Welcome to Fizz Biz, a summertime column where we’ll be sipping and appraising hard seltzers all season long. Any must-try products out there? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When White Claw announced last month that it had released a new, higher-ABV variety called White Claw Surge, it was easy to feel that the first big name in hard seltzer was heralding the beginning of summer. New season, new product. The new line of White Claw, called White Claw Surge, ups the alcohol to 8%. That’s a significant difference—regular White Claw has 5%. It’s clearly here for those who want to be more efficient in their partying.
When the hard seltzer train first left the station two summers ago, I wasn’t entirely onboard, but I’m not ashamed to say I like it now. I’m especially looking forward to sitting outside with some friends on a hot day over a few, finally catching up in person properly.
I don’t think, however, there was ever any point when I was enjoying a hard seltzer and thought to myself, You know what? This needs to have significantly more alcohol in it. Part of the appeal of hard seltzer is that it’s light and refreshing. If I felt like transforming into a party animal, I’d just carry around a box of Franzia like a boombox and tilt it toward my face every now and then.
In my mind, White Claw is making a psychological play on multiple fronts. When summer finally comes around, many people will be vaccinated, meaning that they’re going to want to release pent-up party energy from all of last year. And secondly, despite being the original big name in hard seltzer, White Claw’s got to keep coming out with new things to keep our fickle attention spans engaged, especially when so many new hard seltzer products seem to be showing up on shelves every week.
As of this moment, there are only two flavors of White Claw Surge: Blood Orange and Cranberry. Something I appreciate about White Claw is that it doesn’t mess around with its flavors too much. Every flavor it has released so far has been just a single fruit, with no mysterious abstract blends like “Strawberry Sunset Mist” or “Cucumber Tailgater Explosion.”
Unfortunately, neither of the new flavors is what I’d call great. An issue I have with hard seltzer in general is that there’s usually not that much flavor; nearly everything hinges on the aroma. Once a can of seltzer is open, you’d better get that first whiff in pretty quick because the aromas start to dissipate quickly.
That being said, I think Blood Orange is my favorite of the two, but only slightly. Identifying the flavor as blood orange is impossible. In this case, “blood orange” is just a fancier term for “citrus.” The appeal of fresh blood orange is just as much the visual aspect (ruby red flesh and juice) as its tart, bright flavor, but you don’t pour hard seltzer—or any seltzer, really—to admire its color and body. You just drink it straight from the can.
The Cranberry flavor is, in my opinion, soapy-tasting. Like the Blood Orange, there’s no way you would be able to identify this as cranberry just by its taste or smell. For the most part, it tastes the way a berry-scented hand lotion smells. I get the appeal of fake-berry-flavored stuff—every now now and then, I get a craving for berry-flavored candy or blue raspberry Slurpees—so this sort of hits the spot if you’re more of a fake berry person than a citrus person.
You can definitely taste the difference in alcohol levels, too. At 8%, it’s not like there’s a burn or anything, but it’s easier to notice the solvent-like taste of alcohol as the fruit flavoring fades away. As a control, I also tried a Mango-flavored 5% ABV White Claw, double fisting like a champ, and enjoyed that version much, much, better.
When it comes down to it, the flavor of the original White Claw is better. The 3% ABV difference only matters if you’re someone who’s a PTM (Party Time Management) enthusiast. (I just made that term up right now, but feel free to take advantage of it.) I think White Claw Surge is really just meant to appeal to people who are looking for the effect of alcohol—I’m looking at you, college seniors—and not those who just want to kick back and relax on a lazy summer night.
If a beer like PBR makes me want to grow out my mustache and wear a toque, then White Claw Surge is going to make me want to wear a V-neck and throw empty cans off the top of someone’s condo building (these are old tropes, but still golden). So my pairing advice is to drink this outside blaring late-2000s pop over your cell phone’s speaker, with friends who just want to skip the small talk and go straight to mayhem. We’re not quite in Four Loko territory yet, but after a few of these you might just get there. Just remember to behave.
(Suggested retail price: $12 for a 6-pack.)