After the Mark Anthony Group launched White Claw in 2016, hard seltzers shot up in popularity, spawning think pieces, explainers, memes, and a multibillion-dollar industry. The internet even declared 2019 “White Claw Summer” as sales of the mild alcoholic beverage grew over 200%. But following a glut of competitors — more than 65 by Nielsen’s count, as of 2020 — the initial hard seltzer buzz has worn off, according to industry experts and cultural critics.
One reason behind the seltzer slump? Consumers are returning to light beers because they’re cheaper, according to Dave Burwick, one of the chief executives behind White Claw’s top competitor, Truly. In search of a cheaper hard seltzer alternative, we stumbled across Costco’s Kirkland hard seltzers, which are around 30% cheaper than White Claw. So we put them to the test in a seltzer showdown: Kirkland seltzer versus the Goliath of the spiked sparkling water world, White Claw.
Winner: White Claw
Flavor (3/5): Like most hard seltzers, White Claws are inoffensive, refreshing, low-carb, easy-to-drink, and only slightly alcoholic, making them a rather utilitarian alcohol delivery system. Whether you’re drinking the caustic lime flavor or the more pleasant raspberry, you’re met with a recognizable (though artificial) fruit flavor, before experiencing an alcoholic bite. Hence the word inoffensive: I’ll never crave a White Claw, but it’ll always remain a sessionable alternative to beer.
Variety (5/5): As the No. 1 hard seltzer company in the U.S., it’s hardly surprising that White Claw has poured plenty of cash into flavor R&D. The beverage’s standard line has 12 flavors, while other collections (like REFSHRHard Ice Tea) add an additional 16.
Nutrition facts (4/5): It’d be irresponsible to call hard seltzer healthy — both alcohol and carbonated water can be harmful — yet White Claw is better than, say, beer. Thanks to its low alcohol by volume (ABV) content, lack of additional sugar, and relatively benign list of ingredients, it’s about as low-cal as alcohol gets.
Price (2/5): Considering White Claw is just alcohol mixed with sparkling water, it’s hard to justify the price. For a 24-pack at Costco, you’ll pay $31, or around $1.30 per beverage, which is more than most light beers.
Total Score: 3.5/5
Costco has officially entered the hard seltzer game, and true to its brand, no unique, catchy name like White Claw or Truly — just “Kirkland Hard Seltzer.” pic.twitter.com/wyPMuTHp8K— Yoni (@OriginalYoni) September 25, 2020
Budget Pick: Costco’s Kirkland Hard Seltzer
Flavor (2.5/5): Even if Costco seltzer isn’t bad (well, save for the lime flavor), it falls short of White Claw. Sure, it’s just as refreshing and easy-drinking, but each of the flavors was slightly worse than its name-brand counterpart. For instance, Kirkland’s grapefruit flavor tasted as if they soaked an orange Smartie in water, and when the lime flavor returned to room temperature, it was so harsh and artificial that it was difficult to finish.
Variety (2/5): With just four flavors (black cherry, mango, grapefruit, and undrinkable lime), Costco can’t compete with White Claw — or really any of the major hard seltzer brands.
Nutrition Facts (4/5): Costco’s hard seltzer shares the same nutrition profile as White Claw: 100 calories per can, two grams of carbs, and two grams of sugar.
Price (5/5): When it comes to value, Costco (predictably) shines. Kirkland’s hard seltzer is just $22 for a 24-pack, or around 90 cents per can. With that competitive price, it’s almost worth overlooking some of Kirkland’s shortcomings, especially if you’re a budget-conscious shopper.
Total Score 3.4/5
If you consider price, White Claw and Kirkland Signature hard seltzer are close. But even then, the hard seltzer giant’s superior flavor and impressive variety give it an edge over Costco’s cheap White Claw alternative.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is hard seltzer?
Hard seltzer is alcoholic carbonated water that’s often flavored. Like a can of light beer, the ABV tends to be low, between 4 and 6%.
What kind of alcohol is in hard seltzer?
While it varies by brand, hard seltzers usually use fermented cane sugar or malted grains. White Claw uses a “gluten-free alcohol base” to spike its drinks, whereas Kirkland hard seltzer lists “alcohol” and “sugar” on its can. According to some sources, it’s similarly made from fermented gluten-free sugars.
Who makes White Claw?
Mark Anthony Brands, the company behind Mike’s Hard, makes White Claw.
Who makes Kirkland Hard Seltzer?
Are hard seltzers healthy?
While it’s a stretch to call them healthy (though vitamin-infused hard seltzer exists), drinks like White Claw are healthier than many spiked beverages given their low alcohol, sugar, and calorie contents. In an article for GoodRx, Dr. Maria Robinson writes that while hard seltzers aren’t healthy — even small amounts of alcohol can be harmful — they may be a “better choice."