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What is spiked seltzer? TODAY anchors try summer's hottest drink

Spiked seltzer is absolutely everywhere these days but why is it so popular?
/ Source: TODAY

The flavored sparkling water craze buoyed by Instagram-friendly brands like LaCroix might be winding down but there's another beverage in town that has people going totally bananas this summer. It's bubbly and it's boozy.

If you haven't heard of sparkling seltzer by now we're not quite sure why, but on Wednesday, TODAY with Hoda & Jenna guest hosts Natalie Morales and Willie Geist tried a few of the hottest cans on the market.

"It's really good," said Natalie, as she a took a sip from a can of Bon & Viv. "Ya know what I love about it? That it's low calorie, well, somewhat compared to other drinks."

"I see this at every party," said guest co-host Willie Geist holding up a White Claw.

Sales of spiked seltzers like White Claw and Truly are through the roof this summer.
Sales of spiked seltzers like White Claw and Truly are through the roof this summer. White Claw, SpikedSeltzer

While that might sound like an exaggeration, it's true that sales of spiked seltzer are through the roof. Over the past year, they've grown 200% and it's expected to become a $2.5 billion industry by 2021. But what exactly is spiked seltzer and why is it is so popular?

Here's everything you need to know about the boozy beverage that's being touted as "the hottest drink" of the summer.

What is spiked seltzer?

Simply put, spiked seltzer is exactly what it sounds like: It's seltzer water with alcohol, usually derived from fermented sugar, rice or malt. Many cans on the market clock in at 100 calories or less, which is equivalent to many light beers. However, unlike beer, many spiked seltzers are free of gluten. They usually clock in between 5%-7% ABV, making them a not-too-boozy alternative to traditional cocktails. Many of them are also low carb and low in sugar, making them wildly popular for people trying low-carb diets.

But the spiked seltzer crave wasn't born overnight. Zima ushered in hard sodas in the 1990s, but those had way more sugar and calories than today's hard seltzers. The latest incarnations are meant to appeal to more health conscious shoppers who still want to imbibe. Plus, ready-to-drink cocktails are easy to carry and require no special ingredients or mixers, making them a win for anyone who likes to keep things convenient.

A representative for the alcohol delivery service Drizly told TODAY that while they have seen sales of hard cider decline slightly this summer, hard seltzer sales (which previously accounted for 6.26% of sales in July 2018) are now at almost 17.5% this month.

Just a few years ago, it was pretty difficult to find just one brand of hard seltzer on store shelves nationwide, but today there are a ton (like, maybe too many?) available in a wide variety of flavors.

Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer

Bon & Viv

Bon & Viv, formally known just as SpikedSeltzer, has actually been around since 2013. The brand changed its name when it was acquired by legacy beer maker Anheuser-Busch in 2016. Flavors are a bit more adventurous than just lemon or lime, and include creations such as Black Cherry Rosemary, Elderflower, Prickly Pear and Clementine Hibiscus. Each can has just 90 calories and 0 grams of sugar, with 4.5% ABV.

White Claw

White Claw

Ain't no laws when you're drinking Claws ... or something like that. White Claw is one of the most widely available spiked seltzers (it's owned by the same people behind Mike's Hard Lemonade) and has developed a cult-like following on Instagram, appearing in endless memes. White Claws are made with a gluten-free alcohol base and sparkling water. The flavors, like Natural Lime and Ruby Grapefruit, are pretty accessible and each can clocks in at 5% ABV.

PRESS Premium Alcohol Seltzer

PRESS Premium Alcohol Seltzer

Pear Chamomile. Pomegranate Ginger. Grapefruit Cardamom. These are just a few of the delightful sounding flavors offered by Press, which is independently owned and operated. Started by Amy Walberg, this company gives a portion of sales to the ERM Foundation, which provides consulting services on health, safety, sustainability and more, to smaller companies around the globe. This is on the lower end of the ABV spectrum at 4%.

Truly Hard Seltzer

Truly Hard Seltzer

Truly, which clocks in at 5% ABV, might just boast the widest variety of flavors on the market with 13 unique options. There are more traditional flavors like Raspberry Lime and Orange, as well as slightly more adventurous drinks like Passion Fruit.

Are spiked seltzers healthy?

"Most of these spiked seltzer beverages have less alcohol than beer or wine," Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of and the author of "Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table," told TODAY. But, of course, anything with alcohol in it should be consumed in moderation.

"As with all foods, it’s important to read food labels to see what you’re getting," said Taub-Dix. "The word seltzer wears the halo of being clean, clear, light, and free of calories or sugar, but this is not always the case here."

Spiked seltzers may be a better option than beer for people who have a gluten intolerance but they are not calorie free, even if they are lower in sugar. A glass of wine has about 125 calories and a heavy beer has between 150-250 calories, so most spiked seltzers are "healthier" in that regard. However, it's important to pay attention to the type of artificial sweeteners being used.

A spiked seltzer "could be a lower-calorie, lower-alcohol content beverage — but if you’re looking for a zero calorie [beverage] ... go for seltzer water," said Taub-Dix.