What it’s Really Like Testing 500+ Hard Seltzers
Working as a Professional Canned Cocktail and Hard Seltzer Taster
There are many desirable jobs in this world. According to CNBC, the most sought after careers by job-seekers are in marketing and advertising, followed by computer technology and health care. Move over, because there is a career you may never have even heard of. And, trust us, you want to hear about it. Seltzer Nation Hard Seltzer Testers get paid to drink hard seltzer and canned cocktails. You heard that right. We have a team of expert hard seltzer tasters, and they drink delicious hard seltzers for a living. They have other job responsibilities, of course, but who’s counting? Regardless, we interviewed our two head testers, Claudine and Sheryl, and we’re back to report all the details. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as a canned cocktail and hard seltzer taster? Well, you’re about to find out.
How did you get into the business of being a professional canned cocktail and hard seltzer taster?
In early 2020, before the founding of Seltzer Nation, our team members were each looking for some healthier alternatives to beer and vodka mixed drinks. Sometimes beer is just too heavy and makes you bloated. Also, vodka drinks are great, but if you’re mixing at home, you tend to pour more than a bartender would, and you get tipsy too fast. Our team members wanted a healthy option, something light with no sugar or syrups, and light beer was just not doing it for them anymore. So, the seltzer nation tester team independently discovered hard seltzers out shopping and fell in love.
We [Seltzer Nation’s two head testers] are close friends and started our hard seltzer journey together. At first, we were drinking Truly, and a friend mentioned she had White Claw as an option at her wedding, so we tried that. Fast forward a couple of months, and we were trying all kinds of brands. We were sitting around one day talking about how big the seltzer movement was becoming. There were new products every day on the shelf and more people we spoke to were drinking them. So, we decided it would be fun to start taste testing them and create a review website. Nobody else had anything like this, a proper review process that provided a raw and honest take on all these flavors and options. We discussed the concept with the ownership group at my place of employment, Level 6 Marketing, and they agreed it would be worthy of investment. From there, we developed the Seltzer Nation brand, grew the team some more, and it’s been full speed ahead ever since.
How long have you been doing this? How many drinks would you say you’ve tasted?
It started in the summer of 2020. We recruited a team of testers and began with a series of flavor battles. We then blind-tasted by flavor profile (Mango, Black Cherry, Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Berry). To keep the brands and flavors secret from all of the testers and ourselves, we poured an equal amount into plastic, see-through punch cups. This also helped us evaluate the color and carbonation of each drink. I still remember us going to a few stores and buying loads of seltzers; I think the clerk was concerned for our health! We tracked the results, observations, and health information on a detailed spreadsheet and wrote our reviews. As of today, we have tested over 500 different flavors/brands. That’s right, over 500 hard seltzers and canned cocktails!
How do you decide which drinks to taste?
In the beginning, we started with the mainstream brands and focused on what most people could buy in stores. At the time, the big players were Truly, White Claw, Bon Viv, Bud Light, and Corona. Once we began publishing our reviews and building a presence, we started receiving requests to test. That’s when the shipments started to arrive and the real fun began. We focused on hard seltzers for a long while because that was our thing. It was an alternative to drinking liquor or beer. But eventually, we considered the wine seltzers and RTDs (ready-to-drink canned cocktails) that were starting to show up on shelves. We also prioritize seasonal offerings. Since we began taste testing, we’ve seen an influx of “new” flavors based on the season. We’ve tasted Thanksgiving flavors, winter holiday flavors, summer fun flavors, and more. Since these are seasonal, we have to test these quickly to get the word out before the flavors are no longer available. This is why using social media for reviewing hard seltzers works so well – if we had to wait for print, the reviews would be for unavailable products.
What happens during a tasting?
First, we record the ABV (alcohol-by-volume) & ingredients and log those details. We also look at the packaging, can design, and any messaging, etc. From there, we have a scoring system that includes scent, flavor accuracy, carbonation, alcohol intensity, etc. We also evaluate for overall flavor. Are these flavors too sweet? Too bland? Do we want to keep drinking the tester? Would we drink it again? We each work independently to score using a pre-defined ranking system:
50-69 Not Recommended
85-89 Very Good
Then we average the scores and write up our reviews.
What do you do if you don’t like a drink?
This can happen. Especially if it’s a flavor one of us just doesn’t like. For example, some people like lime and others do not. We can still give it an honest review based on our system. That’s also why there are several of us tasters/reviewers. Somebody likes spiked iced tea, right? If we have a seltzer that tastes skunked, we notify the brand and seek a new shipment. We want these brands to receive honest feedback, so if there’s something we think they should know, we tell them. When we expanded into ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs), we recruited additional testers who really liked specific liquors. For example, not everyone enjoys tequila, but some people do. So, we have specific testers for tequila, vodka, gin, rum, wine-based drinks, etc.
What happens if you disagree on whether a drink is good or not?
Oh yeah, this has happened before but not that often. Our system works to level that out. If one person has an extreme opinion that differs from the rest, we consider removing it.
What do you do if you don’t like the fruit or type of alcohol the hard seltzer is using?
This was never an issue in the beginning. But over time, brands started using alternates to fermented cane sugar. We see sucralose and other artificial sweeteners now. As long as it’s not too prominent, we tend to be ok with this. Some of us prefer lower-calorie drinks, so beverages with artificial sweetener are winners for them. Some of us prefer the real deal. As far as alcohol? I think the consensus is as long as it’s not too boozy, we’re good. We have tested some drinks over the years that had a super high ABV, and those were tough to test. Again, by having testers who have alcohol/wine preferences, the team is large enough to give an unbiased and true review, regardless of the fruit or alcohol base.
If you love a drink, will you keep drinking it after the tasting is over?
Of course! We love a hidden gem that we’ve never tried. If we really like one, we look for it locally or online, so we can purchase it after testing it. Unfortunately, there are some we cannot purchase where we reside. When one of us travels out of state, we visit the local liquor stores and grocers to see what they have on the shelves. You can always ask your local stores to request a brand. It’s worth asking!
Do you have a favorite hard seltzer and canned cocktail?
We tend to lean towards the 4.5% ABV. Others on the team like low-calorie options and don’t mind sucralose. When we first discovered hard seltzers, we fell in love with Truly’s Tropical Pack. Our favorites right now are: Michelob Ultra Organics, anything Truly makes (we spent last summer drinking the punch pack), Mighty Swell has some very good flavors (peach), and Funky Buddha. As far as RTDs? We really like Cutwater and Canteen, and Big Storm is a local gem. We just tried Plant and loved it! La Dolce Vita vodka seltzers, but we can’t get them locally.
This is one of the most fun “jobs” we’ve ever had. We feel very lucky to be doing something so groundbreaking and something to help others make informed decisions.
What do you see coming for the hard seltzer market?
More flavors, choices, vehicles (think ice pops), coconut water hard seltzer, sports drinks hard seltzer, mainstream soda that is a seltzer (like Jack Daniel’s & Coca Cola or Hard Mountain Dew). There are celebrities in the space, too. We have seen Travis Scott, Gordon Ramsay, Shay Mitchell, and Sammy Hagar! We just interviewed Sammy about his brand Sammy’s Beach Bar Cocktail. Can’t wait to test it!
Want to find your perfect hard seltzer or canned cocktail? Try our new Seltzer Finder! You can search by flavor, ABV, carbs and more to discover your ideal beverage.