A mouth-watering, refreshing blend of sparkling water, fruit flavouring and alcohol has taken the beverage industry by storm. It’s low in calories and carbs, and it is gluten-free.
The category continues to lead the way for growth, driven by consumer demand for flavourful drinks with ‘better-for-you’ attributes. Hard seltzers’ popularity is linked to changing consumer drinking preferences, where the focus is on wellness and health, reduction in sugar consumption, all-natural ingredients, and sustainability - a major purchase driver for consumer behaviour.
Hard seltzers present an attractive alternative to traditional alcoholic drinks. New flavour combinations such as basil & lime, juniper & grapefruit, strawberry & sandalwood, lower alcohol options (1% to 4% ABV), reduced sugar variants, and innovative brand positioning are hard seltzers appealing factors, and these are what’s gaining rapid traction among millennials and Gen Z.
The key characteristic of a hard seltzer is that it’s clear, clean, crisp and contains alcohol (typically 4% to 7% ABV) with a fruit flavouring. A 355ml (12oz) serving will on average have 90-100 calories (the vast majority coming from the alcohol) and a few grams of carbohydrates. Hard seltzers are highly carbonated.
There are four simple ingredients: sugar, water, yeast and flavouring. Then it’s down to innovative production know-hows and creativity to deliver a differentiated product proposition based on quality and taste. As an expert in fermentation with a 60-year heritage in winemaking and now in brewing, we at AEB design innovative solutions for the optimal applications of yeast and yeast nutrients, enzymes, and filtration technologies. We develop biotech solutions guided by our core belief in safe, sustainable, and responsible operations.
And so, naturally, taking those four ingredients, AEB has developed a craft approach to creating craft hard seltzer.
There is a careful focus on the methodology in a production protocol and huge focus on the solutions that will help brewers and beverage producers create the perfect neutral alcohol base for a hard seltzer.
The first step in the production of a hard seltzer is to blend water and sugar. Typical sources of sugar are cane sugar (sucrose), glucose, or liquid invert sugar (a glucose and fructose blend). Keeping everything clean and sterile is important; therefore, as best practice we recommend to sterilise or pasteurise the sugar wash.
It is important the pH is right. The process of fermentation will tend to acidify the sugar wash, so it needs adjusting... to a perfect pH8 and we did it using Deacid.
Next step is to ferment the sugar wash. Because the aim is to produce a neutral alcohol base, the specific yeast strain is especially important – we recommend one that is high attenuating but contributes little to no aroma and flavour, such as AEB’s FERMOL Charmat. This yeast, commonly used in the production of sparkling wines, is perfect for a fast and consistent fermentation, up to 15% ABV.
Sugar alone offers little nutrients to support the metabolic reactions vital for yeast to do their job. Yeast nutrients function as fermentation aids, they contain the essential amino acids and other nitrogen containing compounds, a source of minerals (salts) and vitamins. So, here we recommend the yeast nutrient FERMOPLUS Integrateur 20 KD.
It’s time to clean-up the fermented solution and make it clear. All colloidal materials, aromas, flavours, and colour needs to be stripped away to leave a clear, odourless, and ultra clean alcohol base.
AEB’s wide selection of clarification and filtration solutions offers the craft producer a range of cost-effective options; in fact, as a brewer you will have most of the equipment needed to make hard seltzer. Here again we bring our expertise from winemaking where clarification, correcting for the right texture and mouthfeel, and adjusting the aroma and flavour nuances, determines the end-product quality.
Now you have a blank canvas from which create a hard seltzer that’s distinctive and transforms into a brand that’s unique. The range of fruit infusions and natural flavourings, such as fruit juices, bitters, herbs, hops, and spices, and combinations of, is endless. Citrus fruits tend to accentuate the refreshing taste as they add a little acidity. During hard seltzer flavouring, we recommend the addition of AEB's Arabinol Arôme, a blend of selected arabic gums that enhance the sensory profile, increasing the perceived mouthfeel and sweetness without adding calories and improving bubble stability.
It would not be hard seltzer if it didn’t have bubbles. Canned hard seltzers are typically carbonated to about 2.8 volumes of carbon dioxide. Also in this circumstance, we bring our know-how for proper carbonation by using the Stripping Control System.