Monday, September 25, 2017

Since this year I marked the 21st anniversary of my 21st birthday, I knew we had to lower the average age of our tasting group for hard seltzers, hard sodas and flavored fruity and summery beers that were recommended by Scott Maybaum of Wine Country. Maybaum explained that these refreshing drinks are perfect for these dog days of summer and they are, simply, the trendiest alcoholic drinks of 2017. By having our regular tasters invite friends in their mid to late 20s, we brought the average age of each taster down by at least 10 years.

Our group, which cheerfully moved to the Teaneck apartments for the occasion and tasted our beverages in red Solo cups to befit the manner in which they are likely served, started by tasting three hard seltzers that come in 12-ounce cans and bottles: Henry’s Hard Sparkling, Truly Spiked and Sparkling and White Claw Hard Seltzers. All of these retail for about $9 for a six-pack.

Henry’s contains 4.2 percent alcohol, while Truly Spiked and Sparkling has 5 percent alcohol. The alcohol in Truly Spiked and Sparkling beverages comes from fermented sugar, and then the beverage is sweetened afterwards, while Henry’s is a malt liquor beverage (like Zima, which I remember from college in the mid 1990s!). We tasted Henry’s passion fruit variety, noting it’s also available in lemon-lime. Sold by Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company, which also makes Henry’s Hard Soda, we noted the hard sparkling waters are all just under 100 calories and are labeled “low carb.” We tasted Truly Spiked and Sparkling’s pomegranate, though this company also carries Colima lime, Sicilian blood orange and grapefruit/pomelo flavors.

“This is like seltzer on steroids,” said Eli. “For people who like seltzer, like me, they will like this; it just has this refreshing taste with a little edge of alcohol,” he added.

The pomegranate- and passion fruit-flavored seltzers we tried didn’t have this bitter edge. “It just tastes like flavored seltzer,” said Jake. No one was bowled over by the burst of fruit flavors; the flavors really only brought forward hints of fruit. “But it depends what you want out of your drink; this is really refreshing after a hot day,” said Eli. My sense was that I really like dry wines or smooth beers, and so I found the seltzers all a little sweet for my taste, as did Brooke.

Out of the three flavors, we named the Truly Spiked and Sparkling pomegranate as our favorite, “mainly because it had much better fizz,” said Eliana.

Next we tried Henry’s Hard Soda, in the hard orange flavor. This drink seemed a bit dangerous for young people who might overindulge, because it tastes exactly like orange soda, except better. “Because it has cane sugar in it, it didn’t feel like it coated my teeth with sugar,” said Yishai. Like its sparkling cousin, it also had 4.2 percent alcohol, “but the sugar goes straight to your head,” Eli said.

“It’s a little bit more watery than orange soda; it tastes like my ice melted in my orange soda,” said Eliana. In addition to hard grape soda, Henry’s also makes hard ginger ale and hard cherry cola.

Moving on to beers, we tried Leinenkugel’s grapefruit shandy, New Belgium’s Fat Tire and two varieties from Kona Brewing Company: Big Wave Pale Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale. 

The Leinenkugel grapefruit shandy was definitely one of the more unique beverages we tasted. “You have to really like grapefruit to like this beer,” said Brooke. I noted it definitely had that grapefruit pith bitterness, but the nose didn’t have any bitterness at all. The perfume was really delicious. The flavor also grew on us as we cleansed our palate from the sweeter seltzers.

Of the three beers we tasted next, they could not have been more different. New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Kona’s Big Wave Pale Ale were both very smooth, extremely refreshing and summery. Fat Tire is a Belgian-style white ale, and is enjoyable because it has that typical Belgian perfect balance of malt sweetness and hops bitterness. Similarly, Big Wave was well balanced but didn’t have the roundness of the Fat Tire; it was just a very pleasing pale ale. Fire Rock, by contrast, had a much more hoppy flavor, contrasting with the other two as rougher, or harder to drink. “Fat Tire is what you want it a beer,” said Jake. “Fire Rock is hoppy, heavier, more like an IPA, and Big Wave has that smoothness,” he said.

All these beverages, and many more refreshing summer drinks, are available at Wine Country. Scott, Jackie, Brendan and Shelley are all familiar with the different types and can certainly direct you to your new favorite. Wine Country is located at 89 Newbridge Road, Bergenfield. According to the CRC, flavored beverages must carry a recognizable kosher symbol. The ones mentioned in this article are certified by the OU. All Leinenkugel products are certified the OU, but some do not have the symbol present on recent packaging. 

By Elizabeth Kratz