In the beginning, there was seltzer in a bottle, delivered by the case, or in the bubbly treat of an egg cream at a soda fountain. That was the first wave. The second wave began the moment Italian waiters started asking “con gas?” while we — yes, we, every last one of us — dined on cobblestone streets in Rome. “Bravissimo!” we cried in unison. The third wave, the arrival of Big Fizz as we know it, was the LaCroix frenzy, fueled by the desire for flavor without calories or whatever’s in diet soda, and which drove millennials and the startups where they worked to fill their fridges with a rainbow of pastel cans that read things like “apricot,” “pamplemousse,” and “muré pepino.” (That’s “sweet & sour blackberry notes and the natural earthiness of crisp cucumber,” for the uninitiated.)
The fourth wave, which we’re just now entering, is a seltzer market that is positively flooded. Have you walked down the liquids aisle in a Whole Foods lately? We’re at peak seltzer here: There are as many bubble brands on the shelves as there are influencers in the infinite scroll of the Instagram Explore tab. Waterloo, Fizz Co., Bubly, SmartWater seltzers, boozy seltzers, seltzers with CBD, vintage seltzers, brand-new seltzers pretending they’re vintage, more carbonated water than any person could drink in even the thirstiest lifetime. (To say nothing of dear, sweet Polar.)
Does this mean that seltzer is not cool anymore? Maybe, but being thirsty and having no seltzer is even less cool. Besides, it’s the wrong question. There’s another, more important question we never stopped to ask along the way — no, not does seltzer hurt your teeth? Does any of the flavored stuff actually taste good?
No, it doesn’t. Not at all. Not even a little bit. We’ve been settling for bad flavored seltzer, particularly when it comes to LaCroix (whose CEO is also apparently a bad man?). We need to stop accepting that LaCroix and its knockoffs taste good “for what it is,” and find something actually worth drinking.
I realize that having an extremely strong opinion about seltzer, a take so forceful that I would publish it on a website and hope to infuriate at least a handful of people in the process, is totally ridiculous, but it’s even more ridiculous to drink something that tastes not-great or even terrible when you could drink something that tastes very good.
And there is a better flavored seltzer out there. It’s called Spindrift. Like LaCroix, it comes in a can (and tallboys!) and you can probably find it at your local bougie bodega when you need it most, though honestly I order it in bulk. Before you ask, there is a trick to it. The trick is... juice.
Here’s the thing: If you want something to taste good — i.e., have an actual flavor — you’re probably going to have to ingest some calories. LaCroix’s no-calorie concoction was too good to be true, a Faustian bargain. Its ingredient list seemed so short: carbonated water and natural flavor. How... natural. But then you learn that “natural flavors” could contain pretty much anything.
“Natural flavor” is an umbrella term used to describe a chemical that was originally found in a naturally occurring source. As nutritionist Keri Glassman, MS, RD, and CDN, told Coveteur, the “key word here is ‘originally.’” The Code of Federal Regulations describes natural flavor as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
Which, fine, except that companies don’t have to disclose what, precisely, makes up their natural flavors. “The loophole,” Roni Caryn Rabin writes in the New York Times, “is that for nonorganic foods, the regulations do not restrict the dozens of other ingredients like preservatives and solvents that can go into a so-called natural flavor.” What is in that can of zero-calorie pamplemousse? No one knows!
So, juice. Spindrift’s drinks consist of between 3 and 10 percent juice, adding up to about 15 calories and a couple of grams of sugar per can — it’s not zero calories, but I think it’s a reasonable nutritional price to pay for a superior flavored seltzer. And while Spindrift previously used natural flavors in some of its drinks, it doesn’t anymore, in case that’s the kind of thing that freaks you out.
Because we live in the 2019 that we live in, I might sound like a shill or brand influencer (if only!), but it really does come down to this: Spindrift tastes better. So much better. Spindrift’s flavors taste like the fruits it lists on the can, because it uses just enough real fruit juice to flavor the bubbles without it becoming actual juice. So you get a cucumber and it really tastes like spa water… but bubbly. Or a strawberry that’s slightly sweet, but not cloying. Then there’s my all-time favorite flavor, Half and Half, a take on the Arnold Palmer that somehow doesn’t taste like a watered-down iced tea and lemonade, even though it really should. Like a 2 a.m. slice of pizza or the Cadbury Mini Eggs available only around Easter, a Spindrift is worth every last calorie (which, again, I remind you, are so few).
Fair warning: Once you cross over to Spindrift — or “start drifting,” as the real Spinheads say — no other brand will be good enough for you. It’ll be hard to drink that LaCroix without grimacing when it’s handed to you at a barbecue. Your friends and family will think you’re an elitist or a snob. But do your best: Toast your host, drink that free seltz, and hide your disappointment until you get home. Because home is where you’ve been stockpiling Spindrift this entire time.