- As hard seltzer fever sweeps the nation, the drink is becoming synonymous with an unexpected demographic: young millennial men who identify as "bros."
- White Claw, the dominant brand in the category, has become the subject of a rising number of viral YouTube videos and memes poking fun at the popularity of the drink in places like fraternity houses.
- Hard seltzer enthusiasts are likening the drink’s popularity to Smirnoff Ice, famous as the inspiration for "icing," the viral drinking game started by a group of fraternity brothers in 2010.
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Though Ben Shea hadn’t heard of White Claw when he first tried it in June, after one sip of the black cherry-flavored alcoholic fizzy water, he was instantly hooked.
"It’s ridiculously good. If I’m at at a party now and someone offers me an IPA or a White Claw, I definitely take a White Claw," Shea, a producer based in Santa Monica, told Business Insider.
After his auspicious introduction to the drink, Shea became an unabashed hard seltzer enthusiast. As he packed his bags for a recent weekend getaway with a group of male friends, he brought along a few cases of White Claw, hoping to spread the gospel of the refreshing, low-calorie boozy beverage.
Though Shea said the group teased him upon seeing the sleek white cans, slinging insults about the seemingly girlish drink, they spent the entirety of the weekend drinking it to excess.
"I’m a bro, I do dude things and get stoked and all that," Shea said. "But I also just feel comfortable saying I like White Claw and that it’s good."
Shea and his crew are not alone in their sentiments. At barbecues, on beaches, at fraternity parties, legions of men are suddenly singing the praises of hard seltzer.
"Throw a dart at my fraternity composite and you’ll find a guy who’s into hard seltzer," a college junior and fraternity member told Business Insider, requesting anonymity as he is not yet of legal drinking age.
The memeificaiton of White Claw
According to Nielsen, hard seltzer sales increased by 66.2% in the past year, driven largely by growing demand from millennial drinkers seeking new options in malt beverages beyond traditional beer. As hard seltzer’s star rose, it became the top growing segment in the beer category during the lucrative Fourth of July weekend. It’s now slated to become a booming $2.5 billion category by 2021, according to analysis from UBS.
However, while the beverage is clearly resonating among consumers of all backgrounds and genders at equal measure, it’s finding a surprising niche among one particularly vocal group of drinkers online: bros.
For the unitiatied, Urban Dictionary defines "bros" as "obnoxious partying males who are often seen at college parties" and "usually just stand around holding a red plastic cup waiting for something exciting to happen so they can scream [about] how much they enjoy partying." According to this definition, the men "often wear a rugby shirt and a baseball cap."
"It’s interesting because the younger demographic [of men that] broadly gets defined as ‘bro culture’ is very active on social media," said Sanjiv Gajiwala, SVP of marketing at White Claw. "They’re very passionate and they love sharing things that they think are fun, so I think it’s caught the attention of a lot of people."
In June, YouTube star Trevor Wallace shared his latest viral hit, "Drinks White Claw Once," a four-minute, tongue-in-cheek video mocking the growing mass of seltzer bros. In the clip — which currently has more than 1.5 million views on YouTube and 265,000 comments on Facebook — Wallace tries the beverage and is aesthetically transformed.
His simple black T-shirt becomes a Hawaiian print button-up and his bleach blond hair is suddenly adorned with a baseball cap and Wayfarer sunglasses. The look is a nod to a stereotypical frat bro.
"If you think about it, LaCroix is just a virgin White Claw," Wallace riffs. "It’s like a Four Loko that went to private school. Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws!"
In the following weeks, the video inspired several response posts and videos. A quick search for "White Claw" and "bro" on Twitter yields hundreds of results.
Most importantly to White Claw though, it helped boost the already skyrocketing profile of the brand. White Claw — owned by the private company Mark Anthony, which also operates Mike’s Hard Lemonade — currently dominates the market with more than 55% of hard seltzer share, even as a growing number of competitors like Truly and Bon & Viv look to compete.
Vivek — a software designer in Seattle who requested that his last name be withheld in order to protect his privacy — said that though his group of friends largely describes themselves as "nerds and gamers that don’t identify with party culture," they’ve taken a shining to White Claw.
"It’s become a meme across internet culture," he said. "There are a lot of people joking about White Claw and saying things ironically, like ‘Dude, what if we just hung out and had, like, two cases of White Claw?’"
Vivek said part of hard seltzer’s appeal, both in terms of taste as well as through the lens of internet culture, is its simplicity.
"It doesn’t offend anyone. It’s a very, very inoffensive drink. If you want to bring something to a gathering that everyone can enjoy, hard seltzer is an easy bet," he said.
‘You got Clawed, brah!’
Matt Lindner, a content marketing manager in Chicago who refers to hard seltzer as "bougie water," said he foresees White Claw as the next Smirnoff Ice, the drink best known for starting the cultural phenomenon known as "icing."
In 2010, a New York Times article described the then-fledgling trend as "the nation’s biggest viral drinking game," citing the outsized popularity of the act among men. According to the article, the game originated within the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at the College of Charleston, where the brothers claim to have both created the rules and first shared them publicly on BroBible.com.
"The premise of the game is simple: hand a friend a sugary Smirnoff Ice malt beverage and he (most participants have been men) has to drink it on one knee, all at once — unless he is carrying a bottle himself, in which case the attacker must drink both bottles," journalist J. David Goodman wrote.
At the time, several now-defunct blogs and websites like BrosIcingBros.com and You Got Iced depicted videos of the game, leading to its widespread virality.
On Twitter, Lindner prophesized a day in which White Claw will follow a similar path as its malt beverage predecessor, when "bros will start showing each other cans of the Claw, making each other take a knee and yelling ‘YOU JUST GOT CLAWED BRAH.’"
"White Claw strikes me as something that came out of a Lonely Island video," Lindner told Business Insider. "I remember seeing White Claw for the first time and I thought of the video for ‘I’m On A Boat.’ The way it’s packaged, the way it’s marketed, it feels like it’s being tailored to that ‘living your best life’ mentality."
Shea, the hard seltzer fan from Santa Monica, said the growth of White Claw has also reminded him of the height of the Smirnoff Ice days, noting that his friend even proposed to his now wife after he was brought to his knees in an act of icing.
"I think people are afraid to just say they like it and that it’s good, so they have to do it ironically," he said. "It’s similar to what happened with icing, it’s not seen as your stereotypical guy drink."
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