Hard Sell

Taste Testing Washington’s Hard Seltzer Boom

Alcoholic seltzers have proliferated around these parts; Seattle Met's editors have a definite favorite.

By Allecia Vermillion and Zoe Sayler Photography by Jane Sherman June 25, 2021

Seattleites are never more united than we are in the summer. Teva tan lines? Check. Complaining about any temperature over 85 degrees? Check. Still refusing to admit we'd benefit from air conditioning? That’s a big sweaty check. Who needs it, anyway, when we’re also united by a supremely refreshing summer bev of choice: hard seltzer. 

Seriously, when’s the last time you scanned a beach around here? In the blessed absence of public drinking law enforcement, it’s all Mercer Island moms sipping San Juans where once there were wine coolers; frat bros gripping White Claws where once there were Rainiers; apparent high schoolers trudging through the sand with 12-packs of Truly where once there were...whatever they could get their hands on. Seltzer, seltzer, seltzeras far as the eye can see. 

The market for such a product—worth 800 percent in 2020 what it was in 2018—has exploded accordingly. Even Rainier’s shaking things up, along with a handful of actual locals, from Reuben’s to Schilling. What’s next, “Olympia Seltzer: It’s Literally the Water”? 

To toast this peak trend, our editors got together to try eight options born right here in Washington (read: get a little tipsy at work). Here are our thoughts on each—and our ultimate pick for Seattle’s unofficial fizzy booze of the summer. 

San Juan Seltzer

All Natural Peach Rosé  85 calories / 4.2 percent ABV

Keto friendly, with zero carbs and sugar? Editors previously unfamiliar with spiked seltzer marveled at the claims flaunted on the slender can from this SoDo-based maker. Its contents are pink like a proper rosé, as unmistakably peach-scented as a Bonne Bell lip smacker, but crisp enough to be a reasonable facsimile of rosé. “I never have poured seltzer in a cup,” one taster acknowledged. “But I would definitely have to, because this is so pretty.”

The verdict:
A can of this delivers easy drinking vibes without the shame of, say, a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Or, as another taster put it: "This has none of the terrible flavors I associate with White Claw."

Reuben’s Brews

Fruitfizz  100 calories / 5 percent ABV

One of the town’s most legitimate beermakers got into the seltzer game with a trio of fruit flavors—we tried the grapefruit. “This is the way to flout public drinking laws,” was the appreciative assessment of the snappy can design, with a cheerful color scheme that whispers “you’re doing something healthy right now, definitely not drinking malt liquor.”

The verdict:
“It actually tastes like citrus got dropped in seltzer water.”

No-Li Brewhouse

Day Fade Mango Hard Seltzer  100 calories / 5 percent ABV

A chorus of displeased noises greeted the first sip: “It’s like a chemical just entered my mouth.” But props for a summery can design “for the beer drinker who’s ashamed to be drinking seltzer.” Much like a Hawaiian Punch, the mouthfeel doesn’t present as cold, even straight from the fridge.

The verdict:
“It tastes like sunscreen.” Or perhaps “a really ripe mango somebody mashed up and left sitting in the sun.”

Jellyfish Brewing Company

Jelly Pop Hard Seltzer  5 percent ABV

On its website, this brewery near Boeing Field describes its cranberry, blood orange, and apple­ flavored seltzer as a “party water.” But it’s got a surprisingly funky nose and a bitter finish. “This almost tastes….winey,” one taster remarked. Or like the Martinelli’s sparkling cider kids drink on New Year’s Eve.

The verdict:
“It actually tastes like alcohol. The other ones don’t necessarily.” Whether or not that’s a good thing is in the eye (and palate) of the seltzer beholder. 

Rainier Beer

Rainier Seltzer  90 calories / 4.6 percent ABV 

How do you know hard seltzer is a real thing? When Seattle’s legacy beer brand, the stuff of dive bars and motorcycle ad campaigns, gets in on the action. Rainier’s seltzer comes in three flavors; we sampled the huckleberry. Upon first whiff: “This smells like candy.” Skittles, maybe. Or Jolly Ranchers. The taste suggests cough syrup, or the drinks that await players after a particularly grueling youth soccer tournament. So fascinated by Rainier’s foray into this new market, we cracked open the lemon, which proved the most refreshing of the three flavors—“It almost tastes like Sprite.” The apple doubled down on Jolly Rancher notes. “I think I would have mixed this with whiskey in college, and it would have been a bad time.”

The verdict:
“I would have loved this in high school.”

Gig Harbor Brewing

Fizz Head Hard Seltzer  5 percent ABV 

“This smells like feet” is not an auspicious first impression. The clip art aesthetic doesn’t help either. It starts out okay, another taster notices. “But dive bombs in the middle,” and ends with a barnyard flavor.

The verdict:
“Oh my god.” Also: “Dump it in the fricking Sound.”

Shark Jump Hard Seltzer 

P.O.M.  8.4 percent ABV

Forget the P.O.G. flavor of the ‘90s. This seltzer from Future Primitive, the ferociously talented White Center brewery, is all about pomegranate, orange, and mango. (And props for a name that’s gently self-mocking.) “You can taste the malt liquor-ness of it,” one taster acknowledged. “But I don’t hate it. It’s kind of interesting.” Another confessed that if blindfolded, “I would also believe it was a cocktail.”

The verdict:
A seltzer with too much self-respect to print its calorie count on the can.


Huckleberry Lime Seltzer   80 calories / 4 percent ABV

The seltzer from cidermaker Schilling has an intense magenta color that gives way to an unexpectedly mild flavor. It resembles neither huckleberry nor lime. That said, it does have “a little juice taste to it” that was totally pleasant. It’s hard to imagine drinking this when you aren’t outside.

The verdict:
“I don’t like it, but I kind of want to keep drinking it.” 

Our favorite

If confronted with all these options in an ice bucket at a party, we’re reaching pretty unanimously for the Reuben’s Fruit Fizz, followed closely by the San Juan Seltzer peach rosé situation.

Unless you’re really looking to get hammered. Then it’s Shark Jump, all the way.

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