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Seltzer's Popularity Bubbles Up In The U.S.

Aug 10, 2017
Originally published on August 10, 2017 6:24 pm

We may be in the middle of a seltzer bubble.

Americans are drinking nearly 170 million gallons of the fizzy stuff each year, and sales have gone up 42 percent over the past five years with no signs of slowing down. There's even a restaurant in Boston offering a $40 flight of limited-edition seltzers.

"We're now at a point in American history where seltzer is more popular than it's ever been," Barry Joseph, author of Seltzertopia, tells All Things Considered. He says today's obsession with seltzer has its roots in 1971, when Perrier launched in the U.S.

"A new drink comes over from Europe in 1971 called Perrier, and suddenly people aren't only interested in flat water anymore," Joseph says. "Now, they like maybe a mineral water. They like the idea of sparkling water, and people rediscover this thing we've had around for a while: seltzer."

Joseph says today people are turning to seltzer as a healthier option than soda. One brand in particular is having a moment among millennials: LaCroix.

Rapper Big Dipper's YouTube hit "LaCroix Boi" is an ode to the sensual possibilities of seltzer.

It's somewhat mysterious how a brand that was cool with Midwestern soccer dads in the 1980s has caught on with today's 20-somethings. But it's not just LaCroix that is gaining new popularity.

Seltzer brand Polar has carved out a space in a crowded fizzy water market with seasonal, limited-run flavors.

Hard seltzer has also recently taken off, with popular brands White Claw and Truly. Sweet Cheeks, a barbecue joint in Boston, offers a $40 seltzer flight. Diners get four cans of Polar with four nips of vodka.

Owner Tiffani Faison points out that $10 vodka sodas aren't rare in the city. And she says it's supposed to be fun. The flight comes as a kit packed in ice that includes four cups with crazy straws.

"I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous," Faison says.

The seltzer flavors are pretty silly, too, with names like Dragon Whispers, Mermaid Songs, Yeti Mischief and Unicorn Kisses.

And if you're wondering what Yeti Mischief could possibly taste like, Faison says it's like lemon-lime with a handful of Skittles thrown in.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We may be in the middle of a seltzer bubble. Americans are drinking nearly 170 million gallons each year, and seltzer sales have gone up 42 percent over the last five years with no signs of slowing down.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Further evidence that we've reached peak seltzer - there's a restaurant in Boston offering a $40 flight of limited edition seltzers.

BARRY JOSEPH: We are now at a point in American history where seltzer is more popular than it's ever been.

SHAPIRO: Barry Joseph is the author of "Seltzertopia." He says today's seltzer obsession has its roots in 1971.

JOSEPH: A new drink comes over from Europe in 1971 called Perrier, and suddenly people aren't only interested in flat water anymore. Now they like maybe a mineral water. They like the idea of sparkling water. And people rediscover this thing that we've had around for a while, seltzer.

CORNISH: Joseph says that people are turning to seltzer as a healthier option than soda, and one brand in particular is having a moment.

JOSEPH: Millennials have their own fascination with seltzer, specifically one particular brand, LaCroix.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LACROIX BOI")

BIG DIPPER: (Singing) LaCroix Boi - tiny bubbles tickle tongues, mixing flavors just for fun.

SHAPIRO: That's rapper Big Dipper with his YouTube hit "LaCroix Boi," an ode to the sensual possibilities of seltzer. It's somewhat mysterious how a brand that was cool with Midwestern soccer dads in the 1980s has caught on with today's 20-somethings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LACROIX BOI")

BIG DIPPER: (Singing) Peach, pear, apricot, tangerine, don't ever stop. Mango, cran-raspberry - best you ever had.

CORNISH: But it's not just LaCroix. Seltzer brand Polar has carved out a space in a crowded fizzy water market with seasonal, limited-run flavors, which brings us back to that $40 seltzer flight in Boston.

SHAPIRO: Sweet Cheeks is a barbecue joint in Boston, and for your $40, you get four cans of Polar with four nips of vodka. Owner Tiffani Faison points out that $10 vodka sodas are not rare in the city. And she says this is supposed to be fun.

TIFFANI FAISON: You get this great, little kit packed in ice. You get four cups with really crazy straws coming out. I mean the whole thing is ridiculous.

CORNISH: And the seltzer flavors are pretty silly, too.

FAISON: Dragon Whispers, Mermaid Songs, Yeti Mischief and Unicorn Kisses.

SHAPIRO: If you're wondering what Yeti Mischief tastes like, Faison says it's like lemon-lime with a handful of Skittles thrown in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SELTZER BOY")

LENNY SOLOMON: (Singing) Don't bring me water. I got to have seltzer 'cause water don't bubble, and water don't fizz. Water I hate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.