We tried Smirnoff’s new sugar-free alcoholic seltzer to see if it lived up to the hype

Smirnoff seltzer
Smirnoff’s Spiked Sparkling Seltzer. Leanna Garfield/Business Insider

Sparkling water has been around for decades, but has recently become trendy as an alternative to sodas.

Over the past five years, US seltzer sales have grown by 42%, according to research and consulting firm Beverage Marketing Corp.
 LaCroix sparkling water, which has been sold for 35 years, has recently emerged as one of the most popular brands due to its variety of flavours and lack of calories or sugar.

Predictably, as seltzer has become even more popular, a number of brands have begun to launch alcoholic versions of the beverage.

New brands like Nauti Seltzer, Truly Spiked And Sparkling, and Spiked Seltzer all debuted in 2016. Smirnoff is the most recent brand to jump on this beverage trend — its Spiked Sparkling Seltzer became available nationwide in late October.

The new drink comes in three flavours — cranberry lime, watermelon, and orange mango — and contains 4.5% alcohol, about the same as light beer. A 6-pack of 12-ounce cans retails for $8.99. 

I tried all three kinds, and found them to be subpar. I started with the cranberry lime flavour, which tasted fairly similar to normal seltzer. It turned out to be the best one since it’s the most subtle — the watermelon and orange mango were both overly sweet and left an unpleasant, artificial after-taste. I wouldn’t choose to buy any of them again.

Smirnoff seltzer
Smirnoff’s Spiked Sparkling Seltzer. Leanna Garfield/Business Insider

The taste of Smirnoff’s spiked seltzers is — despite branding efforts to convince consumers otherwise — actually fairly similar to Smirnoff Ice. Both are carbonated, flavored malt beverages, though Ice beverages have stronger, sweeter flavours. 

The difference, however, is that Smirnoff is pitching the new seltzer beverage, which contains 90 calories and no added sugar, as a healthier alternative.

The can’s label reads: “No artificial sweeteners, preservatives, natural flavours” and “Zero sugar.” The ingredients are not listed on the can, which left me wondering how it still tasted so sweet. Smirnoff later clarified the label meant “zero sugar added” beyond the natural sugars created by the fermentation process.

Krista Kiisk, the brand director of flavored malt beverages at Diageo (which owns Smirnoff), tells Business Insider that the company is trying out seltzer because many customers are concerned about their calorie intake. 

“Over half of consumers also don’t feel that there are enough low-calorie alcoholic options available to them and typically have to move outside of the malt beverage category to wine or spirits to find the right option,” she says.

Kiisk says Smirnoff is not marketing the seltzer toward any particular demographic group. If spiked seltzers become more popular, it will likely be for the same reason that LaCroix’s sales jumped —  carbonated water is viewed as a low-calorie alternative to soda, so spiked versions could be seen as low-calorie alternatives to beer or sugary cocktails.

Smirnoff’s new product is also designed to satisfy consumers who may not enjoy the taste of beer or other spirits. But for those of us who don’t fall into that category, mixing your alcohol of choice into some normal sparkling water might be a better option.

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