Welcome to Fizz Biz, a summertime column where we’ll be sipping and appraising hard seltzers all season long. Know of any must-try products out there? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes, I just don’t want to sip from a slim can. I don’t want to be actively reminded that the beverage I’m drinking is primarily marketed toward people who want “all the fun with none of the calories” or some such promise. I also don’t want to be reminded that my tastes are in no way unique and I’m riding an unprecedented trend wave. I’d rather just enjoy fun summer flavors in dimensions that fit inside my collection of equally fun beer koozies. And when I’m feeling these feelings, Kona Spiked Island Seltzer is there to fill the gap.
Though the squat 12-oz. cans fit snugly in a koozie, you actually might not want to cover up the can art, which is tropical and fun and, as I can personally attest, stands out in the cooler at a party. Expect to hear a chorus of, “Oh, what’s this?” as people pull icy cans of Kona out from the pile.
Brewed in Kailua-Kona since its founding in 1994, Kona Brewing Company’s beers, or “liquid aloha” as the brand calls them, “will always be island-inspired, refreshing and easy-drinking.” The hard seltzer lineup has carried on that commitment to Hawaii-centric flavors, with the following options:
- Passionfruit Orange Guava
- Strawberry Guava
- Starfruit Lime
- Tropical Punch
Each can has 100 calories, 2g carbs, and zero sugar. And while I usually like to see a couple grams of sugar rather than zero—the sugar gives the flavor compounds a little bit more to bounce off of!—the uniqueness of these tropical flavor profiles keeps things from tasting too flat or expected. Especially the Tropical Punch, because it is essentially Hawaiian Punch. You know, the stuff made of 3% fruit juice that used to turn your whole face red from the nose down when you were a kid.
My first sip of the Tropical Punch was coupled with one word: “No.” It was too eerily reminiscent of a drink that I haven’t had since I was about six years old, and something about the expectation of a 21+ beverage coupled with the sense memory of syrupy-sweet birthday party fuel left me addled. I set the can down, walked away, and didn’t return to the flavor for nearly a month.
But once I had sipped my way through every other flavor in the variety pack (yes, they’re all good, especially the Strawberry Guava!), I figured I’d give it another shot. The fridge was down to the dregs; the only seltzers that remained were my least favorite flavors from every brand’s variety pack: Pressed Apple Cinnamon, Spindrift Mango, Coors Grapefruit, and this, Kona’s Hawaiian Punch ripoff (or homage?). So I raised a glass to second chances—and this time, the drink made more sense to me.
Just as Kona doesn’t bother packaging its seltzer in a slim can to signal its trendiness, it doesn’t seem to hold itself to trendy flavor combos, either. Instead, it aims to evoke a general feeling of being in one very specific place: an island with a natural abundance of unique and refreshing fruit. According to Kona, the tasting notes for Tropical Punch include pineapple, orange, cherry, grape and tangerine. I can only really taste a general “fruitiness” when I close my eyes and hunt around for flavors, rather than detecting those individual fruits. But that’s sort of the brilliance of this product—it’s all just kind of a good reminder to relax.
No need to swish this stuff around the mouth looking for its distinct notes of tangerine. No need to pretend that we have outgrown the flavors we loved growing up. And no need to slog through a joyless can of seltzer that cares more about being “innocent” than being flavorful. It took me a couple cans to get it, but Kona’s seltzer is like any good beer: an acquired taste that rewards those who return to it.
Kona’s Spiked Island Seltzer is available in 15 states, plus Chicago and St. Louis. You can use the product locator to see if it’s available at stores (or for delivery) near you. And at my local liquor store outlet, Binny’s Beverage Depot, a 12-pack of Kona is $2 cheaper than a 12-pack of White Claw. Thrifty sippers, take note.