Stacks of Two Robbers hard seltzer in the Yards Brewing walk-in

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Staff at the Yards Brewing taproom in Philadelphia are excited about a new offering on draft. It stands out from the other 19 taps of local liquid in a very specific way:

It’s not beer at all. It’s hard seltzer.

“We’ve been enjoying it because we’re around beer all day,” a bartender told Billy Penn last week. “This is something different to drink.”

For now, the boozy effervescent is a draft-only product for Yards, according to brewery founder and president Tom Kehoe. But getting into canning it is tempting, he said. “It’s a part of the market we might want to investigate someday.”

Spiked sparkling water is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. alcoholic beverage industry. Sales are up more than 200% over the past year, and analysts predict the $550 million market could explode to $2.5 billion by 2021. The best-known hard seltzer brand, White Claw, was in such high demand over the summer that stores are having trouble keeping it in stock.

Thirsty Philadelphians looking for the easy-drinking alt beverage had plenty of other choices — including a local option.

Launched last February by twin brothers in Center City, Two Robbers is a hard seltzer brand with three flavors on shelves. Vikram and Vivek Nayar had been sourcing production to a facility in Dallastown, Pa., about 100 miles west of Philadelphia, they said, but the time had come to find a more robust and convenient option.

“Trevor [Prichett] is an amazing mentor,” said Vivek, who met the Yards CEO during his MBA studies at Wharton and credited him with helping get the company off the ground. “At the time we were too small to work with them.”

Thanks to the surge in hard soda’s popularity — something the Nayar brothers predicted — Two Robbers is now ready for the big time. They declined to release sales figures, but after starting with just two dozen accounts this spring, they said their product is now sold at more than 350 locations across Southeastern Pa.

“I can’t necessarily say it’s because of the White Claw shortage,” Vikram said about the company’s rapid expansion. “In our mind, it aligns with current health trends.”

Credit: Mark Henninger / for Billy Penn

Yards also recently reached a milestone. After uprooting operations from its two-decade home on Delaware Avenue last year, the city’s oldest continuously operating brewery is now happily ensconced in its new home on Spring Garden Street, and ready for more.

The new space was purposely built with excess capacity, meaning it can brew all the beer Yards needs and still have room to make and package liquid for others. Over the summer, when the brewery began selectively looking for contract partners, Two Robbers signed on.

Head brewer Mitch Albach has been leading the hard seltzer charge, which started with a bunch of testing — since Yards had never done anything like it before.

There’s no actual brewing; production begins at the fermentation step. Allbach uses a cane sugar base and adds yeast to the tanks, according to Kehoe. After fermenting is done, natural flavor is added before sending it off to the canning line.

There’s no sugar in the final product, so a can of 5.2% ABV seltzer has just 110 calories and 2g total carbs. A standard beer of the same strength carries 160 cals and 15g carbs.

(Of note to waist-watchers who prefer a heartier drink: next to the seltzer on draft currently is Yards’ first low-cal beer: Citra Gold, a 3.7% brew that also clocks in with just 110 calories.)

The giant walk-in refrigerators at the brewery are currently filled with pallets of Two Robbers in three options: orange mango, pineapple ginger, and watermelon cucumber. A fourth flavor is set to join the lineup soon, the Nayers said, and plans call for all of it to be made at Yards.

“In general, I think the ‘better-for-you’ alcohol category is poised to grow,” Vivek said. “Partnering with Yards is a dream come true.”

Credit: Mark Henninger / for Billy Penn
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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...