Bubbling Up

Seltzers have never been hotter, but where do they fit behind the bar?

Carbonated soda water bubbles on a white background.
Champagne and beer aren't the only bubbles you need at your bar. / HIROYUKI YAGYU ©123RF.com

Hard seltzer’s popularity is scarcely a mystery: The drink’s profile goes hand in hand with Colorado’s lifestyle, and its margins are off the charts. Still, the bulk of seltzer sales are off-premise, so how best for a bar to capitalize on the craze? 

Katie Nierling, the general manager of Boulder’s Ska Street Brewstillery, a collaboration between Durango’s Ska Brewing and Palisade’s Peach Street Distillers, says demand was so great for Ska’s mixed seltzer 12-pack when it was introduced to stores in 2019 that the brewery has since released a second version.  “We have them on tap [on-premise] in Boulder and they have a couple draft handles,” Nierling says, though she concedes that liquor store sales greatly eclipse the popularity of the brewstillery’s taps. 

The Takeaway:

  1. Yes, you need hard seltzer on the menu.
  2. Choose cans over kegs.
  3. Push cans on your takeout menu.

Great Divide Brewing Co. in Denver has seen a similar response to its Whitewater seltzer, which launched in April of 2020. “It has quickly become a best seller in our portfolio,” says marketing manager Matt Sandy—but again, most sales come from liquor stores.

The trend extends to more traditional bar and restaurant spaces. At Tap & Burger in Highland and Sloan’s Lake, Juan Padró says the bubbly sells better in cans, which is unfortunate since the margins for on-tap seltzer, which is usually poured over ice, are pretty fantastic. At Arapahoe Basin’s 6th Alley Bar & Grill, director of food and beverage Chris Rybak agrees that cans sell best, but he still keeps a tap handle open for seltzer because “it’s an easy sell with a flavored shot.”

Ross Colbert, managing director of corporate finance group KPMG’s consumer beverage division, explains the discrepancy. “In many cases, brands went straight to cans. Consumers never tried [hard seltzer] through the tap or bottles so cans established themselves as the package of choice,” he says.

Infographic showing change of seltzer buyer dollar share increasing 2.3% since December 2020 compared to .9% increase for spirits, 2.1% decrease for wine, and 1.1% decrease for core beer.

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