The rise of hard seltzer in pubs & bars

Sales of hard seltzer in Australia have more than doubled in the past 12 months and experts are predicting it’s going to be a huge summer for the category. And one of the big growth areas is expected to be seltzer on tap in pubs.

Hard seltzers have already made it into the top 10 drinks chosen in the on-premise in the US, according to an IWSR survey consumers conducted in June 2021.

“This is critical for the category, considering that hard seltzers were non-existent on menus prior to the pandemic,” said Brandy Rand, COO Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. 

Australian brands including Fellr, Hop Nation’s Ray and Moon Dog’s Fizzer are already available on tap in Australia. The founders of Fellr, Andy Skora and Will Morgan, say on-tap will be a big sales source for their brand over summer as venues reopen.

“We’re expecting strong growth in our on-tap business,” Morgan said. “It’s been a shaky start to the year for kegs, but we expect it to bounce back strongly once everything is opened up in. Also, knowing the response and rate of sale we saw last year with our product on tap, we’re expecting a bumper year.

“We were lucky enough to have some really great local venues get behind us and trial the product, and I think even they were blown away with how well it sold, a lot of the time being their no.3 best-selling tap,” Skora added. “So while last year was a bit of a trial in the tap space, we’ve now scaled up our team, and our offering to really hit the ground running nationally with our on-tap strategy and have already had a ton of requests to get this in.”

Fellr got great feedback from the managers when it launched on tap at several venues last year.

Ben Pearce, General Manager of Beach Road Hotel in Bondi, said: “We were lucky enough to have the first keg on tap and with some gentle persuasion FELLR stands up among established draught beer and cider brands to disrupt long held draught traditions.”

Daniel Williams from the Prince of Merewether in Newcastle added: “FELLR have delivered an exceptional product with the flavour profile and branding standing out from the crowd.  It appeals to both the male and female demographic and even the health conscious. Since tapping it here at the Prince of Merewether, in just a few weeks it became a top 5 selling tap.”

Upping the Insta-worthiness of seltzer

Most seltzers are clear when you pour them from a can. But Detour seltzer at Escape Craft Brewery in California made its seltzer a social media hit by adding butterfly pea flower petals to give it a vibrant hue when it’s poured on tap in its brewhouse.

Brewery owner Melissa Fisher said the petals were originally intended to make beer, but it didn’t quite work out so they decided to use it in the seltzer instead. And it took Escape a while to perfect the seltzer recipe.

“We did about 12 different goes at it before we released it to the public,” she said.

The future for seltzer in kegs

Raymond Kent at OneCircle, which produces lightweight keg systems, sees a big future for seltzer on tap in Australia.

“Consumers have become more aware of carbohydrates, sugars and calories in their drinks,” he said. “But at the same time, they still want to go out to bars, nightclubs, restaurants etc to experience the atmosphere, enjoyment of different beverage flavours and alcohol with their friends.

“Hard seltzers are essentially flavoured sparkling water with alcohol, making them a great ‘healthy’ or ‘better for me’ alternative beverage when compared to traditional draft offerings such as beer.

“I see hard seltzers as an emerging draft category similar to the way craft beers emerged from the ‘bulk’ mass-produced beer category.”

Over the past few years, the craft beer market has become more saturated, meaning many craft brewers are looking at ways to grow their brand by diversifying their portfolio of drinks and producing seltzers.

Since many of these brewers are already accustomed to the advantages of kegs and have access to taps in venues, Kent (above) is confident that Australia will see more hard seltzers offered on tap via keg, especially over the summer months.

“OneCircle has been receiving a lot of enquiries from brewers, both large and small – as well as speciality beverage producers about the suitability of KeyKegs for seltzers on tap,” he said.

Bulk format packaging like kegs, barrels, or casks offers venues and their customers many benefits.

“The biggest advantages for most carbonated beverages like seltzers is freshness, protection from oxygen, temperature control, light protection, nicer ‘mouth feel’ and increased profits due to the bulk packaging format,” Kent said.

However, Kent said existing tap contracts may make it hard for new seltzer brands to get onto a free tap in a venue.

“So to succeed in having their kegged seltzer they will need to think outside the box and look to venues that are not aligned to one specific brewery and are not locked into a tap contract,” he said.

“The good news is that there are thousands of fantastic local restaurants and cafes that don’t have a draft system and could benefit from having one. Simple draft systems don’t need to be complicated or expensive and are a good way to win over new customers.”

Seltzers permeate restaurants in the US

IWSR also notes that the launch of Sonic Seltzer by the drive-through fast food chain is an early example of private label activity that could, in time, permeate to other restaurant and retail businesses – and illustrates the speed at which the hard seltzer category has moved over the past couple of years.

The second biggest seltzer brand in the US,  Truly Hard Seltzer, also recently announced its opening its first dedicated taproom in Los Angeles, the first taproom for a major national hard seltzer brand.

Truly LA’s 12 taps will feature beverages from the brand’s large range of varieties which include hard seltzers, lemonades, iced teas, and punch, as well as new flavours that promise to be exclusive to the taproom.

Or should it be called a “seltzery”? Maybe, but San Juan Seltzer has trademarked the term. It opened the first seltzery in the US, in Seattle, Washington. The venue features 16 spiked seltzers, cocktail-inspired seltzers, and seltzer lemonades.

Could we see seltzeries in Australia? Watch this space …

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