The bubbly booze business is popping.
Wachusett Brewing Co. is the latest Massachusetts alcohol maker to roll out a new hard seltzer, with a line of lemonade-flavored drinks called Country Hard Seltzer coming later this year. The Westminster brewer joins Boston Beer Co., Night Shifting Brewing, of Everett, and global giants Anheuser-Busch InBev and Constellation Brands in developing products for this fast-growing category of light, low-calorie fizzy drinks.
Country Hard Seltzer will come in blueberry, lime, strawberry, and raspberry flavors in packs of slim 12-ounce cans, with 100 calories per serving and containing 4.5 percent alcohol.
Wachusett already has a line of hard seltzers, Nauti Seltzer, but they are sold under the Craft Cocktail Co. and not associated with the brewing company’s brand. President Christian McMahan said the company wanted to sell a line under its Wachusett brand after it began serving lemonade hard seltzers on tap at its brew yard in Westminster this past summer
“There was so much excitement about it,” McMahan said. “It was time to launch an independent line of lemonade-forward seltzers.”
Though still a tiny part of the overall alcoholic beverages market, hard seltzer is expected to triple, its US sales volume to more than 281 million cases, according to IWSR, a London firm that follows drinks markets worldwide.
“People want something that is easy to drink and perceived to be lower in calories and sugar than other alternatives — [hard seltzer] has checked a lot of boxes,” said Brandy Rand, IWSR’s chief operating officer for the Americas.
Indeed, Wachusett is up against some of the biggest names in the industry. Anheuser-Busch, which already sells Bon & Viv hard seltzer, launched Natural Light Seltzer in 2019 and Bud Light Seltzer is expected in 2020.
In the company’s third-quarter earnings call, in October, chief executive Carlos Brito said he hopes the seltzer will piggyback on the success of the company’s Bud Light beer brand. Another big beer name will also try to leverage its brand and market reach when Constellation Brands launches Corona Hard Seltzer in the spring.
“We believe that seltzers are here to stay,” Constellation’s chief executive, Bill Newlands, said in an October conference call.
The company plans to sell tropical lime, mango, cherry, and blackberry lime flavors.
“Not a lot happened for a while, and then suddenly in 2019 it was the summer of seltzer,” Rand said. “Now there is so much innovation happening in this space, not only from smaller players, but from larger players.”
Closer to home, Night Shift’s hard seltzer line called Hoot debuted in October. Boston Beer plans a lemonade hard seltzer in early 2020 under its Truly Hard Seltzer line, the second-largest-selling brand in the category.
Boston Beer’s CEO, David Burwick, credited Truly Hard Seltzer, as well as the company’s twisted tea alcohol drinks, with helping to drive a 30 percent increase in sales in the third quarter.
“We think that hard seltzer has very high upside; we just don’t know where the upside is, but we can — we believe it will continue to grow triple-digits next year,” Burwick said on a conference call in October.
Wachusett doesn’t break out results by individual line, but McMahan expects total production for the company, which includes its beer, cider and seltzer lines, to increase to 72,000 barrels, from 68,000 last year, and he forecasts sales of Nauti Seltzer to increase by the mid-single digits.
The Nauti lineup gets a tweak with the introduction of Country Hard Seltzer. It will drop its blueberry lemonade seltzer, replacing it with a raspberry lime flavor, and sell Extra Nauti, which is 8 percent alcohol, in 19.2 ounce cans and a variety pack.
The craft brewer is growing in other ways, too. It’s opening a taproom in the new Worcester Public Market and one in Harvard Square in Cambridge. McMahan said the company hopes to have both locations open by the end of January.
The launch of Country Hard Seltzers, meanwhile, will be tightly focused, McMahan said. While Nauti is sold along the East Coast and as far west as Wisconsin, Country Hard Seltzers will be available in New England.
“With the national brands that have come into play, there is not a need for us in markets we are not at with the Wachusett brand,” he said. “I think being local is going to be more important — if all things are being equal, who wouldn’t want to support local brands?”