Two Roads Brewing Co., Connecticut’s largest brewery, has entered the hard seltzer arena.
“We’re always looking for opportunities and we just couldn’t ignore the explosion of seltzer in our industry,” says John Rehm, director of brewing operations at Two Roads in Stratford. “We were too late to be the first, but wanted to get in with a really interesting product that we could be proud of.”
That product is H2Roads, a line of “craft hard seltzer” made with real fruit that is available in raspberry, grapefruit and cranberry-lime flavors, and is being distributed across the state.
Last summer, White Claw, a national brand of spiked seltzer that has been around since 2016, became the drink of the moment. With its low-calorie and gluten-free recipe, “the Claw” was popularized through memes and caught on with the force of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Demand was so high that in September the company had to start rationing sales.
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The brand’s success, along with the steadily growing popularity of hard seltzer, has caused breweries big and small across the country to start brewing spiked seltzer, even though it’s not technically a beer. Budweiser debuted Bud Light Seltzer in January, while in Connecticut several breweries including Stony Creek, Thimble Island, No Worries and Overshores have begun offering at least one variety of seltzer.
Two Roads has been working on its seltzer since 2018. And while hard seltzer may be easy to poke fun at, it is not easy to make, Rehm says. At Two Roads, brewers add sucrose to sterile water and ferment the product using a wine yeast chosen for the clean, relatively neutral but lightly fruited flavors it produces. As basic as that process sounds, it is anything but, according to Rehm. “It actually has been a very challenging product to make from a technical perspective for me as a brewer. A lot of people are failing to make it because they believe you can throw sugar and water together and it will ferment.” He adds that when you are making beer you can use nutrients in barley and wheat to “feed the yeast to keep a healthy fermentation going. With seltzer that’s not the case. There’s just nothing there for the yeast to chew on except for basic sugar, which is not very good for the yeast. We’ve done a lot of R&D to try and figure out how do we give the yeast the nutrients that we need to produce the flavors that we want.”
The most popular Two Roads seltzer is raspberry, and it is also my favorite of several samples I tried during a recent visit to the taproom. Despite their fruit flavorings, none of the seltzers offered here are sweet. Instead they have a subtle fruit taste that is similar to a regular nonalcoholic fruited seltzer. The drink is refreshing and light, and would definitely make for good summer drinking.
Even so, as I talk with Rehm I soon move to beer, a drink that has more character. It’s an impulse Rehm seems to understand. “I love making beer. That’s my one true love, but if people are drinking seltzer we can’t ignore that. We don’t want to get left behind in terms of product innovation,” he says. “Our core will always be beer. We expect this [seltzer] to be big this year but still a small percentage of everything else we’ve been doing.”
Two Roads Brewing Co.
1700 Stratford Ave., Stratford
Tasting room hours: Tue.-Sat. noon-9 p.m., Mon. & Sun. noon-7 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible through the brewery’s service elevator
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Two Roads is closed on Sundays.