These are the five you should actually drink.

Elizabeth Laseter
August 30, 2018

An ice cold beer is the ultimate way to beat the heat—until you face the numbers. Some craft brews, especially IPA’s, can have nearly 400 calories per pint. And if you’re watching calories, these numbers can be pretty discouraging to hear.

Don’t fret—there’s still a way to quench your thirst this summer without derailing your diet. It’s called alcoholic seltzer, alcoholic sparkling water, or boozy seltzer—and it’s fizzy, fruity, and much lower in calories and carbs than beer.

RELATED: We Tried 9 of the Latest Sparkling Waters—And This One Was Our Favorite

If you’re a fan of LaCroix, Perrier, and other seltzer waters—or if a vodka soda is your jam—then this trending libation may be your perfect beer alternative.

In grocery stores, you’ll typically see alcoholic seltzers sold alongside beer. While the packaging appears similar, the two drinks are quite different. Beer is made from fermented barley, while alcoholic seltzer is typically made from fermented sugars. These seltzers boast fruity flavors such as lime, grapefruit, and raspberry, but they’re surprisingly low in sugar—and some varieties even contain no added sugar. Ingredients vary, but the most common ones you’ll see are water, sugar, and natural flavors.

So, is alcoholic sparkling water really worth the hype? To find out, we scoured our local grocery stores for every brand and flavor we could find. We settled on 14 different varieties from five different seltzer brands—White Claw, Truly Spiked & Sparkling, SpikedSeltzer, Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling SeltzerHenry’s Hard Sparkling Water, and Svedka Spiked Premium Seltzer.

Lime-flavored seltzers dominated our taste test, followed by grapefruit, cranberry, and orange. Across all of the seltzers we tried, the ABV ranged from 4 to 6 percent (similar to that of beer), and the majority were gluten-free. Most interesting of all, all of the seltzer brands printed nutrition facts and ingredient lists on their cans, which is something you rarely see with beer. Knowing the calorie count of your drink could be game-changing, especially if it prevents you from reaching for an extra drink you probably don’t need.

We divvied up our selection of seltzers into three categories—lime, berry, and citrus—rounded up our fellow Cooking Light staffers, and conducted a blind taste test for each one. We sipped our way through them all, and arrived at a final verdict.

How do we really feel about alcoholic seltzer?

The alcoholic seltzers of today are a major upgrade from the fruity, carbonated beer alternatives of the past like Smirnoff Ice or Zima. However, not all seltzers are created equal. Some were crisp and well-balanced, while others tasted of chemicals (and, in one case, a popular brand of kids’ multivitamins), or smelled like a frat house floor.

We can confidently pick clear winners from each category, but in all honesty, we’ll probably stick with lighter craft beer if we’re watching calories. With that said, we can certainly understand the appeal of alcoholic seltzers—and we would consider trying these four alcoholic seltzers again. Snag them at your local grocery store, beer store, or large retailer such as Total Wine.

Svedka Spiked Premium Seltzer Cucumber Basil

Svedka

ABV: 4.5%
Calories: 100; Carbohydrates: 3.5g; Sugar: 3.5g
Average price: $9 for six 12 fl oz cans 
Gluten-free: No 

In addition to this one, we tried two other flavors of Svedka's spiked seltzers—Strawberry Elderflower and Tangerine Hibiscus. Honestly, we were impressed with all three of them, but Cucumber Basil was our top pick. This seltzer is ultra-crisp, sophisticated, and drinks like a cucumber martini, albeit a little less boozy. The low ABV makes this seltzer perfectly drinkable by the pool or at the beach, too. One taster commented, "This would be delicious with a splash of watermelon juice!"    

Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water Lemon Lime

MillerCoors

ABV: 4.2 %
Calories: 88; Carbohydrates: 1.7g; Sugar: 0g
Average price
: $9 for six 12 fl oz cans
Gluten-free: No

We liked this “refreshing, totally drinkable” seltzer for its “nicely-balanced, sweet and tangy taste.” Several tasters likened this to a shandy—and one taster labeled it “a less sweet version of Sprite.” This seltzer’s strongest quality was its subtle hint of lemon, which kept it from being overly sweet. At just 88 calories per 12-ounce can, this was also the lowest calorie seltzer that we tried.    

White Claw Hard Seltzer Natural Lime

White Claw

ABV: 5%
Calories: 100; Carbohydrates: 2g; Sugar: 2g
Average price
: $8 for six 12 fl oz cans
Gluten-free: Yes

Compared to several of the other lime contenders, which tasters panned for their “cloyingly sweet flavor” and “fake aftertaste,” White Claw’s Natural Lime flavor was the clear winner. Its clean lime flavor and subtle sweetness reminded one taster of key lime pie. Another taster commented, “Perfect for a summer BBQ!”

SpikedSeltzer Indian River Grapefruit

Spiked Seltzer

ABV: 6.0%
Calories: 140; Carbohydrates: 5g; Sugar: 5g
Average price: $9 for six 12 fl oz cans
Gluten-free: Yes

The citrus category was our most diverse—and included orange, grapefruit, and lemon-flavored seltzers. For the most part, our tasters gave orange a “thumbs down,” and compared lemon to the “chalky aftertaste of a candy valentine heart.” The grapefruit seltzers, on the other hand, were better balanced and consistently earned higher marks.

Of these, SpikedSeltzer’s Indian River Grapefruit was our top pick. This seltzer is nicely carbonated and packs a bold, bittersweet punch. One taster praised, “It’s a like a grapefruit-flavored shandy!” If you’re watching calories, SpikedSeltzer’s flavors might not be your best option. Of all the seltzer brands we tried, they were the highest in calories, carbs, and sugar. They also had the highest alcohol content—at 6% ABV per 12-ounce can!

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Cranberry Lime

Total Wine & More

ABV: 4.5%
Calories: 90; Carbohydrates: 1g; Sugar: 0g
Average price
: $9 per six 12 fl oz cans
Gluten-free: No

We struggled with the berry category. We sampled flavors from cherry to raspberry to cranberry, and most were too sweet and rather medicinal in taste. One flavor—Smirnoff’s Cranberry Lime—clearly shined above them all. Tangy-sweet cranberries and a touch of lime make this seltzer well-balanced and surprisingly smooth. Tasters also found this seltzer to be crisper and fizzier than other flavors we tried. At 90 calories per 12-ounce can, it clocks in as the second lowest calorie seltzer.    

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