Hard seltzer, a new segment in the alcohol beverage business is taking India by storm with multiple homegrown brands such as Pursue, Barneys and Wild Drum that launched in the last year itself. Describing the drink in the form of a simple equation, Anish Reddy, CEO & Founder of hard seltzer brand, Pursue, says, “Hard seltzer = alcohol + carbonated water + flavours.” The Indian market has already witnessed an explosion of gins and an ongoing rum renaissance, but this is a category that was entirely unheard of in the country until the past year.
Seltzers are unburdened by historic precedents and preconceptions, allowing entrepreneurs freedom with flavours that incorporate mosambi, lemongrass, mango and chili. International brands like White Claw and Truly have been dominating the scene abroad, while in India a new crop of labels are capitalising on the urban consumer’s willingness to experiment, and the urge to try something fresh while being stuck at home during the pandemic.
Why hard seltzers?
Founder & CEO of Barbrew Beverages, Ruchi Gupta explains her ‘aha’ moment struck when witnessing long lines at alcohol shops after the easing of pandemic-driven restrictions. Cognizant of the fact that alcohol will never go out of style, Ruchi Gupta and Gaurav Sharma, the other half of Barneys Hard Seltzer, decided to launch their own liquor brand, in Goa, December 2021. With a desire to explore a fresh category, unsaturated and untouched by big names in the business, the duo picked hard seltzers. Fresh to the world of liquor manufacturing, the duo shifted to Goa to oversee the creation of their seltzer. Surprisingly, Gupta and Sharma are both teetotallers, except for tasting batches of Barneys for quality and consistency checks. While Gupta has always been a social drinker, she considers herself somewhat of an expert when it comes to putting together a recipe. She credits this outsider’s perspective for the flavour-focused Barneys, that creates unique dual flavours of Barneys’ hard seltzers.
Kousambi Roy, Chief Marketing and National Sales Head of Wild Drum and Reddy of Pursue wished to bring the global trend of hard seltzers to India. It was an 18-month long journey for Wild Drum, from conceptualisation, to getting master brewers in Canada and America to formulate a balanced hard seltzer, and finally bringing these flavours to India.
Reddy of Pursue, who is based in Miami, came back home during the pandemic, which is when he noticed a conspicuous lack of options for those who wanted a light drink, but not beer or wine. This prompted the launch of a drink for the 21+ category, free from excess calories. Reddy also comes from the alcohol beverage business, the entrepreneur’s family has 50+ years of experience in the liquor industry. Mandovi Distilleries primarily handle bottling for United Spirits and have distilleries across South India. The company decided to create a new carbonation wing within their Goa facility using state-of-the-art machinery, specially for Pursue’s hard seltzers.
Is India ready-to-drink?
Launched in August 2021, Roy explains the appeal of Wild Drum as “guilt-free, low calorie, fat-free, gluten-free and vegan, all in a can. It speaks to millennials and is a no-brainier for health-conscious individuals.” Proof of Barneys youth-centric train of thought lies in its name. Based on the moniker of legendary character in the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Barney Stinson, the label even features the show’s iconic emblem, a yellow umbrella. Barneys strives to provide an option for first-time drinkers who may find beer too bitter and a certain breezer too feminine.
India is a young country, and the average age of the population stands at 29. As the effect of COVID-19 brings health front and centre to our lives, the combination leads to a market ripe for the introduction of a new category in the form of a low-calorie, fresh drink. “Calories in your drink come from alcohol, sugar and flavour,” says Gupta of Barneys, but apart from alcohol the hard seltzer does not contain any added sugar, only natural sweetness from flavours. At 6% alcohol strength the high from a bottle of Barneys Hard Seltzer is more or less equivalent to a 30ml shot of vodka or tequila. Pursue hard seltzer positions itself in the category of premium Indian beers, and with 5% ABV, it has more alcohol than a regular lager. “Hard seltzer also gets you buzzed a lot quicker than beer, as there are no mixers/additives that need to be digested,” says Reddy. The founder of Pursue also remarks upon India’s affinity for carbonated beverages throughout history. Remember those ice cream sodas and raspberry of lore? Hard seltzers are a mature, naturally flavoured version of those type of beverages.
What sets new-age alternative beverage brand Pursue apart are their quintessentially Indian flavours. Mosambi and Mint, Mango and Chilli variants are derived from natural, fruit and botanical extracts. Other flavours include Strawberry & Rose as well as the founder’s favourite Peach & White Tea. Over 250 taste trials have produced the seltzers that are created using high-quality pure grain spirit. Barneys has dual flavours like Lemongrass, Grapefruit and Apple, Strawberry and blueberry as well as Apple and Rose. Catering to the Indian palate, that is inclined towards sweetness, Gupta remains assured of the flavour punch each can packs. The duo has even applied for a patent for their recipe, to avoid copycats in the future.
Wild Drum has introduced two strengths of hard seltzers in the Indian market, a light variant of 330 ml at 4.75% and a strong 500 ml can at 8% ABV. Natural grain based triple distilled alcohol forms the base for four flavours, including Pure, Lemon Mint, Mango and Peach. Roy shares the best way to consume Wild Drum, “A 4.75% alcohol can could be consumed directly for mild drinking. However, it is also a great cocktail mix. The 500ml contains 8% alcohol and we recommend having it straight up, chilled.”
A Can-Do Spirit
When launching a transparent coloured ready-to-drink product, the duo at Barneys were reticent about using glass bottles. Instead, they took the arduous path, spending more money on inventory and more time creating easy-to-use cans for their product. Considering aluminium cans the more millennial-friendly option, Barneys Hard Seltzer wanted to differentiate themselves from breezers and explore signature-coloured packaging that can be popped open by hand and consumed on the go.
For Pursue, a sustainable manufacturing process was adopted, Reddy says, “All the water used in the process is reused and recycled. Even the packaging, glass, boxes used are recyclable, and are made from recycled materials to a large extent.” To set the look and feel of the product apart, Reddy designed and patented their own glass bottle, one that is a fresh take on soda-bottles of the past. Dutch illustrator and muralist, Joren Joshua´s has created special labels for each flavour that reference the ingredients in hues of red, green, blue and pink. It’s easy to imagine the bottles being reused as a DIY plant holder in a craft-friendly home.
With the introduction of a new category, education is step one, though the brain behind Pursue, Anish Reddy is also looking towards a global future. Positioning himself as a player in the international leagues, Reddy wants to use his background in Miami to take Pursue to shelves all over the world in the long-term. As of now, Pursue is available in Goa, Pondicherry, and Karnataka, with Maharashtra and Delhi soon to follow in the first half of 2022.
For Barneys, three interesting flavour profiles are in the works, such as Green Apple & Jasmine, Mojito & Rosemary, Strawberry, Peach & Orange. The founders decided to launch first in Goa to maximise visibility, but they plan to spread their wings to Delhi NCR, as well as the southern states. Meanwhile, Wild Drum is available across Maharashtra, Goa and Madhya Pradesh.
As big-name brands like Pepsi, Coke have launched their own line of hard seltzers, there is proof that this segment is due to rise in popularity, even in India. So, stack a few bottles of hard seltzer in the refrigerator, and sip on this trendy light drink in style.