I’m always looking for new column ideas, and a number of people have recently urged me to write on the rise in popularity of hard sodas, which my son dubbed “reverse mocktails.” The concept didn’t sound too good to me — kind of like candy cigarettes — but, in the interest of science, I thought I’d give a couple of a try.
Hard sodas are, technically, flavored beers — as they are malted alcoholic beverages with added sugars and other flavors — although they don’t taste anything like beer. While the boom in hard sodas is a relatively recent development, with a number of different brands putting out a host of different flavors, such beverages go back a number of years to the introduction of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (which, incidentally, I really like) and, for those of you who remember the early ’90s, Zima.
Small Town Brewery of Wauconda, Illinois, puts out a number of hard sodas (which, incidentally, they define as beers), under the “Not Your Father’s” and “Not Your Mom’s” brands. The female versions include apple pie, iced tea and strawberry rhubarb flavors, while the male offerings are root beer, ginger ale, cream soda and Mountain Ale.
Small Town’s “Not Your Father’s Root Beer” is actually the best-selling hard soda in the United States, but as I had not seen a Mountain Ale from another company, I thought I’d give it a try. I chose poorly. Ostensibly a hard Mountain Dew, it had the color of and, I assume, the taste of antifreeze.
Anheuser-Busch puts out the “Best Damn” line of hard sodas, which includes a root beer, an apple ale, a sweet tea and a cream soda. As I love cream soda, I gave the Best Damn Cream Soda a try. It does taste just like cream soda, very sweet — too sweet for me, however. I couldn’t finish the bottle.
Henry’s Hard Sodas, brewed by MillerCoors, puts out four flavors — ginger ale, orange, grape and cherry cola — plus two “hard sparking” options in lemon-lime and passion fruit, which are only 95 calories, about half as caloric as Henry’s regular offerings. I sampled the orange and the grape hard sodas from Henry’s and found both to be very tasty. I’m not sure I could tell the difference between Henry’s Hard and a grape or orange Fanta.
Twisted Teas, owned by the Boston Beer Co. (of Samuel Adams fame), amazingly puts out 11 different styles of alcoholic teas, including mango, frosted cherry and watermelon lemonade. I tasted its original tea and found it OK, kind of a lightly sweetened sweet tea, nothing like our Lower Alabama cavity-inducing sweet tea. Not bad, but don’t know if I’d get one again.
Finally, Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Co. does not put out a slate of hard sodas, but does produce a hard version of its (really excellent) non-alcoholic root beer. Like its non-alcoholic cousin, Bayou Bootlegger Root Beer is brewed with real Louisiana cane sugar, and you can taste the sweetness. As with Henry’s Hard Sodas, it’s hard to tell the difference between the Bayou Bootlegger and a regular root beer.
After sampling a host of hard sodas, I’m certainly not ready to give up my IPAs for them, especially since many exceed 200 calories per bottle and about 30 carbs per serving (compared to about 150 calories and 12 carbs for most craft beer). But if you are looking for a sweet alternative to beer, hard sodas might be for you.