as an oversaturation. As craft breweries continue to expand — there are a whopping 7,000 in the U.S. now — they have to diversify their offerings to keep themselves in the game — and draw non-beer-drinkers through their doors.
“The bartenders were talking about regulars,” Glynn said. “One said, ‘I’ve known Gary for three years and never met his wife because she didn’t like beer. Now I finally met her.’ We’re seeing the rise of ciders and alternative beverages like this because people do want to hang out and have a good time and not just drink water.”
Lift Bridge isn’t the first brewery in the state to offer hard seltzer. That would be Third Street Brewhouse (219 Red River Av. N., Cold Spring, Minn., 1-320-685-3690, thirdstreetbrewhouse.com). Cans of their hard seltzer, called Hula, are sold around the state. They come in mango-papaya, pineapple-guava and starfruit-dragonfruit flavors. Hula was launched last summer, and brewmaster Karl Schmitz expects to see more local breweries coming out with their own hard seltzers before long.
“I think it’s a whole other category of drinker,” Schmitz said. “We felt maybe the direction of seltzer waters was one to pay attention to.”
But Schmitz wouldn’t call it a health drink, exactly.
“By definition, it’s beer,” he said. “I think it’s a perception thing. It’s perceivably more healthy, but we’re not actively promoting it that way.”
Lift Bridge is the largest local brewery to bring hard seltzer into rotation.
Four flavors are available in the taproom (1900 Tower Dr. W., Stillwater, 1-888-430-2337, liftbridgebrewery.com): Northwoods Juice Box (apple-cranberry), St. Croix Berries, Voyageur Citrus and Island Time Tropical Blend. Northwoods Juice Box will show up at bars in the Twin Cities soon.
When the product is canned this spring, it will go up against nationally distributed hard seltzers such as Whiteclaw.
“There are a lot of national companies and bigger corporations doing these,” Glynn said. “We thought, ‘Why can’t we make something locally crafted with some interesting flavors?’
Sharyn Jackson is a features reporter covering the Twin Cities' vibrant food and drink scene.
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