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Chris Bibey

Hard Seltzer vs. Beer: 6 Key Differences to Keep in Mind

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For many years, the beer market has been king, from canned beer to beer on tap. While this is sure to remain somewhat true moving forward — especially when you consider the sheer number of beer brands and the love of beer from cicerone experts — there’s a new sheriff in town: hard seltzer.

As you compare hard seltzer vs. beer, you’ll soon realize that the beverage industry is being turned upside down. Hard seltzer sales are growing by the day, with these beverages becoming mainstays at social gatherings, bars, restaurants, country clubs, and more. They are now among the drinks every bartender should know.

What are the Differences Between Hard Seltzer and Beer?

On the surface, hard seltzer and beer appear similar. And while this is true in some ways, such as the packaging, there are some major differences to understand.

Key takeaway: A simple comparison of hard seltzer vs. beer shows that there are many differences that make these beverages unique from one another.
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1. Flavor Spectrum

If you were to conduct a blind taste test, it wouldn't take long to identify whether you're sipping a beer or a hard seltzer. Beers can span a whole spectrum of flavors, from the rich bitterness of a hop-filled IPA to the creamy, malt-filled charm of a smooth stout or the crisp, thirst-quenching sensation of a lager. 

Beer brewers use a variety of ingredients, such as different malts, yeast strains, and hops, to create unique flavor profiles that range from sweet to bitter and mild to robust.

Conversely, hard seltzers tend to follow a fruitier script. Seltzer makers have dialed in on consumers' love for all things fruity, delivering flavors like raspberry, mango, lime, and many more. These flavors often result in a lighter, more refreshing taste, which can be a welcome change, especially on hot summer days.

2. Alcohol Content

When it comes to alcohol content, there's a pretty clear distinction. Beers can vary significantly in their ABV. Light beers might offer an ABV as low as 4%, while certain strong ales can reach a formidable 12%, similar to the average  wine alcohol content This wide range gives beer lovers plenty of options to suit their mood or the occasion.

Hard seltzers, meanwhile, tend to keep things on the lighter side, with most brands offering an ABV of around 5%. This consistency in alcohol content often makes hard seltzer a preferred choice for those seeking a milder alcoholic beverage that won't hit as hard as some of the stronger beer options.

3. Calorie Clash

If you're someone who likes to keep a close watch on your caloric intake, the battle between beer and hard seltzer might have a clear winner. Many hard seltzer brands have hopped on the health-conscious trend, advertising about 100 calories per can, which is often lower than the average calorie count for beer.

On the other hand, beer's caloric content can range widely, with lighter beers being relatively close to hard seltzer, while heavier craft beers can climb quite a bit higher. The ingredients and brewing process of beer often lead to a higher calorie count, which could be a consideration for those trying to maintain a specific diet.

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4. Bubbly or Not

Let's talk about “fizz.” Hard seltzer brings a bubbly personality to the party, offering a level of carbonation that's typically higher than what you'll find in most beers. This fizzy feature gives hard seltzers a refreshing mouthfeel, perfect for a hot summer day or a casual social gathering.

On the other hand, while some beers (like certain types of craft beer) do have a notable level of carbonation, most don't reach the bubbly heights of a hard seltzer. The relative lack of bubbles in beer can make for a smoother drinking experience, which some folks might prefer, especially when paired with a meal.

5. Price Check

When it comes to price, the range can be quite broad for both beers and hard seltzers. You can find budget-friendly options and more premium choices in both categories. However, it's worth noting that the craft beer industry has seen a surge in recent years, which means you might encounter some artisanal brews with a hefty price tag.

Hard seltzers, in comparison, typically offer more consistent pricing. You can usually pick up a pack of seltzers without making too significant a dent in your wallet, making them an attractive option for those looking for a budget-friendly alcoholic beverage.

6. The Occasion Game

Where you'll find these beverages also differs. Beers have long been the drink of choice at sports events, bars, and casual get-togethers like backyard barbecues. There's something deeply ingrained in our culture about a cold beer at a baseball game or while flipping burgers on a hot grill.

In contrast, hard seltzers have emerged as a popular option for more relaxed, sun-soaked gatherings like pool parties, picnics, and beach outings. Their light, refreshing taste, coupled with their portable and easy-to-handle cans, make them an ideal choice for these casual outdoor settings. It's a sign of the times — as our social scenarios evolve, so do our drink preferences.

Hard Seltzer vs. Beer: Frequently Asked Questions

When comparing hard seltzer vs. beer, these types of questions commonly move to the forefront. 

What is the primary difference in flavor between hard seltzer and beer? 

Beer tends to offer a wide variety of flavors due to its diverse ingredients like malts, yeast, and hops. On the other hand, hard seltzers typically feature fruity flavors, providing a lighter and often more refreshing taste experience.

How does the alcohol content of hard seltzer compare to that of beer? 

Hard seltzer typically contains about 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), which is in the same range as many light to medium-bodied beers. However, certain beer types, such as strong ales, can have a significantly higher ABV.

Is there a significant difference in calorie count between hard seltzer and beer? 

Most hard seltzers contain around 100 calories per can, often making them a lower-calorie choice compared to many beers. While the calorie content of beer can vary, lighter beers might be comparable to hard seltzers, but heavier craft beers often contain more calories.

Does hard seltzer or beer have more carbonation? 

Hard seltzer typically has a higher level of carbonation compared to most beers, lending to a bubblier mouthfeel. While some beers do have noticeable carbonation, they generally fall short of the fizziness found in hard seltzers.

How do the prices of hard seltzer and beer compare? 

Both hard seltzer and beer can span a wide price range, with budget-friendly options and more premium choices available. However, certain craft beers may command a higher price compared to a pack of hard seltzers.

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Hard Seltzer vs. Beer: What’s Best for Your Bar or Restaurant?

If customer acquisition, customer retention, and increasing sales are all important to you — and they should be — a large selection of both hard seltzer and beer is necessary. Just make sure you know the answers to "can beer expire" and "how to properly store hard seltzer." This knowledge will save you a lot of resources.

With so many beer types and hard seltzer flavors to choose from, settling on the perfect combination shouldn’t be a challenge. 

If you're ready to increase your bar owner profits, reach out to BinWise and BlueCart to learn more about the technology that can help. 

The BinWise Pro inventory program gives you peace of mind with a streamlined perpetual inventory system, while BlueCart’s order management software simplifies your order management system.

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