Western North Carolina brewers and cider makers are no strangers to experimentation — a few exploratory, small-batch brews are almost a given on any local taps menu. But lately, some pioneers are pushing the brewing envelope a little further, embracing a national hard-seltzer trend. This summer, look for the fizzy, refreshing and low-calorie drinks from Sweeten Creek Brewing, Noble Cider and Bold Rock.
“Hard seltzers are technically a beer product,” says Noble CEO Trevor Baker. His company’s line, dubbed Noble Hard Cider Spritzer, has been available since September. While many hard seltzers on the national market are made from fermented sugar water and artificial or natural flavoring, he says, Noble’s spritzers start with fresh-pressed Henderson County apples. From there, the four varieties — lemon and elderflower, orange and jasmine tea, lime and hibiscus, and grapefruit and Citra hops — are flavored with a botanical and one fruit each, such as organic citrus peels. They all clock in at 4% ABV with 99 calories per 12-ounce serving.
But Bold Rock Hard Cider, which has facilities in Virginia and Mills River, doesn’t shy away from the “seltzer” designation. The cidery is planning a June 10 release for its packaged line of 4% ABV Bold Rock Hard Seltzer, which comes in grapefruit and cucumber-melon flavors.
Almost a year of research and development went into creating Bold Rock’s all natural, fermented apple-based products, which have 1 gram of sugar and 82 calories per 12-ounce serving. “Hard seltzer presents an opportunity to play ball in a parallel category that is growing explosively, and we had enough confidence in our liquids team where we thought we could develop a hard seltzer product that would compete and succeed in that space,” says Lindsay Dorrier III, the company’s director of new business development
Sweeten Creek Brewing released its first hard seltzer, a blood orange-apricot flavor, on tap April 26 in its South Asheville taproom. “It went pretty quickly,” says co-owner Erica Justice. The brewery has since released cherry and berry blast varieties and is looking toward offering lemon-ginger and lemon-blueberry seltzers soon — all on draft for the time being. “We’re still kind of playing around with flavors to figure out what works and what customers like,” she says.
While Sweeten Creek co-owner and brewer Joey Justice is reluctant to divulge the intricacies of his process, he says his 6% ABV seltzers contain malt and are made on the same equipment he uses to brew the brewery’s beers. The former Highland Brewing Co. head brewer’s decision to try his hand at seltzers was rooted in a love of experimentation. “I think it was just trying to find something different to do,” he says, noting his past experience in establishing sour and barrel programs, which aren’t feasible at a small operation like Sweeten Creek. “This felt like something that could be fun and a little more technical.”
Noble cider maker Leif Stevens was inspired to create the spritzer line after Italian friends served him a refreshing “spritz” made from botanicals and seltzer water during a boating outing. The challenge of making a cider version of that drink, he says, was keeping plenty of flavor without added sugar and calories. “These spritzers are the hardest product that we make so far,” he says. “[But] I feel that we struck the right balance and I am very proud of this product.”