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Coloradans have long prided themselves on taking their sipping seriously: straight whiskey from the floppy camping flask, hop-bomb local IPAs, or bust. But even we haven’t been immune to the hard seltzer craze that’s swept the nation over the past few years. For evidence, one need look no further than the increasing amount of bottle-shop-shelf and cookout-cooler space being devoted to the easy-drinking, fizzy, fruity beverage, which is generally made from fermented cane sugar and gluten-free. (If you prefer hard data, however, there’s the fact that the product’s market size is projected to reach nearly $4.4 billion by 2028, up from $2.5 billion in 2021.)
If you’re one of the few still holding out, allow us to present a few reasons real Coloradans should lower their noses and lift a spiked seltzer to their lips. Unlike craft IPAs, which often sneak up and incapacitate you with an 8.5-plus percent ABV (and 200-some calories), seltzers reliably clock in at five percent ABV and around 100 calories. Even the most serious craft brewers are making their own. And, lastly, they’re refreshing AF.
Look: We’re not saying we’re ready to belly up to the bar and order a flight of seltzers to swirl and sniff. But if, like us, you’re inclined to enjoy a couple while playing volleyball in Wash Park or cruising a pontoon around Dillon Reservoir, you might as well buy local. So, we gathered up the 5280 staff, cracked many, many cans, and awarded superlatives to some of the most readily available Colorado-made selections.
Best Overall: Sparkalicious Hard Seltzer by Bootstrap Brewing
This Longmont beermaker selects song pairings for each of its products, and like the ditty it chose for its three Sparkalicious flavors—Weezer’s “Island in the Sun”—its seltzers are breezy, tropical crowd-pleasers. Since we’ve been programmed to expect these drinks to be clear, the liquids’ red and yellow tints can be a bit disconcerting, but that’s easily remedied by leaving the cocktail-inspired Cosmo, Sunrise, and Greyhound varieties, whose ABV of 4.5 percent is even lower than average, in their groovy cans. (Keeping them cold is still imperative, so grab a koozie.) Of the dozens of variations we sampled, the grapefruit-infused Greyhound was the clear favorite: not too sweet, real fruit flavor, and just the right amount of fizz.
Tasting Note: “More like sparkling fruit punch, and you know what? I’m into it.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Greyhound
Most Creative: Denver Beer Co.’s Craft Hard Seltzer
Watermelon yuzu mojito, lemon hibiscus fizz, cucumber lime spritzer, and passion fruit orange guava punch: There’s a lot going on with the four flavors in a case of Denver Beer Co.’s hard seltzer. Perhaps our palates are underdeveloped, but we couldn’t quite pick out specific notes of guava or yuzu. However, these very bubbly blends mostly work, especially for those who gravitate toward cocktails with similar ingredients.
Tasting Notes: “Sweet and refreshing—want to sit on a floatie in a pool and drink.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Lemon hibiscus fizz
Best Cans: Wild Basin by Oskar Blues Brewery
Taking a note from popular big-box brands, Lyons-born Oskar Blues packages its seltzers in tall, skinny cans—and call us brainwashed by White Claw, but it just feels right. The colorful design that graces most of its dozen or so flavors, with peaks and pines seemingly reflected in an alpine lake, is oh so Colorado, as is its commitment to cleaning up waterways. (Wild Basin sales have generated more than $185,000 for environmental projects on rivers and beaches across the country.) Although classic flavors like melon basil and cucumber peach have been staples in our coolers since the brand became the first craft seltzer to hit the market in late 2018, most of the berry mixed pack—strawberry coconut, blueberry mango, black raspberry, and something called Yumberry—we grabbed for this taste test was nearly undrinkable. But at least they’ll look good lingering in your fridge for months.
Tasting Notes: “Other than the disturbing combination of strawberry and coconut, a nice middle-of-the-road selection in a handsome can.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Melon basil
Most Likely to Get You Turnt: Elevated Seltzer
As the state’s only dedicated seltzer-maker, perhaps it’s not surprising that Elevated Seltzer, whose Olde Town Arvada taproom opened in July 2019, is also the only local brand pushing its ABVs past 5 percent. Out of its regular eight-flavor lineup (other seasonal options come and go), four—mango, mixed berry, pomegranate-apple, and grapefruit—clock in at 7.5 percent ABV. It has also dialed the right level of bubbliness and sweetness to make its seltzers dangerously drinkable.
Tasting Notes: “I think I could put back a few of these without getting seltzer belly.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Grapefruit
Least Offensive: Sparkle Glacier Spiked Seltzer by Avery Brewing Co.
As we sipped seltzer after seltzer, a common refrain emerged: “This one has a weird, chemical-y aftertaste.” Maybe it’s the Arapahoe Glacier water Avery uses, or the fact that it doesn’t add any sugars, but the Boulder icon has found a way to at least temper this seemingly unavoidable side effect. In fact, some of our testers thought the Sparkle Glacier Spiked Seltzers tasted almost watered-down—not necessarily a bad thing in a genre that errs toward overly bubbly and overly sweet. Avery launched its founding flavors of CranRaz, cherry lime, and grapefruit (chosen from 60 options during a yearlong development process) two years ago and added a mango version to its mixed pack in 2021.
Tasting Note: “These taste like actual fruit.”
5280 Fave Flavor: CranRaz
Most Refreshing: Spiked Snowmelt by Upslope Brewing Company
Boulder’s Upslope, known for its easy-drinking, summit-celebration-ready brews, doubled down on that ethos by partnering with neighboring Skratch Labs to add the local sports nutrition company’s Drink Mix (sodium citrate, magnesium lactate, calcium citrate, and potassium citrate) to its boozy sparklers. The Electrolyte Series—strawberry and kiwi, cucumber and basil, and ginger and yuzu—is also crafted with all-natural flavors and no artificial sweeteners, which does seem to result in a less fake aftertaste. Plus, you can talk yourself into thinking it’s actually good for you.
Tasting Notes: “Electrolytes seem like a good idea.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Strawberry and kiwi
Cleverest Name: Whitewater by Great Divide Brewing Co.
We like to think that in addition to being a nod to the froth beloved by the rafters, kayakers, and surfers who ply Colorado’s runoff-fueled rivers, Great Divide also chose the name Whitewater to poke fun at the fact that most seltzers are inexplicably clear, like the Invisible Cherry Kool-Aid of our childhoods. Its pomegranate lime, wild berry, and ruby red grapefruit are fairly mellow, but the mango ginger proved divisive in our taste test, with ginger fans digging the slightly spicy flavor while others were turned off by the combo.
Tasting Notes: “There’s a White Claw clone (the berry), boring, but also something special (mango ginger).”
5280 Fave Flavor: Mango ginger
Most Aromatic: Good Company Hard Seltzer by Breckenridge Brewery
Crack into one of the five flavors in Good Company’s extra-large 15-can mix packs with your eyes closed and sniff, and you’ll probably be able guess if you’re drinking the apple-pear, honeydew, mountain berry, peach, or black cherry. Some of our tasters thought the stronger scent contributed positively to the experience; for at least a few others, the effect evoked cough syrup. Either way, Breckenridge gets bonus points for drawing inspiration from Rocky Ford’s famous honeydew crop and Western Slope peaches when choosing flavors for this only-sold-in-Colorado product.
Tasting Notes: “Intense fake fruit smell—the apple-pear reminds me of drinking apple McCormick in college.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Apple-pear
Most Ambitious: Mysters Hard Seltzer by Dry Dock Brewing Co.
Aside from the relatively mainstream apricot—a no-brainer, given the Aurora brewery’s cult classic Apricot Blonde—Mysters is really going for it with its sour raspberry, ginger lime, and pineapple coconut seltzers. Sometimes, it works: Our tasters gave the brand kudos for doing something different with the sour notes to balance the raspberry sweetness. Other times, not so much, as was clear from our tasters’ spit-take reactions to the pineapple coconut. But hey—it’s a crowded market, so you gotta stand out somehow.
Tasting Notes: “Coconut should not be in seltzers.”
5280 Fave Flavor: Sour raspberry