Seltzer: so cool right now. Whether flavored or plain, canned or bottled, this effervescent drink has become the sip du jour. Sales of sparkling water more than doubled from 2010 to 2015, according to data from global industry researcher Euromonitor, proof of this drink’s growing universal appeal. Midwest-born LaCroix Sparkling Water has amassed a cult-like following and boasts more than 70,000 followers on Instagram; Northeast favorite Polar Seltzer has fans eagerly awaiting its seasonal, limited-edition cans. Meanwhile, European mainstays Perrier and San Pellegrino have have started offering products in new flavors. As the spotlight on soda’s sugar content intensifies, consumers are turning to sweetener-free sparkling water in droves. The drink itself, however, has a long history.
English theologian and chemist Joseph Priestley developed carbonated water in the late 1700s, marketing it as a cure for scurvy. In 1783, German scientist J.J. Schweppe invented the first industrial process to capture and bottle soda water and introduced the bubbly tonic to the masses. By 1836, his namesake company—Schweppes—was supplying the UK’s Royal Family.
Over the next century, seltzer’s presence diminished as soda rose. These days, the pendulum has swung back the other way. “Our CEO loves to say ‘Polar is an overnight success, 130 years in the making,’” says Polar Beverages brand activation manager Lisbet Crowley. “We have been making seltzer since back in the day . . . so we are happy people have caught up!”
The drink has become so popular that certain companies have sought to improve soda water even further—by adding booze. Alcoholic seltzers such as Truly Spiked & Sparkling and White Claw Hard Seltzer are now found next to craft beer in liquor stores. And after the sauce comes cheese, as you’ll see in the matchups ahead.
While water isn’t flavorless, it’s certainly subtle. That’s why bubbles matter the most in the seltzer-cheese equation. Many turophiles enjoy pairing beer or Champagne with cheese because carbonation scrubs away any residual fat on the tongue, ensuring a fresh palate for each bite. Apply the same technique here—the richer the cheese, the fizzier the seltzer.
Some of the most popular sparkling waters are tinged with citrus, which may be wonderful for a post-lunch pick-me-up—but not so much for cheese pairing. Why? High-acid fruits tend to make wedges and wheels taste acrid. (No thanks.) Instead, seek sparkling water with vegetal or warm spice flavors—go salty-sweet by pairing pecorino with vanilla seltzer, or cool and creamy with cucumber effervescence and block cheddar.
If you spy fizzy, bottled booze in the liquor store, you might assume it’s malt liquor. Spiked seltzer, however, typically combines fermented sugar, sparkling water, and flavoring. “When we launched in 2013, nobody knew what it was, or how to categorize it,” says SpikedSeltzer co-founder Dave Holmes. “People wanted to compare SpikedSeltzer to what they already knew: sugary hard soda; artificially sweetened FMBs [flavored malt beverages]; vodka soda. Now ‘hard seltzer’ is a growing category.” As most flavors of boozy seltzer are tart, stick with fatty cheeses with rounded flavors to find balance in every sip and nibble.
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