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We tried Bud Light's Ugly Sweater Hard Seltzers so you don't have to

Although it includes the best flavor I’ve ever had out of a Bud Light box, it also contains one of the worst things I’ve ever had out of any box.
Like the box says, "It’s what’s on the inside that counts."
Like the box says, "It’s what’s on the inside that counts."Courtesy Heather Martin

Having a little trouble getting into the holiday spirit? Is it just not Christmas until you’ve engaged in a few Yuletide activities requiring poor judgment and bad fashion? Back by popular demand, Bud Light is here to get you ready for the season with its Ugly Sweater Pack of hard seltzers. It’s updated with four festively nihilist flavors: Cherry Cordial, Sugar Plum, Seltzer Nog(!) and Cranberry. Perhaps some of you read my review of Bud Light Seltzer's Fall Flannel Pack earlier this year. Let's just say, I didn't care for it. I sure did enjoy hating it, though, and I was thrilled to hear about this new collection. Now that I've recovered from round one, I'm ready to tackle the wintertime offering.

Like the fall assortment, this box is priced at $15-17 for a dozen 12-ounce cans. There are three flavors with stevia and one, Cranberry, that’s naturally flavored and without zero-calorie sweeteners. Each has 100 calories and is 5% alcohol by volume.

This time, I think the name and package design are spot-on: retro kitsch, fun metallic colors, knitted-stitch graphics. Surely this is a wink and a nod, right? Everyone loves ugly sweaters at parties, but nobody wears them around the house unless they’re in on the joke. At least, that’s what I’m going to be repeating to myself as we taste these. Buckle up!

Cherry Cordial

We don’t think it should be called Cherry Cordial. Cherry Disrespect, maybe. Or Cherry Hostile.
We don’t think it should be called Cherry Cordial. Cherry Disrespect, maybe. Or Cherry Hostile.Courtesy Heather Martin

Because I never learn, I thought this one was a cute seasonal name for plain cherry seltzer, which I often love. Instead, in a remarkable achievement in aroma technology, it smells precisely like being actually inside a cherry cordial.

I hate cherry cordials.

They aren’t as ubiquitous as they once were around the holidays, probably because they’re disgusting. In case you haven’t had the pleasure, this unfortunate sweet is a candied cherry soaked in liqueur, wrapped in a thin layer of fondant and covered in chocolate. After a couple of days, the alcohol inside turns the fondant layer into vanilla goo. Even chocolate can’t fix that.

The flavor of this seltzer isn't as immersive as the smell, mercifully. It does hit all the notes — almost. Instead of cherry, chocolate, vanilla and kirsch liqueur, it's more like maraschino, carob, marshmallow and ethanol. You had a fun but questionable friend in college who would love this flavor. I have to admit it's perversely entertaining, like a sketchy carnival’s funhouse mirror.

Suggested pairing: Any cookie, especially a gingersnap, will smooth out the rough spots without succumbing to the carob.

Sugar Plum

Sugar Plum? Sure, plum. OK.
Sugar Plum? Sure, plum. OK.Courtesy Heather Martin

Some beverages just scream optimism, you know? Orange juice. Limeade. Others are more subtle about it: Coffee puts an encouraging arm around you at work; iced tea just wants to help you relax on a sunny summer afternoon. It's the rare beverage that says nothing, but somehow Sugar Plum is in this category. Blank-faced, stoic and directionless, it sits like a stone on the side of the road. It has very little smell, and what is there is unidentifiable, most reminiscent of scented markers. The flavor, similarly inscrutable: Is that cherry? Berry? That's not what plums taste like, is it? Best to chug it so that the nothing doesn't have a chance to give way to Bud Light's signature alkaline finish. This is the Werner Herzog documentary of hard seltzers, and you'll soon be muttering to yourself, disoriented. Does flavor even exist? Who can tell? We're all just hurtling through space in a macabre parody of life, bereft of meaning. The only fleeting joy is in the realization of the void. On the plus side, as a tabula rasa liquified, it won't conflict with what you are eating, no matter what it is.

Suggested pairings: Duck à l'orange. Smoked oysters. Canned asparagus. It literally does not matter.

Seltzer Nog

Seltzer Nog: A painful eruption of flavor.
Seltzer Nog: A painful eruption of flavor.Courtesy Heather Martin

Light nutmeg scent. It's not bad at all.

It’s also a trap.

I'm pretty flexible on what I find nog-ceptable, but the first sip totally nailed me to the wall. This is Bud Light's most complex flavor to date, and it’s clear a lot of work went into it. In a split second, it careens through the hills of artificial vanilla, into the valley of soured nondairy creamer, across the vast wasteland of nutmeg murk. My (by this point) long-suffering husband said, "It keeps on blooming, like a volcanic eruption," and I understood just what he meant. One sip unfolds again and again, roiling into infinity like an Escher origami, never resolving into a sailboat or peace crane. It creases and thrashes, billowing the fumes of humankind’s hubris, oozing the pyroclastic flow of our fatal drive to boldly go where no one has gone before. Like the myriad layers of this flavor, my hate is many splendored, faceted like a haunted gem, every aspect its own universe of dislike. I absolutely loathe each component of this flavor individually as well as their effect as a whole. Never again, not even on a dare. Notes of warm spices, clotted cream, blight.

Suggested pairings: Icelandic fermented shark (aka hákarl). Circus peanuts. Touring the ruins of Pompeii in a Christmas-themed hazmat suit.


This one tastes like the name. What a concept!
This one tastes like the name. What a concept!Courtesy Heather Martin

Plot twist: I quite like this one. It smells great — convincingly, naturally cranberry. In a true innovation for this line, it also tastes like cranberry, but doesn’t beat you about the head with it, and there’s no stevia weirdness. There's the bitter flash at the finish that I often get from this brand, but since a little of that goes with the cranberry territory, it’s OK. I will sometimes choose this one at restaurants — on purpose.

Suggested pairings: Turkey and provolone on rye. Roasted pecans. Lemon bars.

In sum, this pack is overall an improvement on the Fall Flannel version. Although it includes the best flavor I’ve ever had out of a Bud Light box, it also contains one of the worst things I’ve ever had out of any box. However, one of my resolutions for next year is to try to speak more positively, so here goes:

This beautifully packaged hard seltzer assortment contains indescribable flavors that must be tasted to be believed! You’ll find options for pairing with literally any menu. Whether it's the office ugly sweater party or your in-laws' fancy dinner, bringing a box to any 21+ gathering is sure to make you the main topic of conversation for years to come. Pick up a box today for an unforgettably bold taste explosion!

If you’d prefer to wear your ugly sweater instead of drinking it, Bud Light has you covered there, too, in its merch shop. I might need to purchase one of the Seltzer Nog candles myself — just to watch it burn.