Hard Seltzers, Easy Drinking

Appears in the April 2020 issue.

If you’ve tried hard seltzers and weren’t impressed, maybe it’s because they weren’t crafted Chicago style. Out-of-towners, after all, don’t always get the City of Big Shoulders. We expect high quality with no nonsense and purity with no pretense.

Thanks to two Chicago-area names in brewing—Buffalo Creek and Solemn Oath—we now have our own locally made hard seltzers. And they didn’t just jump into the trend with an ordinary product. They held back, looking at what was good and what was not good. Then they worked on a superior product. That means it’s time to revisit hard seltzers.

Just in case you didn’t notice hard seltzers belly up to the bar and buy a round for the millennials (who promptly bought a second round), you should get up to speed. Hard seltzer is just what it sounds like—sparkling water with alcohol and light flavorings (hello, White Claw). They’re low-carb, low-calorie, refreshing, and affordable. Last year sales grew 200 percent. As popular as they are, even a city renowned for craft brewing and multinational spirits companies didn’t produce its own hard seltzer. Until now.

Up in Long Grove, Buffalo Creek Brewing taproom customers had been asking owner Mike Marr if he would make a hard seltzer. He obliged with, “Hell, yeah.” But Marr didn’t want to follow the crowd or make something just because. Instead he decided to make an ultra-clean hard seltzer. By using a reverse osmosis system, Buffalo Creek starts with pure water, free of the minerals and chemicals typically found in tap water. For the alcohol, they dissolve just enough dextrose to give Champagne yeast a special treat. That yields a drink with five percent alcohol by volume and 100 calories in a 12-ounce pour. After fermentation they infuse boysenberry extract into the mix. Black Hoof is a refreshing hit with the flavor profile of raspberries and blackberries in an ultra-clean, gluten-free hard seltzer. A fresh batch arrives in the taproom every Friday but usually runs out by Sunday afternoon.

If you can’t spare time for a Long Grove outing, Solemn Oath Brewery in Naperville introduced Chicago’s first locally made canned hard seltzer. After making a name for itself as a local brewery, SOB branched out into hard seltzer with its City Water brand last fall. They spent the better part of a year perfecting its recipes for City Water, ultimately settling on four standout flavors: Lime Coconut, Mixed Berry, Grapefruit, and Valencia Orange Cranberry. At five percent ABV, City Water weighs in at an appealing 110 calories—in a category that’s hard to get right. Hard seltzer not only has to be crisp and refreshing, but it also has to have a perfect balance of flavor and alcohol. City Water may have hit the mark; reviewers are saying it’s among the very best.

City Water should be easy to find, too. You’ll find it at Whole Foods, Binny’s and independent stores. It’s also at select restaurants and, of course, is sold packaged at the Solemn Oath brewery in Naperville (1661 Quincy Ave.).

Before reaching for the White Claw, consider raising a glass filled with a locally made hard seltzer. Your inner Chicagoan will be glad you did.—KA

Photo courtesy Solemn Oath