Spiked Seltzer Popularity Upends Gender Perceptions

Ariana Howard ‘20

Staff Writer


Illustration by Marquia Humphies ‘22

In recent years, students, administrators, and members of Patterson Court Council (PCC) have engaged in discourse about down-the-hill drinking culture. But amongst these conversations about how best to engage in healthy late-night life, the way in which major alcohol companies utilize gender to market their products often falls to the wayside.

 Such marketing strategies are reflected in Davidson students’ history of alcohol preferences.  The image of Davidson students on a Friday night standing around F with a Bud Light in their hands is all too familiar. 

In past years, senior housing, such as at first floor Flowe, used to serve Franzia wine or hard liquor in addition to beer. However, a bartender would distribute these drinks in order to ration the alcohol, creating lines and crowding inside of parties. Since hard liquor and wine are considerably higher in alcohol content, issues of safety became a major concern for those hosting the parties each week as well. 

For this reason, hard liquor and wine slowly began disappearing at parties, making beer the primary drink option at F. The reality began sinking in for the students who did not enjoy drinking beer that they would have to learn to tolerate this unpleasant beverage.

And then hard seltzer exploded. 

From 2018 to 2019, hard seltzer sales grew 200 percent, according to Business Insider, turning the hard seltzer market into a $550 million industry. 

In the spring of 2019, it seemed as though everyone was suddenly drinking hard seltzer, particularly White Claw, at parties. Students were in desperate need of a refreshing, ready-to-go beverage that they could drink at parties with the same ease as cheap beer but with a better taste.

Hard seltzer seemed to be the perfect solution. As explained by Jack Heaps ’20, president of Kappa Sigma, “It’s just less of an acquired taste and much easier to drink because it’s so similar to regular non-alcoholic seltzer.” 

According to a poll of the student body conducted by The Davidsonian, 37 of the 56 respondents (66 percent) prefer spiked seltzer over beer. 

Hard seltzers, however, are not just an alternative to beer; they are also an alternative to mixed drinks. “I see [hard seltzer] as a less alcoholic mixed drink,” Ella Sams ’20 commented. 

Since each hard seltzer has the listed alcohol content on the can compared to mixed drinks, hard seltzer may promote a safer drinking culture at Davidson. “Hard seltzer is replacing mixed drinks [for me] almost entirely,” stated Marina Shallcross ’20. 

For AC Keesler ’20, hard seltzer is a drink to begin with at pre-games instead of going straight into shots. “My stomach gets full faster so I’m not consuming as much,” she explained.

Initially, many students perceived hard seltzer as an alternative to beer for women at F because women seemed to be more averse to drinking cheap beer. “I definitely thought of it as a girls’ drink when it first came out,” Lauren Wolfe ’20 commented.

One of the main reasons Davidson students and the population at large initially viewed hard seltzer as a drink for women was due to health conscious marketing and targeted feminine branding surrounding hard seltzer and an association between diet culture and gender. White Claw, for example, is only 100 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates per 12 oz, compared to Bud Light, one of the most common beers on campus, which is 110 calories and 6.6 grams of carbohydrates per 12 oz. 

As explained by a Washington Post article, many of the major hard seltzer brands, such as Truly, Bon & Viv, and Smirnoff, use a more feminine design on their cans because they assumed hard seltzer would appeal to women more than men. White Claw, they explain, saw the opportunity to create an alcoholic beverage that both genders could equally enjoy. As a result, White Claw created a logo considerably less stereotypically feminine than the other leading hard seltzer brands. 

A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that 50 percent of White Claw consumers are men and that White Claw dominates 50 percent of the hard seltzer market. 

As explained by Joey Belisle ’20, a senior living at F, many of the men hosting parties at the base F apartments buy hard seltzer in order to “give women a drink that they would prefer compared to beer.”

However, many male students also enjoy drinking hard seltzer at parties. Heaps stated, “Honestly, a lot of our guys like it a lot. Last spring my friends and I drank White Claw more than beer, I’d say. It’s just so much lighter than beer is.”

The Davidsonian poll also revealed that men enjoy hard seltzer and beer equally, indicating a quick transition away from solely drinking beer. “I think the guys are learning [hard seltzer] is far superior to beer,” Keesler commented. The same poll showed that women show a slight preference towards spiked seltzer over beer. Assumptions about who is drinking White Claw based on gender, therefore, may be less accurate than many initially thought.  

“Maybe initially there was push back from the masculine stereotype sense that [hard seltzer] was more ‘girly’ than beer or whatever, but at least in my circles it’s totally destigmatized at this point,” said Heaps. 

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