A seltzer renaissance is upon us.
Seltzer sales have more than doubled in the past five years. Analysts will say this is part of the ongoing health trend in the United States, as people wean themselves off that sugary-sweet soda pop and onto zero-sweetener, zero-sodium, zero-calorie seltzer water.
The new seltzer wave is much simpler than these so-called “analysts” make it out to be: seltzer is just cool right now. You don’t get a whole wall dedicated to yourself at the new Whole Foods in Williamsburg by being “healthy”—you get it because you’re cool.
If you ask me, a self-proclaimed seltzer influencer, I say this trend is long overdue and the beverage is finally getting the recognition, respect, and a third thing it has always deserved. So here I am, with a millennial’s guide to seltzer.
(Disclaimer: By the time you read this, seltzer might already be lame. It’s very possible that this article is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and pushes this seltzer bull market past the breaking point. Don’t blame me.)
The proper way to do a seltzer taste test would be to have a set of strict guidelines on how to sip and taste the seltzers, along with metrics—label design, taste, “mouthfeel,” etc.—by which to grade them. There would probably have to be a control substance to cleanse my palate in between each test as well. But this is a millennial taste test, so I did absolutely none of these things. I went with my gut for this. I’ve had enough seltzer to just vibe my way through this thing like I did through the Sahara tent at Coachella (I have never been to Coachella).
To begin, I purchased seltzer from two totally different places: semi–ooh la la Gourmet Garage, and Jubilee Marketplace, an Everyman’s everyday deli. (Dean and DeLuca, the most ooh la la place nearby, did not stock seltzer. Big mistake; I wouldn’t be surprised if they go under soon.)
(Before we continue, let me note that both these establishments are located in SoHo, about three blocks from each other and my office. I don’t want to get a bunch of angry letters from regional seltzer-heads saying, Bobby, how could you forget Indiana’s favorite seltzer, White River’s Original Bubbled Water, sold only at Lucas Oil Stadium, three delis, and two grocery stores in greater Indianapolis? I apologize in advance. And if you want me to review your city’s exclusive seltzer, send me a bottle and an angry letter and I’ll do my best.)
While choosing seltzer, I ran into a problem: there are many faces and names of this trending beverage. Some cans say “lemon sparkling water”; others, only a can or two away, say “lemon-lime seltzer”. This posed a huge issue: who am I to draw the line on where lemon sparkling water ends and lemon-lime seltzer begins? I am merely a designer at a food magazine; I’m not trying to play Seltzer God here. Obviously I had to narrow it down a bit, so I chose only things that said seltzer on the label and tried to pick the closest flavor to lemon. I wasn’t about to drink a bunch of unflavored seltzer—that would just be unpleasant and possibly also uncool.
After many weeks of planning, it was time to taste. I lined up nine seltzers and tasted them all in one sitting. I took rigorous notes, searched my soul for answers, and came up with the below guide. This is what I found:
La Croix Apricot
I had never tasted La Croix before, but I was skeptical. La Croix is at the forefront of seltzerwave—there are Instagram accounts dedicated to La Croix memes. (Just letting you know that was in the back of my mind.) I was not disappointed: the fizz was strong and the taste was great.
But La Croix’s greatest strength is the design of its can: Just look at this beautiful, hand-done typography. The colors of the can remind me of sitting on the beach soaking up that vitamin D, sweating out all the toxins and impurities in my rushing blood. I have been at the beach for about three hours and I’m just starting to feel burned, so I reach into my designer bag to get my Glossier Face Mist. But, to my dismay, it’s not there! I must have lent it to my close personal friend who is an actor/musician/model and is so famous I had to take his/her name out of this anecdote for legal reasons. So I reach over to the only other thing on this beach: a cold, refreshing La Croix Apricot. I crack the can, and the sound immediately cures half my sunburn. I take the rest of the can and pour it over my head, and it immediately quenches my thirst and my burning skin. Once it dries I become a perfect golden tan. Then my theme song plays, and the La Croix logo comes up on the screen.
I really did enjoy this flavor. A strong start to my seltzer tasting. Four stars.
I bought Pellegrino from Gourmet Garage. It didn’t say seltzer or have any flavoring, so I already broke the rules. But it was the most expensive fizzy water they had, and obviously there’s a direct link between cost and quality, so I bought it. (And what type of person would I be if I didn’t break the rules every once in while? I certainly wouldn’t be where I’m at today, reviewing cheap bubbly water out of cans for the Internet—I can tell you that much!)
Pellegrino is gross. Very light fizz, no taste, and it has ten milligrams of salt in it, so this is basically as unhealthy as a soda. This drink tastes old; I imagine that’s a big selling point for their audience. But you gotta hear both sides: seltzer is not printed anywhere on the bottle, so maybe this belongs in a different bubbly-water think piece. Zero stars.
Schweppes started strong with an immediate jolt of fizz, although I’m not sure if it had an unfair fizz advantage because it was cold and the others I tried were not. (Most of these seltzers I drank were only a little bit under room temperature. Some might have even been at room temperature—I’m not a scientist so it’s hard to say.) I made this very intentional decision because advertising for beverages sometimes tells you that what you are purchasing is “the coldest beverage” and therefore the most refreshing beverage. I do not subscribe to this rule of thought. I do not listen to the yuppies working in the advertising industry. The corporate fat cats up in their aluminum tower will not tell me how cold my beverages are or how refreshed I will be after.
So, a lot of fizz here, again no lemon, but I thought pomegranate was close enough. I would say this one was too cold, and flavor was lacking, but overall still a solid choice. Six out of ten.
Canada Dry Lemon Lime
This one was good. Nice and light in texture and taste. Very bubbly, for sure better than Schweppes. Not as good as La Croix though, eh? B+
Boylan Bottling Co. Lemon Seltzer
Like Pellegrino, this was another fancy glass bottle from Gourmet Garage. And like Pellegrino, this one was not great, or good at all for that matter. It tasted like nothing—super boring and expensive. (And the name Boylan sounded like a weird brand of artisanal clay toothpaste or something to me, which is the opposite of refreshing and tasty, so there was that too.) Sometimes, in the world of seltzer—and delis in general for that matter—you don’t get what you pay for. Boylan’s seltzer is garbage.
La Croix Passionfruit
Pretty good, La Croix! Two out of two La Croixs (La Croixes?) I have tried and liked! Can’t argue with that math. The color of the can is pink, which I am very into. It tastes very similar to the apricot one I tried earlier: both are sweet, but maybe passionfruit is a little sweeter if I had to pick one. I’m loving everything about this brand. If anyone at La Croix is reading this, please contact me for a seltzer activation/sponsorship deal! Lets build, bro! I’m down with the movement. #Like4Like, #followforfollow, etc.
Vintage Lemon Lime
This one is pure, unadulterated, NSFW SELTZER. Packaging is super tight—it screams SELTZER at me. Very considered yet experimental design at work here! Who’s the creative director over at Vintage? They need a raise. This is the gold standard for what it should take to put those seven letters on your bottle. That being said, the product itself doesn’t blow me away. Just kinda tastes like your average, run-of-the-mill seltzer. If I had to ask myself two questions about this seltzer, they would be: “Is it great seltzer?” Yes. “Does it blow me away?” No. Not all heroes wear capes, not all that wander are lost, etc. I give Vintage a check-plus.
Polar Seltzer Raspberry Pink Lemonade
For some reason Raspberry Pink Lemonade was the closest thing Jubilee Marketplace had to lemon. I figured it has lemon in the name, so it should work fine. First thought here: why isn’t it pink? After further consideration, I realized pink is a flavor, like blue or green in energy drinks. But this answer only raised more questions in my mind: how do seltzer companies flavor these things? All these seltzers have no calories, no sweeteners, and no sodium, but all have “natural flavors.” I thought the natural-flavors thing was so they couldn’t get sued if you had a bug in your soda? I am confused to say the least. Write in and let me know if you have any info on what the process is. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
This is a frontrunner for sure: bubbles are great, flavor is on point, brings out the inner Kardashian in me. Very, very good.
La Croix Pamplemousse
The language barrier finally gets to me. I understand nothing about this can; it’s all in French. Reminds me of when I went to see Goodbye to Language, that Godard that came out a few years ago. I understood 0 percent of it and fell asleep after twenty minutes.
French aside, this seltzer is great. I now see what all the hype is about, but nothing good comes easy. The recent success of La Croix leads me to believe that this seltzer is, in fact, a government plant. I believe that someone in Washington is in cahoots with the carbonated-water industry, and together they have been planting this stuff all over the Internet—memes, Snapchats, tweets, polls, GIFs, YOU NAME IT—just to make a quick buck. Have you seen that La Croix wall in the brand-new Whole Foods located in Prime Williamsburg? (They make a La Croix box–shaped cake too.)
I truly can’t take this anymore. The jig is up, illuminati! I see you, and I can smell what you are doing all the way over here! Sorry, but I won’t be supporting this brand anytime soon, and I strongly advise that you all do the same.
This was very tough. We had a lot of great competitors here, and everyone really went for the gold. And for that I would like to thank you all for participating.
It being an election year and all, I didn’t think it would be appropriate to name one definitive seltzer here. There’s enough division in America right now—we need to come together over seltzer. The real winner: all of us living in this golden age of seltzer.
Rob Engvall is the junior designer/resident influencer at America’s Favorite Food Magazine, Lucky Peach.