Refreshing Hard Teas Pack a Palatable Summer Punch

Hard seltzer has held a tight grip on the summer-drink market. Might hard teas finally prevail this summer?

Owl Brews founders Maria Littlefield, left, and Jennie Ripps clutch their summer quenchers.
Owl's Brew founders Maria Littlefield, left, and Jennie Ripps clutch their summer quenchers. Photo courtesy of Owl's Brew

Since blasting onto the scene in 2019, hard seltzer has held a tight grip on the summer-drink market. While canned cocktails and hard kombucha has grown at remarkable rates, none have quite matched hard seltzer for consumer appeal. Might hard teas finally prevail?

The category grew out of a cohort popular in the 1990s, flavored malt beverages, including Smirnoff Iced and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and then, in 2001, Twisted Tea.

The new generation is more focused on quality ingredients. There’s Loverboy, the sparkling hard tea founded by the Jersey-born Bravo TV star Amanda Batula and her husband and co-star, Kyle Cooke. There’s Crook & Marker’s spiked iced tea, from Ben Weiss, who launched Bai.

“New brands…are targeting a younger, more diverse group of drinkers by tailoring the beverage to their lifestyle,” says Ashlee Mooneyhan, communication manager for Sierra Nevada, which has launched a hard tea called Tea West with cheeky names like Lemon the Dream and Mint to Be Strawberry. Softly carbonated, they clock in at 5 percent ABV.

“Quality ingredients and big flavor don’t have to mean compromising sugar, calories and drinkability,” says Mooneyhan.

“Today’s consumer is very different than the consumer 5 or 10 years ago,” agrees Jennie Ripps, who launched Owl’s Brew Boozy Tea with Maria Littlefield in early 2020. Owl’s Brew has seen more than 200 percent growth year over year.

That’s a common trend in the category, which the drinks-analysis firm IWSR predicted last year would grow 46.4 percent in volume between 2021 and 2025.

“People want to give something good back to their bodies—even when they are spiking it,” says Ripps.

As the cofounders note, tea, naturally rich in antioxidants, is the second most popular drink in the world (after water). “It’s all an evolution of people wanting more flavors, better ingredients and better-tasting things,” says Littlefield.

Owl’s Brew flavors—including black tea and pineapple; darjeeling tea and hibiscus; matcha with pineapple and chamomile; and jasmine tea with blueberry and lemon—started in Ripps’s kitchen. To make them boozy, the tea blends are spiked with a fermented sugar base, which turns into alcohol during the fermentation process, with no sugar left behind. The result is a slightly effervescent tea with a light, boozy kick, great for enjoying by the pool or on a boat, while tailgating or picnicking, or simply in place of yet another can of hard seltzer.

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