The American brewing scene has proven something of a crystal ball for the brewing trends that will eventually make their way downunder.
This being the case, Australians will surely be drinking plenty of hard seltzer in 2020.
Essentially flavoured, alcoholic sparkling water, hard seltzer has become a sensation in the US, with 2019 sales topping $US1.3 billion, up 202 per cent on the previous year.
The big brewers have piled in on the craze, having witnessed the success of American market leader White Claw, developed by Chicago-based alcopop manufacturer Mark Anthony Brands.
All aboard the seltzer train
Budweiser has launched Bud Light Seltzer, and Corona has announced the upcoming launch of Corona Hard Seltzer. Both brands have a similar line-up of four fruit-flavoured variants.
Lion Beer Australia introduced the trend to our shores last November, launching Quincy Sparkling Alcoholic Seltzer in lime and passionfruit flavours.
"Consumers are looking for something that suits their modern lifestyles and with 50 per cent less sugar than leading vodka premixes, Quincy is allowing Australian consumers to 'drink different'," the brewer declared.
As in the US, some of Australia's smaller brewers are getting involved. Victoria's Two Birds Brewing has launched the grapefruit-flavoured, brewed alcoholic soda, Chirpy.
What's on tap
Mornington Peninsula-based St Andrews Beach Brewery has launched Tidal Artesian Seltzer, brewed with pure natural water from a local underground spring and flavoured with either lime or yuzu citrus.
In Adelaide meanwhile, CUB-owned Pirate Life Brewing has launched a mid-strength 'Hard Green Tea'.
These latter three products are tap-only at this stage, but it's inevitable that we will see more products of this genre finding their way into bottles and cans.
Two Birds co-founder Jayne Lewis describes Chirpy as "hard seltzer-inspired", while admitting she has never sampled any of its American forbears.
"We're just dipping our toe in and seeing what the interest is," she says.
Lion's Quincy was brewed from rice alone, while Chirpy was brewed from barley, rice and corn.
It's in the brew
This brewing process is the key differentiator between these hard seltzers and the spirit-based alcopops that are taxed more harshly in Australia, given their appeal to sweet-toothed underage drinkers.
Lewis says Chirpy is fermented out to dryness, with grapefruit juice added during fermentation, and it still looks a bit like beer.
"Some people are using processes like carbon filtration to strip all the colour out of their hard seltzers, but that sort of thing doesn't really interest me," she says.
"I wanted something that's beer adjacent, as opposed to making colourless alcoholic liquid with some fruit flavour in it.
"I don't know how closely it relates to the existing hard seltzers on the market, which was a good reason for not labelling it with that name."
A broad church of fans
Lewis says Australian brewers have been watching with interest the American market, where hard seltzer already commands a 2.6 per cent market share of all beverage alcohol.
"I don't know that any of us know what the size of the potential market is in Australia, or where it's going to go," she says.
"But across the board, people have been digging Chirpy, both beer drinkers and non beer drinkers."
James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.