I Won’t Go Soft on Hard Seltzer

Before the Wilcoxes relocated to California from Maryland some thirteen-and-a-half years ago, I generally replaced soda with a couple tablespoons of apple juice mixed with a 12-ounce can of seltzer (e.g., carbonated water). But finding the bubbly proved to be really challenging in SoCal. A few stores stocked seltzer in quart-size plastic bottles but no cans and for considerably higher price than what we paid back East.

Then came LaCroix’s bold brand turnaround early in the last decade. Packaging makeover and consumer rage against sugary soda won over mainstream Millennials, ultimately leading to a seltzer surge—whether measured by increased number of brands, flavors, or sales. That’s good for me, now a drinker of straight seltzer; no juice added by my hands or artificial flavors by bottlers.

Bothersome: presumed national trend that is onerously offensive in the Golden State—explosive availability of so-called hard (or spiked) seltzer, which means alcohol added. Californians love their booze, punctuated by craft beer houses in the South and winery expeditions in the North. But the big trend—and it’s shocking compared to the relatively tea-totaling ways of East Coasters: Alcoholic beverages are sold seemingly everywhere, not just in liquor stores. No cultural difference surprised me more upon our arrival.

What does everywhere mean? Maybe the question should be: Where isn’t booze sold? Among the places where it is: convenience stores (no surprise there); Costco; drug stores (CVS and RiteAid, for example); liquor stores (duh, of course); Supermarkets; Target; and Walmart, among many other locations. People with drinking problems, and hoping to sober up (or stay that way), should leave California—and certainly stay away. Seemingly every destination is a test of temptation. And now on tap: another alcoholic beverage, prettily packaged in cans.

Spiked seltzer combines alcohol, bubbly water, and fruity flavors into a Kool-Aid-lite bubbly buzz. Think soda pop with punch. Where does it end? When will Coca-Cola bring back Cocaine as one of the ingredients? What about Pepsi packing alcoholic pep? Why not add moonshine to Mountain Dew? These already are established fizzy drinks. Who needs spiked seltzer, when there’s a status quo adaptable to changing consumer tastes? Sarcastic sigh.

All that brings me to the Featured Image that inspired this essay. While shopping at the Ralph’s Supermarket yesterday, I came across a High Noon Hard Seltzer display smack in front of the fresh meat department. Got to say: There are a bunch of loaded connotations that go with a brand which includes word high and name is High Noon. Need I even explain?

I used iPhone XS to capture the moment. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 50, 1/49 sec, 26mm (film equivalent: 9:41 a.m. PDT. Store location: The Hub, San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood.

Regarding the second pic, which I decided to add right before posting: It’s the straightened original, with the cute kid hanging from a shopping cart. I originally removed him, because my habit is to not post photos of other parents’ children. But there is something compelling about the youngster, wearing a Batman shirt, looking up at the monitor, clinging to a shopping cart, moving through the meat department, and approaching a comparatively huge High Noon Hard Seltzer display.

What? You think his older siblings aren’t among this product category’s target market? Will he, and others his age, be drinking this stuff in a few years? You tell me.