Updated 5 p.m.
Ultra low-cal and naturally gluten free, hard seltzer is the boozy beverage of the moment. Sales more than doubled over the past year, and liquor companies around the globe are falling over themselves to cash in on the trend.
The latest entry to the Philly market comes from a local brewery. Evil Genius has rolled out a line of sugar-free flavored sodas that are fashioned as a throwback to the 1990s.
Available in three hashtag-branded variations — #bigmood (lemon-lime), #tbt (grapefruit) and #bestlife (black cherry) — Evil Genius Seltzer is produced out in York County, Pa., by Wyndridge Farm.
Each flavor clocks in at 5% ABV, about the same strength as a pale ale or regular domestic beer, and have 100 calories per can. A 12-pack of mixed flavors goes for $20, which you can pick up now at the Evil Genius Beer Lab on Front Street in Fishtown, or at beer stores across the Philly region starting Nov. 4.
Are they any good? Compared to other hard seltzer options available in Philadelphia right now, they achieve a Goldilocks-like happy medium when it comes to balancing flavor and ease of drinking.
For example, each of the EG editions has a more robust taste than White Claw, the industry-leading brand that got so popular there was an actual shortage over the summer. The “natural essences” don’t really taste like their respective fruits, but at least they have some earthy flavor.
If sipping a can of Claw is like dousing your nasal passage with perfume, drinking an Evil Genius seltzer is more like placing your nose in front of an incense stick.
The aftertaste disappears relatively quickly, much more quickly than with seltzers made using actual fruit pulp, like the “H20-guh” currently on tap at Fairmount brewpub Bar Hygge, for which brewers cubed 520 lbs. of real peaches.
And that’s the point of hard soda, after all. It’s not trying to replace beer, it’s more for people looking to escape thinking about what they’re drinking in favor of an easy guzzle.
In that way, the EG seltzers are definitely a throwback to more innocent times — like nostalgia in a can. “It’s not just about what’s inside,” said Evil Genius cofounder Luke Bowen. “It’s about how it makes them feel, what it reminds them of, and how they think about it after they’re finished.”
The styles Bowen and cofounder Trevor Hayward chose are also relatively simple, especially compared to their biggest local competitor, Philly-based Two Robbers Hard Seltzer.
Now produced at Yards Brewing, Two Robbers comes in orange mango, pineapple ginger, and watermelon cucumber. These provide a delicious but more complex palate than the grapefruit, black cherry and lemon-lime of Evil Genius. The Two Robbers line has about 10% more calories than the Evil Genius product.
The verdict? If you can get past (or embrace) the geometric pastel design of the cans — they look like something the Fresh Prince would wear if he was making a cameo on Friends — the Evil Genius seltzers are a solid option.
Their flavor has enough of an edge to keep you grounded, but not quite enough to stop you from chugging multiple cans for short bouts of escapist fun before returning to our ever-more dystopian reality.
Evil Genius seltzer will no doubt star at pool parties next summer, but don’t sleep on it as an option for for beer-wary drinkers at fall picnics and tailgates, too.