If you’ve been to the liquor store or browsed the beer aisle at your local grocery store lately—in 2020, who hasn’t?—you’ve no doubt noticed the proliferation of spiked or hard seltzers crowding in alongside the usual lineup of IPAs, pilsners, pale ales, and lagers. The low-calorie fizzy sippers exploded onto the beverage scene in 2019, with sales climbing by more than 200 percent and big-name beverage brands getting into the game—a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing any time soon. Gluten free and with a lower ABV than most beers, spiked seltzers, at their most basic, feature just three ingredients: carbonated water, alcohol, and flavoring. They also have significantly less sugar than nineties-throwbacks like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Zima. Still, when Sean Cusack, cofounder of the Austin, Texas–based sparkling water company Waterloo, approached fellow Austinite Clayton Christopher, the founder of Deep Eddy Vodka, with the idea for Mighty Swell in 2016, they thought they could deliver better than the current industry standard.
“Real fruit juice. That’s the commonality between the three brands [Waterloo, Deep Eddy, and Mighty Swell],” says Jeana Harrington, Mighty Swell’s head of sales. “It makes a big difference.” Eschewing heavily processed sweeteners, Mighty Swell uses natural white grape juice instead, which the R&D team settled on for the subtle mouthfeel and texture it lends the body of the drink, as well as for the way additional fruit flavors can be layered on top. The team takes between eight and twelve months to develop a flavor, and they may experiment with thirty or forty iterations before it makes it to your cooler.
Mighty Swell’s core collection includes peach, watermelon mint, cherry lime, and grapefruit seltzers. “We’re based in Texas,” Harrington says, “and our original flavors were intended to be classic and rooted in the South.” The cherry lime, for instance, the Austin brand’s most popular offering, may remind you of a boozy (slightly healthier…if alcohol can be considered healthy) version of a Sonic cherry limeade. Earlier this year, the company released its fifth flavor, a blackberry seltzer, which Harrington recommends mixed with bourbon and fresh muddled blackberries and served over ice for a Mighty Swell take on a bramble. “All of our flavors do well in cocktails,” she says. And come March 2021, they’ll launch a tropical-inspired variety pack—just in time for summer.