Grind City’s New Viva Honey Seltzers Crush Through Flavor

Posted by National Honey Board on September 17, 2021

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Photo Credit: Grind City Brewing Co.

Can hard seltzers — or any alcoholic beverage for that matter — truly be a mix of better-for-you and indulgence? It depends on the motive of the drinker, according to Hopper Seely, president of Memphis-based Grind City Brewing Co.

The brewery’s recently launched line of Viva Honey Seltzers, in Original, Orange Creamsicle, Lemon/Lime and Peach varieties, is not only a nod to customers who are looking for a no-added-sugar, gluten-free product, but Seely also says that there must be a crushability to Viva beyond easy drinking.

“I’ve always been fascinated with brewing with honey, and when it came to crushability, we were going for a gluten-free beer at first,” Seely, a graduate of Brewlab in Sunderland, England, says. “It has a subtle amount of perceived sweetness. It’s not too sweet where you’re going to drink one and be done, but it’s dry enough to where it’s got that subtle hint of not dried sugar, but this is honey. There’s no corn sugar or cane sugar blend — just honey.”

The idea for a honey hard seltzer started well before Grind City Brewing had a physical location, back when Seely had a home brew setup. “Every time we made it, we were laughing! It was so easy; it was so delicious. We said, ‘This is the money maker,’” he says.

Then the brewery opened, and it was time to make the seltzer on a larger scale. Absolutely nothing went to plan. Seely says that the product would ferment so dry that he would take a sip and any flavor would be removed.

“How do you brew it 1,000 times on terrible equipment, and it’s perfect, and then all we did was scale it up and we could not get it right,” he says.

After a 1,300-gallon (around 40 barrel) dump and a lot of deep breaths, the Grind City team went to task on solving the problem. They completely changed the fermentation cycle and stopped looking at the product as beer. Instead, they started looking at it like mead. Research led Seely to other brewers who noted trial and error processes similar to what he was going through.

“I was like, ‘Oh good; someone figured it out before us.’ People were drinking seltzers and were loving the fact that there was no barley in it. It’s not beer, so let’s call it like it is: a honey seltzer,” he says.

Initial flavors of the seltzer included berry, pineapple, black cherry, and bourbon barrel-aged, which were put up on draft on a trial basis in the taproom. On opening weekend, the No. 1, 3 and 4 top sellers of the 17 taps were flavors of what would be Viva. After more unofficial focus groups, the final four varieties were named.

Photo Credit: Grind City Brewing Co.

“On the marketing side, 60% of the beer market is now seltzer. Everybody is about to have a hard seltzer, and our honey seltzer line is our pride and joy,” Seely says. “Pure honey is the only thing in this product that gives it the flavor. It’s just honey, and that’s enough, we believe, to give that a shot. It’s product quality first.”

The no-added-sugar, gluten-free and low-calorie aspects of Viva also are huge selling points, leading to a debate about if hard or adult beverages and the better-for-you drive of consumers can occur at the same time. Can a hard seltzer, for example, be healthy and indulgent if it’s sweetened with honey? Seely says it depends on the motive of the drinker.

“At the end of the day if you’re trying to drink a lot of alcohol it is obviously unhealthy. If you’re going to drink casually while doing yard work or at the beach, you might drink eight IPAs, which could be 3,000 to 4,000 calories. But, eight honey seltzers are around 800 calories. You can balance it out,” he says.

And the role of honey in the product factors into that indulgent, yet more nutritious offering.

“The role that honey plays started with me being weirdly interested in honey,” Seely says. “When we first made it, we were like, ‘There’s no way you could make something taste like this unless you use a lot of honey. We were flavor first — that was the only goal we had at first, and it tasted delicious. Then, when we sent it off to a lab for testing, they sent it back to us with low calories. It was amazing.”