In this past in this column, I’ve made it known that I’m not the biggest hard seltzer fan, writing that spiked, bubbly water is fine as a path to inebriation but doesn’t provide the most memorable drinking experience.
I’m not sure representatives from Heineken USA knew this when they reached out to me a couple weeks back with a potential exclusive: to announce the release of Bask, “a new IPA-style hard seltzer” from the famous beer brand. (My best guess is they saw “beer writer” in a Twitter bio, pegged Boston as one of two launch cities — the other is San Diego — and clicked “send.”) But I said yes to the offer, and after being chosen asked a Heineken rep if beer drinkers like me were indeed the product’s intended audience.
“Bask is inspired by the palate and mentality of craft beers, but is intended for anyone who craves a flavorful and meaningful drinking experience,” says Ryan Webb, Heineken USA’s director of innovations. “In our initial research, we saw that only 30 percent of craft-beer drinkers consumed hard seltzers last year, providing an opportunity to deliver a new product that would bridge that gap.”
Despite my interest in a variety of craft beer, I am not a snobby drinker. I drink plenty of fancy IPAs but will also order Bud bottles, pours of Guinness, and the occasional Truly when appropriate. There’s enough going on in the world that sometimes your drink order doesn’t need to be too complicated.
But I was interested in the basic conceit of Heineken’s Bask. Would I like Bask more than regular hard seltzer? Less?
Mechanically, Bask is made like a hard seltzer but with certain elements common in beer brewing, including a flavor forward yeast (rather than neutral) and a proprietary hop oil. Vital stats like calories (110), sugar (3-4 grams), and alcohol by volume (5 percent) mimic the seltzer class.
“The beverage space has become pretty inundated in the last few years,” says Webb. “We believe our distributor, retail partners, and consumers don’t need just another hard seltzer. . . . Our biggest opportunity was to create a lightly hopped hard seltzer that delivers IPA flavors without the fullness.”
Heineken very nicely sent me all three flavors of Bask to try ahead of the official release. I started with lemon, and immediately saw the point; this is lemon seltzer with a deeper citrus profile. The hop oil is present but not annoying, unlike in some hard ciders where dry-hopping is shoehorned in. The drink was, in a word, refreshing.
I’ll add a caveat: Naked hops are an acquired taste, maybe even more so than in hoppy beer. And so the second flavor of Bask, just called “original hops,” is a slightly harder sell. The best description I can give of the seltzer’s aroma is that it smells like walking into a brewery, and that’s fine for me. But I can see hard-seltzer fans who aren’t crazy about beer picking any of these flavors up by mistake and being turned off by what some may perceive as fuller flavor, and others as aftertaste.
The last of the three Bask flavors is blood orange, and it’s probably the best of the bunch, with a round, full fruit flavor that doesn’t feel forced. I’m doubtful that Heineken has a breakout winner here, but the fact that the seltzers are gluten-free means drinkers who can no longer consume beer might have found a worthy substitute.
Heineken’s Bask IPA-style hard seltzer hits the Boston retail market Oct. 15.