July 28, 2021
Remember the quaint, olden days when the only beverage rivalry on anyone’s radar was the ongoing cola war between Coke and Pepsi? And even that was a “war” in name only, existing, for the most part, between advertising executives. From a consumer perspective, ordering a Coke and being served a Pepsi was merely a minor annoyance, and one that was more or less forgotten about by the time your burger and fries arrived at the table.
But that was then, and this is 2021. These days, we don’t just express our brand preferences through our purchases, but through our tweets, our TikToks and our hashtags too. And no battle encapsulates this unique moment in branding history quite like the near-legendary hard seltzer rivalry of Truly vs. White Claw.
How did the White Claw vs. Truly rivalry start?
A few years ago, most of us weren’t even talking about spiked seltzer. (And if we were, it was probably to make a lame Zima joke). But nowadays, you can’t show up to any summer barbecue, tailgate or block party without encountering coolers overflowing with cans of the low-calorie alcoholic beverage. And where you find hard seltzer, you also find opinions on hard seltzer. Loud, spirited opinions about which brand has the best hard seltzer flavors, which is better for you and which one corresponds to your Harry Potter House (spoiler: Bud Light Seltzer is Hufflepuff).
As we’ve covered extensively on this blog, the hard seltzer craze came seemingly out of nowhere. Inspired, in large part, by the explosive popularity of sparkling water brands like La Croix amongst millennial and Gen Z consumers, beverage makers also took advantage of the public’s increasing interest in good-for-you vices, such as high-protein ice creams, Impossible burgers and gluten-free everything. Young consumers, it turns out, want a way to be healthy without giving up the stuff they love.
Neither White Claw nor Truly was the first hard seltzer to hit the market. That distinction belongs to SpikedSeltzer, which launched in 2013 and later rebranded as Bon V!V. But they were two of the first mass-market imitators to show up when it became clear that hard seltzer was about to be as hot as…umm…regular seltzer? Which is to say: really, really hot.
Due to their impeccable timing, White Claw and Truly were some of the first alcoholic seltzer waters many consumers ever tried, thus establishing their now notorious rivalry. The battle of the bubbly, boozy beverages has even inspired countless Truly vs. White Claw Reddit threads, where fans debate the merits of each brand through polls, March Madness-style bracket tournaments and the occasional old-fashioned cat fight.
Though there are now more than 65 hard seltzer brands on the market, Truly and White Claw remain the top two competitors, holding 75% of the spiked seltzer market between them. And the competition is only growing more intense all the time: analysts predict that hard seltzer sales could reach $6.5 billion by 2024.
So which hard seltzer brand is really the best? To try to pin down a champion once and for all, we decided to pit Truly and White Claw against one another in the ultimate hard seltzer throw down.
White Claw: the top contender
- Year launched: 2016
- Hometown: Dublin, Ireland
- ABV: 5%
- Market share: 58% (as of 2019)
- Famous friends: Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Cayman Jack (White Claw is owned by Mark Anthony Brands, International)
Tagline: Let’s White Claw
Truly: the challenger
- Year launched: 2016
- Hometown: Boston, MA
- ABV: 5%
- Market share: 26% (as of 2019)
- Famous friends: Sam Adams, Twisted Tea, Angry Orchard (Truly is owned by Boston Beer Co.)
Tagline: No One Is Just One Flavor
Round 1: Flavors
When it comes to flavors, sparkling water fans love choices. Don’t believe us? Just check out the staggering selection of LaCroix varieties at your local grocery store.
Truly currently boasts a staggering 27 flavors across its wide range of beverages, which includes Truly Spiked Punch, Truly Iced Tea, Truly Lemonade and Truly Extra (which boasts an 8% ABV instead of the classic 5%). The classic Truly spiked seltzer comes in 12 fruit flavors, including:
- Black Cherry
- Blueberry Acai
- Wild Berry
- Raspberry Lime
- Citrus Squeeze
- Passion Fruit
- Watermelon Kiwi
The classics are also available in convenient variety packs that allow fans to try four flavors at once:
- Truly Berry Mix Pack (wild berry, blueberry acai, black cherry and raspberry lime)
- Truly Citrus Mix Pack (lime, grapefruit, citrus squeeze and lemon)
- Truly Tropical Mix Pack (pineapple, mango, passion fruit and watermelon kiwi)
White Claw, on the other hand, currently has 17 flavors in its drink lineup, including four flavors of Spiked Iced Tea and two of White Claw Surge (its 8% ABV variety). Its classic lineup has 11 fruity flavors, including:
- Black Cherry
- Natural Lime
- Ruby Grapefruit
Just like Truly, White Claw offers its classic in tasty variety packs, including:
- White Claw Flavor Collection No. 1: (black cherry, raspberry, rube grapefruit and natural lime)
- White Claw Flavor Collection No. 2: (mango, watermelon, lemon and tangerine)
- White Claw Flavor Collection No. 3: (mango, blackberry, strawberry and pineapple)
It also bundles its three most popular flavors (mango, black cherry and watermelon) into 18- and 24-packs that are perfect for parties.
Round 1 winner: Truly. The numbers here are in Truly’s favor, although White Claw’s bigger variety packs are worthy of at least an honorable mention. Both brands are constantly reinventing their lineups though, so we expect this race to get even tighter as time goes on.
Round 2: Healthiness
Let’s face it: one of the major draws of hard seltzer is that it’s somewhat goodish for you. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves when we throw back our third can between cheeseburgers. At the very least, these refreshing summer sippers clock in at fewer calories than your average beer or glass of sangria, and that’s really the whole reason they exist in the first place.
When it comes down to calorie count, both Truly and White Claw will set you back 100 calories per 12 ounce can. They both also have 2 grams of carbohydrates, meaning either brand is an excellent beverage choice for carb counters.
When it comes to overall sugar content, however, Truly takes a slight lead. Each can boasts a measly 1 gram of sugar, compared with White Claw, which boasts 2 grams of sugar per can.
So that gives Truly the advantage, right? Not so fast! White Claw recently released a line of hard ice tea seltzers with just 1 gram of sugar, matching Truly gram for gram in that category. They also debuted a line of 70 calorie hard seltzers in spring of 2020. And while it’s unclear if these will be a limited edition run or a permanent part of the beverage company’s lineup, there’s no denying it could give White Claw a clear advantage in the domain of diet-friendly drinks.
Round 2 winner: Draw. Honestly, we can’t even keep track of whether we’re supposed to be counting calories, carbs or sugar these days, so we like having options.
Round 3: Brand power
It’s barely even summer yet and our social media timelines are already filled with friends mugging with their Truly and White Claw cans. Both brands have woven themselves into the public consciousness in a big way, but one of them towers above the other.
When it comes to social media presence, few brands have blanketed our newsfeeds quite like White Claw. Unofficial taglines like “White Claw Summer” and “Ain’t No Laws When You’re Drinking Claws” were invented by the White Claw fan base and are arguably more well known than the brand’s actual official tagline, “Let’s White Claw”. And comedy videos like the ones by Trevor Wallace have inspired so many copycat videos and memes that the internet has dedicated articles to help people make sense of them.
Truly, meanwhile, requires no such primer and its social media brand presence is somewhat more low key. That could change soon, however. In 2021, the brand launched a sponsorship with Grammy Award-winning singer Dua Lipa in an attempt to capitalize on her huge Instagram following. The partnership includes the aforementioned commercial, which draws heavily on 80s nostalgia to appeal to hard seltzer’s target audience of millennials.
Round 3 winner: White Claw. You know you’ve reached iconic brand status when your fan base practically does your marketing for you.
And the winner is…
It’s a tie! (Raise your hand if you saw that one coming).
But seriously: whether the hard seltzer sorting hat has you dedicating your drinking hours to team Truly or house White Claw, you’re guaranteed to have a summer filled with crisp, cool, low-calorie refreshment. And at the end of the day, doesn’t that make everybody a winner?