Is "Hard Seltzer" Just Bottled Vodka Soda?

There's a new player in the never-ending quest to balance a good buzz with the calories and sugar that come with drinking. Spiked sparkling water, or "hard seltzer," clocks in at a respectable 5-6 percent ABV per bottle, around 100 calories per 12-ounce bottle and just a gram or two of sugar. It's comparable to a vodka soda, and significantly more forgiving than a cocktail, beer or glass of wine. As soda consumption in the U.S. continues to decline, low- or no-calorie alternatives like seltzer have never been hotter, so it was only a matter of time before beverage enthusiasts put two and two together.

So what's the difference between a beverage like Boston's Truly Spiked & Sparkling, Connecticut's SpikedSeltzer or Chicago's White Claw and simply pouring seltzer over vodka on the rocks? The alcohol in these brands comes from "cold-brewed sugar," whereas most clear spirits are grain-fermented and result in a higher alcohol content. This makes for a sessionable beverage, rather than a heavier cocktail. Premixed, bottled and canned products are also a convenient alternative for times when mixing even the simplest of cocktails would prove tricky. Nobody wants to lug a big bottle of vodka to the beach. They're also infused with some great-sounding fruit you won't find at an ordinary supermarket: Blood oranges, pomelos and black cherries beat out a slice of lime (or a Smirnoff Ice) pretty much any day.

Finally (and illegally), they look like bottles and cans of regular seltzer — at a glance, you'd never know they were spiked. Take that information as you will. Health-conscious drinkers and longtime fans of the vodka soda alike should feel confident venturing into this bubbly new turf. Beer, wine and cocktails will still be there when you get back.