Ranking of Seltzers

I'm approaching the age where drinking corn syrup soda is about as advisable for my health as chugging drain cleaner. As such, I've made the decision to cut that shit out. Switching to "diet" isn't an option for me; I've made several attempts to do so in the past, and every time, my depression gets worse and I start getting headaches. There's no conclusive scientific evidence to back this up, but it's happened with such consistency over enough years that my mind is made up: artificial sweeteners are just a different kind of poison (and the World Health Organization agrees with me for a lot of other reasons.)

So, I've decided to dive into the world of seltzers, because no matter how much water, coffee, tea, or stevia-sweetened lemonade I drink, I do still crave that fizz. I'll be trying as many different flavors of seltzer as practical and reporting the results here. My definition of seltzer is any carbonated water beverage with no sweeteners. The addition of flavorings, minerals or even food coloring isn't a disqualifier in my view. This will encompass products labeled "sparkling water", "club soda", "fizzy water", etc., but I'll stick to "seltzer" for simplicity's sake (and because it's just a fun word to say.)

Ranking is in order from best to worst.

  1. Waterloo Sparkling Water (summer berry)
  2. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $4.00

    I almost want to give this a lower rating just so I don't look like a shill, but this really is the best seltzer I've tried so far. I can't in good conscience give it #2, because I like it more than the black cherry. It combines the smoothness of the black cherry with a much more interesting and vibrant combination of flavors. Maybe I'm biased because I drink a lot of other cherry drinks—Polar black seltzer is still the best bang for the buck, and when I'm not drinking seltzer I'm drinking a lot of black cherry limeade (from a powdered mix)—but I think I'd prefer this even if cherry wasn't over-represented in the list. It's unique among the seltzers I've tried in that it has a crisp, refreshing mouthfeel. It's difficult to describe. It's a lot like the taste of just having taken a drink of 7-up. I think the flavors just mix really well with the carbonation. There's almost no harshness or bitterness at all. Fantastic.

  3. Bubly (blackberry)
  4. Unit: 16-ounce can
    Cost: $1.50 (sale), $2.50 (normal retail)

    Bubly's cherry flavor has had the dubious honor of occupying the bottom slot of this list almost as long as I've been compiling it. I've been hestitant to try any of their other flavors because I've never seen it for sale individually and I didn't want to buy an 8-pack and get stuck with a bunch of crap I don't wanna drink. However, the other day I had to go out of my way to a pharmacy because it was only one that had my meds in stock, and they had 16-ounce cans of blackberry Bubly 2/$3 (with a normal price of $2.50 per can, which is bonkers.) I was getting a drink anyway, so I figured it was worth the gamble.

    I had read a very positive review of the blackberry flavor from a source that agreed with me about the cherry, so I figured we were on the same page. And we were! The blackberry flavor is one of the best that I've tried. It has a very sweet soda-like flavor profile, similar to Waterloo grape but much smoother. I had to buy two to get the sale price, so I drank one immediately out of the can, and saved one to drink at home over ice. Over ice was preferable, as usual, but it was totally drinkable from the can. It's a more interesting than the cherry Waterloo but not quite as exciting as the summer berry Waterloo. Congratulations to Bubly, a dark horse candidate, for its surprise showing at #2. The 8-packs will be part of my regular rotation going forward for sure.

  5. Waterloo Sparkling Water (black cherry)
  6. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $4.00

    Yes, yet another cherry. Sorry, I know it's not that interesting, but I can only try what's available, and most of what's available is based on loathesome fruit like cranberry and grapefruit. Luckily, Waterloo once again redefines my conceptions of how good seltzer can taste. This is even better than the grape, with an extremely pleasant sweet cherry taste and the least harsh carbonation of any of the seltzers I've sampled so far. I feel like this is the first one I've tried with a normal amount of carbonation, which makes it smooth, easy to drink, and less bitter than any of the other seltzers; on the other hand, it also seemed to go flatter a little quicker after pouring it over ice, which isn't ideal, but life is all about trade-offs, and it's still good still. I'll try the next one straight from the can and see how that fares, but either way, new #1. UPDATE: I tried one from the can. It was okay. Still prefer it over ice though.

    CONTAINER TANGENT: Even though the two Waterloo flavors I've tried are my favorite, I'll probably stick with Polar black cherry as my default go-to seltzer when it's available. Why? At $1.00 per liter, it's the most cost-effective. Eight 12oz cans is about 2.8 liters, and the best price I've found for an 8-pack is is $4.00, which works out to $1.42 a liter. Additionally, a resealable bottle is more versatile. I don't always want 12 ounces of seltzer. Sometimes I just want a little to take with my medicine in the morning. Or a couple swallows if I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night. Having to open an unresealable can every time I want a drink is a big drawback. I wish any of them were available in 2 liter bottles, but I guess convenient bulk sizes are only available for stuff that'll kill me.

  7. Waterloo Sparkling Water (grape)
  8. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $4.00

    Well I'll be damned. This tastes like grape soda. I mean, it doesn't. Not really. But the flavor is so spot-on that it tricks my brain into remembering a better time, a time when I could still drink grape soda, and that's pretty cool. Really nice design too; the cans and bottles so far have been pretty austere, it's nice to pour from a can that makes me feel like I'm having a fancy but whimsical treat. It's also cheaper than any of the other 8-packs I've tried. I bet on Waterloo and it paid off. Take that, Napoleon.

  9. Polar Seltzer (black cherry)
  10. Unit: 1 liter bottle
    Cost: $1.00

    The best-tasting seltzer I've tried as of the creation of this page (May 18, 2023.) Has a subtle but pleasantly sweet flavor. Fairly cost-effective. Good on its own or with meals. I wouldn't describe it (or any seltzer) as mind-blowingly delicious, but this is about as good as it gets.

  11. Gold Emblem Blackberry Raspberry Sparkling Water
  12. Unit: 1 liter bottle
    Cost: $1.50

    I was recently at CVS to pick up a prescription, and this caught my eye. It was a brand I had never heard of, and the label looked somewhat generic. Sure enough, Gold Emblem is a CVS house brand. Which is interesting, because this is the first time I've seen a store brand sparkling water that wasn't full of artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, this one is just okay. It smells very nice, fruity the way one wants, but the flavor is lacking. I think it's weird that the generic store brand costs more than the 1-liter bottles of Polar, but it's not that much more, and everything at CVS is overpriced. This would do in a pinch.

  13. Jelly Belly Chocolate Sparkling Water
  14. Unit: 16 ounce can
    Cost: $1.50

    Surprisingly true-to-life flavor. I think it'd be more accurate to call it "cocoa". The taste reminds me more of a tootsie roll than a bar of chocolate. I don't eat tootsie rolls because of the texture and consistency, but they taste okay, and so does this. Like most seltzers I've tried, I think it's way overcarbonated; I usually pour seltzer in a glass over ice to help the gasses dissipate and tone down the carbonic bitterness, but this time I drank it straight from the can, and I think that was a mistake. Even so, the flavor covered the bitterness well. If I ever get this kind again, I'll pour a glass and see if that improves it, but at $1.50 a can it's too expensive to drink on the regular. Also I feel like this wouldn't pair well with many foods; I liked it on its own but got the impression it would taste really weird with, for example, pizza. Maybe a good breakfast seltzer?

  15. Jelly Belly Birthday Cake Sparkling Water
  16. Unit: 16 ounce can
    Cost: $1.50

    This is a weird one. I don't think of "birthday cake" as a flavor. It's just a cake that you eat on your birthday. It can be chocolate, or vanilla, or angel food, or any number of flavors. This one is vanilla. The taste is remniscent of a cream soda, but there's something else. Something unpleasant and artificial. I'm not really sure what other flavor it's trying to get across, but there's no other flavor from a vanilla birthday cake that I'd want in a beverage. If it's trying to replicate the taste of fondant or frosting or sprinkles, that's a fool's errand, because that's just sugar, and there's no faking sugar. That said, it's not horrible. It makes me wish they had just tried to evoke the taste of cream soda. It gets bonus points for not being a fruit flavor, which is a nice novelty. I don't like it as much as the chocolate though (and I suspect I'd like the chocolate a lot more if I pour it over ice.) The price and the middling flavor means I probably won't be getting this one again, but I'd take one if it were offered to me, definitely before I'd take a Waterloo strawberry.

  17. Waterloo Sparkling Water (strawberry)
  18. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $3.67

    I wasn't planning to rank a new flavor, but my spouse went to a grocery store we don't normally go to, and they had 8-packs on sale, three for $11.00, so she sent me a photo of the available flavors. I wouldn't have asked her to carry three 8-packs for me if she hadn't offered, but since she's awesome, I have a new flavor to rank tonight. As tempted as I was to ask for three new ones for the sake of content, I didn't want to risk all three going to waste if I didn't like them, so I asked her to get me a black cherry, a grape, and a strawberry. Unfortunately, the strawberry doesn't measure up to the other Waterloo flavors. They can't all be zingers. This one reminds me a lot of the pear Jelly Belly, in terms of the fruit flavor being sort of barely there. Unlike the grape, they didn't lean into the heavily artificial flavor; it's much more subtle. Instead of evoking the taste of strawberry soda, it tastes like seltzer that had a strawberry in it at some point. I think I like it slightly more than the pear, so congratulations to Waterloo Strawberry for being the new #5.

  19. Jelly Belly Juicy Pear Sparkling Water
  20. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $5.00

    I had high hopes for this one, because I really liked the pear seltzer I had in Sweden and I've never seen that flavor sold in the US. I think the overcarbonation is the problem; even poured into a glass over ice, the very mild pear sweetness doesn't counteract the bitterness as much as I'd like. Middling but drinkable.

  21. Polar Seltzer (raspberry lime)
  22. Unit: 1 liter bottle
    Cost: $1.00

    I didn't think I would like this, and I don't. But for the sake of completeness, and to bring my list up to 10, I splurged and spent a buck on a probable loser. Same odds as buying a scratch-off ticket, really, and I'm only out a buck. I can't really recall what "raspberry" tastes like—it's mixed up in my head from childhood memories of artificial flavors and fictional fruits like "blue raspberry". But if I wanted to remember what raspberry tastes like, this seltzer is no help. All I can taste is the lime. Lime is a bad flavor on its own. You need to add a lot of sweetener. It's much like lemon in that respect. Sure, you can have a massively successful lemon-lime beverage like sprite, but the reality is that lemon and lime is a good choice for adding flavor to sugar water. You wouldn't drink lemonade without the sugar, and you wouldn't drink a glass of lime juice. At least, I wouldn't. I very slightly prefer this to the mandarin orange, and that's only because it does at least conjure memories of drinking lemon-lime soda, but it's not enough to save it.

  23. Polar Seltzer (mandarin orange)
  24. Unit: 1 liter bottle
    Cost: $1.00

    Big disappointment after the black cherry. It smells okay when you pour it, and you get some of the pleasant smell when you go to take a drink, but it doesn't taste good. Not much flavor, and what's there is slightly sour in a way that doesn't mesh well at all with the carbonation. I'll be avoiding this one in the future.

  25. Bubly (cherry)
  26. Unit: 12 ounce can (8-pack)
    Cost: $5.00

    Awful, especially in comparison with the other cherry seltzer I reviewed. They added a flavor to a bitter beverage that somehow makes it more bitter. The biggest barrier to trying new types of seltzer in the US is that it's very rarely available in single-serve containers; if I want to try something new, I usually have to make a bet on an entire case, often an 8-pack of cans that costs more than a typical 12-pack of soda. Bubly is a brand I won't be betting on again. I did manage to drink all 8 cans: my strategy was letting it sit for a long time after I pour and waiting for the ice to melt a bit and the drink to go flat, at which point it just tastes like flat bitter cherry water. "Only drinkable after it goes flat" is, I reckon, the most damning thing one could say about a seltzer.

I'll be updating this list as I'm able to sample more varieties. If you or a company you represent would like to send me seltzer to review, get in touch.