Summer of 2019 proved Americans have a thing for hard seltzer. It's cool, it's bubbly... it's hard to hate, but some people love it more than others. And it might surprise you to find out where they are.
For anyone who's had a fun-less summer spent far away from pools, lakes, beaches, or barbecues, hard seltzer is a canned readymade drink that’s exactly what it sounds like: Carbonated water with alcohol in it. Low in sugar and subtly flavored, it has the same alcohol content as beer (about 4% to 6%) without the heaviness and fewer calories than most.
It's the obvious choice for today’s health-conscious millennials, who have been loving on brands like White Claw, Bon Viv, and Truly for a couple of years now. But in summer 2019, hard seltzer really found its calling as the perfect drink for a hot day and a good time. The sensation even led to a nationwide shortage of White Claw — the popular hard seltzer brand that's so beloved (and so millennial) that it earned its own super quotable viral video, chock full of catchy one-liners like, "He's giving applause to the Claws," and "Ain't no laws when you're drinking Claws, baby!"
So when you imagine cracking one of these open, you might see yourself out on a lake or on the coast somewhere. And understandably so: Bon Viv's logo features a set of mermaids, while White Claw's is literally just a big wave covering the front side of the can. But it turns out the most avid hard seltzer buyers aren’t sitting oceanside with a cooler full of cans. They’re in landlocked Montana.
“We put White Claw on our shelves about a year ago, last July, and we cannot keep it in stock,” said Jasper Webb, bar manager at White Front Bar, a Square vendor in Philipsburg, Mont. The bar keeps a few local Montana seltzers around too, but the real moneymaker is White Claw. And in the 13 years she’s been there, Webb says she’s never seen a drink sell at such an absurd rate.
“We order cases and cases every week and at least sell out by Sunday. We don’t reorder until Tuesday so we kind of run low. All flavors sell, all the time.”
In the 14 months ending July 2019, Americans bought $9.3 million worth of hard seltzer through Square vendors alone, according to a data analysis conducted by the mobile payment company, whose check out software is used by small bars, restaurants, and stores across the country. To pinpoint the heavy hitters, we asked Square for a state-by-state breakdown, and calculated the per person spending, specifically for Americans between the ages 20 to 34 — the generation responsible for the hard seltzer trend.
While Montana topped the list, with millennials there putting an average $1.50 towards hard seltzer — almost twice as much as millennials in runner-up Wisconsin.
Most of the other states where average spending was high were also in the mountain region or the Midwest. In fact, the only two coastal states that broke the top ten were Maine and New Hampshire. California and Florida — the big beach states — sold a lot as a whole, but the per millennial amount was less than 20 cents.
Of course the number of Square vendors isn’t consistent, state-by-state (although a company representative did say that they all fulfilled a certain minimum), and these numbers don’t account for all purchases of hard seltzer made in the U.S. But they do show that the trend isn't limited to vacationers in Nantucket. When it comes to seltzer-loving America, the states between the coasts are pulling their weight and then some.
As for the spell it has over all of us — Webb’s explanation is refreshingly simple:
“Easy drinking, I guess. Nice cold easy drinking.”