Hard Seltzer, the Easy Way

It’s no exaggeration to say that every company out there making anything vaguely resembling a liquid is now making hard seltzer. The Saturday Night Live sketch is so hilarious because it’s true, and you know what? I would legitimately purchase a variety pack including Men’s Jackets or Belts and Ties as flavor options. In fact, I have casually dropped cans of “Yard Darts” and “Skinny Dipping” into my basket as if those were on par with commonplace Lemon-Lime.

This profusion of hard seltzers can be chalked up to a number of intersecting trends. Alcohol sales shot through the roof during the height of pandemic lock downs, but most people weren’t trying to get smashed before noon. Lower ABV drinks have seen a resurgence as a more moderate choice, less intoxicating and more refreshing, perfect for a wide variety of occasions. Flavored sparkling water was already on the rise as a healthier alternative to sugary soda, so this extension of the concept appealed to the population that wouldn’t be as likely to crack open a heavy, high-calorie dark beer.

For me, a standard 12-ounce can of hard seltzer is the perfect serving size. It’s reasonable to drink in one sitting so leftovers won’t go flat, and is just potent enough to provide a comfortable buzz. Most 12-packs include four different flavors to keep things interesting, without having to commit to just one taste. Even if you get stuck with Jiffy Lube hard seltzer, it’s never so bad that it’s completely undrinkable.

That said, we can still do better. Hard seltzer is made from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, which is converted to alcohol. This takes special yeast and enzymes, just like wine-making. However, for even better and more consistent results, who said we need to go through all that rigmarole from scratch?

Here’s what you need:

Sparkling water and vodka. That’s it! You can use plain water and straight vodka to completely control the flavors through added extracts, fruit juice, or purees, or use infused options for one or either to make it even simpler.

If you’re hosting a party, set up a DIY hard seltzer bar with a variety of options for guests to mix their own. This way, they can also control the intensity of the alcohol, better accommodating both non-drinkers and heavyweights.

Here’s the magic formula:

  • 14 Tablespoons (7 Ounces) Sparkling Water
  • 2 Tablespoons (1 Ounce) Vodka (35% ABV)

= 1 Cup / 8 Fluid Ounces with 4.5% ABV

That’s roughly equivalent to most hard seltzers on the market. You easily have the advantage over the competition though, because it’s infinitely scalable and much less expensive in the long run.

If you want to go au naturel, cut the sparkling water with half fruit juice or puree, like peach nectar, apple juice, or tropical punch, both for taste and sweetness. That’s usually enough for me, but if you have a real sweet tooth, a drop of liquid stevia will help take off the edge.

If you’re a hard seltzer aficionado, what’s your favorite flavor? For upscale indulgence, I do love a bracing cucumber-basil lemonade, but by the same token, I still wouldn’t turn down Desk if you offered it.

Whiskey Business

The Irish weren’t the first to turn malted barley into whiskey over 3,000 years ago, but they certainly propelled the distilled mash into the art form we know today. Baileys in particular is eponymous with the cream-spiked brew, ranking as one of the most recognizable, top-selling liqueurs worldwide. The brand itself has been around for less than 50 years, but you’d be hard pressed to find any bar without an open bottle handy.

That kind of success goes well beyond the “luck of the Irish.” Adapting deftly to the rise of dairy-free drinkers, Baileys Almande continues to make waves among the imbibers in the know. A subtly nutty almond milk base complements the notes of sweet vanilla, with a bracing whisky bite. You don’t need to be well-versed in mixology to appreciate that kind of indulgent blend.

Baileys isn’t the only option for luscious liqueur, though. Making your own at home is both effortless and economical. Taking a page from the original spirited tipple, my DIY approach incorporates a touch of cocoa and coffee for a gentle mocha kiss. Flawlessly smooth and creamy, a straight shot envelopes the palate like liquefied ice cream, with an extra kick.

Serve it thoroughly chilled, on the rocks, for an instant after dinner treat, or use it as the catalyst for bolder culinary experiments. From brownies to cheesecakes, French toast to hot chocolate, it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient in its own right.

Forget beer and seltzer; this is the real gateway drug to adult beverages.

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Fresh Starts

Strapped for cash, struggling to make ends meet as the year winds down, the time had come to sacrifice some of my extraneous toys. I finally bid adieu to an old friend, and sold my juicer. The behemoth had flown with me from Connecticut to California made the drive from Oakland to Austin, surviving both treacherous journeys without so much as a scratch. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the masticating monster. It just never found a stable place in my daily routine. Peering out from the cabinet periodically, it would catch my eye as the light glinted off its stainless steel facade, only to return to the darkness untouched.

It deserved better. A machine should be used, not just stored. Helping to kick-start a neighbor’s newfound fervor for juicing, it’s a relief to see the old gal find a loving new home, as hard as it is to let go. Before that fateful day, we gave it one last whirl, squeezing the last drops of joy from our time together.

Releasing a golden wave of liquid sunshine into my glass, tropical notes of pineapple spiked with the bright acidity of fresh lemon flowed freely in this last hurrah. Naturally sweet without any sugar, the blend was tart, tangy, bright and bold. It glistened with vitality, fresh and invigorating. That would be enough for a morning wake up call, but to celebrate the occasion, a splash of sparkling white wine felt like an appropriate final touch.

As I raise this glass, to friendship and new beginnings, my heart swells with hope for the future. May 2021 be better for all of us.

Cheers!

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