They say the first part of getting better is admitting you have a problem, so here goes — I like White Claws.
Actually I kind of love them.
This isn’t easy for a beer-swilling Southern man to admit. The closest I’ve ever been to any phenomenon like this was when Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers hit the scene in the ’80s and all of the high school girls went crazy. (The drinking age was 18 way back then.) But even then dudes might nip one in a pinch, but there was no proud, open guzzling of wine coolers by men or boys who thought they were men.
This new, fortified spritzer-water craze is a whole new animal, though.
I was late to the game when it came to just enjoying non-alcoholic spritzer waters, honestly. My wife and some of our friends chugged can after can of La Croix, San Pellegrino and any of their cheaper, non-Italian knock-offs, but I stubbornly stuck to the ice water dribbling through my thoroughly-in-need-of-changing refrigerator filter.
Growing up I’d never been a fan of Perrier or other fancy bottled waters. Where I grew up in Mississippi, the water was a beautiful light brown and was so soft it took 15 minutes to wash your hands. Fancy French H2O was just too big a leap.
In 1990 I spent several months in Europe and was constantly irritated that “gas water” was the first choice of nearly every waiter at nearly every restaurant. That solidified my opposition to water that fizzes.
Part of my aversion was that those were just bottles of water with carbonation and unless you love the taste of carbonation, those bubbles really weren’t adding much to the overall product.
Fast forward a few decades and everyone’s suddenly swigging cans of La Croix and San Pellegrino with flavors like pomegranate, grapefruit and blood orange. I finally broke down and had a can and it was great. Downright refreshing!! But I still wasn’t going out of my way to get cans of flavored fizzy water until they put booze in it.
I’ll admit giving that first White Claw a sideways glance and looking around furtively before taking a sip, sure all my college buddies would suddenly spring out and start making fun of me. It was lime flavored and I remember thinking, “Not bad at all White Claw! Well done!”
I proceeded to dip into the rest of the variety pack — or “Fantasy Pack” as I prefer to call it — and tasted the rest of their offerings. Raspberry — loved it. Black Cherry — kind of NyQuil-ish, but in a good way. Grapefruit — I could just taste the antioxidants entering my bloodstream. And the lime was a solid player as well.
It felt like I’d just discovered something new, but clearly these things were out there and a little research was in order. What I discovered was “hard seltzers” were absolutely taking over the world. Their sales had gone up over 200 percent in the past year, with 164 percent of that taking place in July alone. That’s insane. It’s a half-billion-dollar-a-year industry already, and headed for more than $2 billion by 2021, according to industry analysts. So I didn’t discover fire.
Still, I wasn’t really sure about drinking White Claws in public. One of the more disturbing things I learned in my research is that back at the beginning of White Claw’s evolutionary chart you’ll find Zima. Yes, Zima is an early ancestor of today’s hard seltzers.
That scared me.
In my younger days, if wine coolers were for girls, Zima was just straight up for weirdos. There were some strange dorky kids at the end of the hall in college who shared a four-pack of Zima between eight people and danced to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” every Saturday night. That wasn’t a ringing endorsement.
That information was a little like finding out your new girlfriend’s father is Pee-wee Herman.
So I kind of stuck close to home with the White Claw thing. One day I saw my neighbor drinking one in his yard. I looked at him and he confessed to liking them too. That made me feel better. He’s a big, manly airline pilot who probably never danced around with a Zima. Probably.
Summer was on and we were spending a lot of time at Heron Lakes’ pool, swimming, chowing down on their awesome hamburgers and staring at the Galaga game imagining how perfect the summer could have been if the quarter slot wasn’t jammed. At first we were just enjoying a few standard adult beverages, but soon I noticed more and more people were brazenly hanging around the pool Clawing away.
We took the plunge. It was White Claw summer at the pool. People were standing around talking about which flavor was their favorite and debating whether some of the less-successful seltzers such as Henry’s or Truly were as good. (I smell a Pepsi Challenge for seltzers coming up.) One day several people even took a White Claw personality test to match each person with a particular Claw flavor. I was excited to be a grapefruit. I even called my shot before I took the test.
But it all got out of hand. There was a massive run on White Claw toward the end of the summer and a few times I went to the pool and was told they’d all been sold before I got there. I could barely choke down those sad consolation beers.
It’s even become hard to find them in the stores. Apparently there’s a national shortage. I found the last Fantasy Pack at Publix a couple of weekends ago hidden behind boxes of the unloved, unflavored Claws no one wants.
Last week one of my best friends admitted he’s been bewitched by the mango Claw — which isn’t available in the Fantasy Pack for some bizarre reason. Another friend and I joined him Saturday night for some football watching and I found a new favorite flavor.
Now I’m not sure what level of enjoyment people around us had listening to three middle-aged men loudly saying “ain’t no law when you’re drinking the Claw!” several times an hour, or ordering new rounds by clawing at the air towards the bartenders, but for us the mango Claw provided tasty, low-carb entertainment.
Sure, I could sense the disdain of men drinking dark, bitter beer, probably thinking we were acting like high school girls. And I think I actually saw a guy drinking an Ultra trying to stare us down — as if he had any right. But even though it had officially turned fall, the Summer of White Claw was still going strong.
I texted one of my companions the next morning to see how he was doing, offering simply: “Ain’t no law ….”
His response was: “Maybe there should be.”
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