SELTZER, BUT MAKE IT NATURE: Norfork Brewing’s seltzers are made with locally foraged sumac and elderberries. 

It may not be fair that the alcohol we choose sends a message about who we are, but there’s no getting around it. People are going to make assumptions based on what’s in your cup. Boxed wine is for fun moms, Coors Light is for depressed middle-aged men, vodka with Red Bull is for douchebags. Clever marketing capitalizes on these correlations and keeps them intact.

When hard seltzers splashed on the scene a few years back, they were clearly intended for and quickly embraced by cute young girls hanging out near bodies of water. Bubbly, fruity and light, seltzers have the same appeal as those sorority rush week TikToks. They’re cute, and there’s no need to overthink them. Moody bourbon drinkers can scoff all they want, but hard seltzers are fun.

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So fun, in fact, that they pretty quickly went co-ed. Eased along by memes and self-deprecating humor about toxic masculinity, the bro-ification of hard seltzers is now complete. And that’s fine news for Arkansas brewers getting into the game. 

Ozark Beer Co. in Rogers was the first microbrewery in Arkansas to launch a hard seltzer, back in 2018 when most people still assumed they were for girls only. But even then, Ozark Beer Co. marketing director Marty Shutter suspected hard seltzers had broader appeal. 

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“The initial market data told us the stereotypical, that it was for women in their 30s. But we knew the research was based on limited data from only a year,” Shutter said. 

So Ozark Beer Co. rolled out its Ozark Hard Water and watched to see who drank it. “We found almost immediately that the research was irrelevant,” he said. His assessment was confirmed when Ozark took its product to a hard seltzer festival in Denver, where the vibe was decidedly feminine. Think unicorns, roses and goat yoga. But the crowd that showed up was half men. 

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He’s found hard seltzer drinkers skew younger, and tend to be more health conscious than your average craft beer drinker. Some larger scale hard seltzer makers simply add alcohol to fizzy water, but Ozark ferments its seltzer like beer, in relatively small batches. The brewery sells it mainly in its taproom.

“You’ll have a group of bikers who have just ridden 50 miles, and a third of them will order seltzers,” he said.

Little Rock’s Lost Forty Brewing Co. is in the third year of selling its wildly popular Punchy line, the drink of the summer for 2021 around these parts.

Core Brewery and Distillery in Springdale, makers of Scarlet Letter, has also gone big with its seltzer operations, offering color-coded flavors that each combine four or five different fruits and spices. And Scarlet Letter made special holiday-themed seltzers last winter in a push to broaden their appeal from seasonal to year-round. 

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Norfork Brewing Co. has taken almost the opposite approach from other Arkansas brewers, moving slowly and (at least initially) reluctantly into the hard seltzer market. Available only in Calico Rock, Norfork and Mountain Home taprooms for now, Norfork’s version won’t be canned and sent to retailers until spring 2022. The burliest of the lot, Norfork’s seltzers are made with locally foraged sumac and elderberries plucked from the shores of the White River. 

Norfork founder Jason Aamodt admits he started fiddling with a seltzer recipe only after female employees asked him to. “I thought it was the worst idea ever and was reluctant, but it’s really good,” he said. 

While hard seltzers can be made a number of different ways, Aamodt took his cues from moonshiners and wine makers, starting with a sugar mash and using vintner’s tricks to extract flavorings. The result, he said, is a wine-like flavor that brings the boys to the yard.

“I think they’re manly,” he said. “My sexuality is not challenged as a result of drinking seltzer.” He recommends pairing them with cheese, specifically a Grand Cru or manchego, and says they’re an appropriate choice any time of year.

For bros out there who still might be reluctant to sip seltzer, maybe it will help that the packaging for Norfork’s line will have a naked lady on it. The design inspiration comes from a mural on the back of a Tulsa funeral home, of a nude woman riding a winged bicycle across the night sky.