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Images: Trouble Brewing SG

A Look At Singapore's First Locally Brewed Hard Seltzer (AKA Alcoholic Flavoured Water)

So you want something to drink. Wine gives you a headache, beer has too many calories, and you’re not ready to spring for a $25 cocktail. And hard lemonade? You haven’t been able to drink those consequence-free since you were in university.

And since you’re constantly sweaty and dehydrated in Singapore, you ALSO want something refreshing.

Joe Barratt, founder of local independent brewery Trouble Brewing, knows your pain. Which is why he and his business partner, Barnaby Murdoch, have unveiled Joe’s Singapore Seltzer, Singapore’s first locally-produced hard seltzer.

But what is hard seltzer, you ask? Trouble Brewing’s website describes the product as alcoholic sparkling water, which is basically what it tasted like when we sampled a few bottles at the launch event last month. With just 94 calories, and available in lime, grapefruit, and peach, Joe’s Singapore Seltzer provides a refreshing and low-cal alternative to the light beers we’re so used to throwing back after chowing down on chicken rice.

Despite its description, a hard seltzer is so much more than just fizzy water with a kick. (“We don’t just get water and then add a base alcohol to it, we brew it from a hundred percent organic Blue Weber Agave that we brought in from Mexico,” Joe explained, when we spoke with him over Zoom.)

It took Joe and Barnaby three years to release this beverage line, and while the drink might look simple, getting it into the market certainly was not.

Here’s what else you should know about Singapore’s first hard seltzer:

1. It’s not the bottled equivalent of a gin & tonic

We asked Joe to explain the difference between a club soda, tonic water, seltzer, and the like in layman’s terms.

“Club soda is basically just water infused with carbon dioxide and mineral salts give it a slightly salty flavour. That’s why it’s often used with cleaning products.

Tonic water is in kind of a different category, obviously still drunken with gin a lot, and it’s got added sugar in and quinine for that bit of bittersweet flavour. It’s also got calories because of that added sugar.

Sparkling water is carbonated pure water, and then seltzer is different in that it doesn’t contain any added minerals. So it’s got a much cleaner sort of taste profile than most of the others. Then we’ve come in with a hard seltzer that’s basically alcoholic water (laughs).”

2. The team encountered hurdle after hurdle trying to release Joe’s Singapore Seltzer

Joe and Barnaby were inspired to brew a hard seltzer locally after trying overseas equivalents like White Claw, a popular hard seltzer from the US and Canada. “We managed to get our hands on some (hard seltzer) and we liked the profile and felt that it really fit Singapore, in that it is something refreshing and very easy to drink, a bit of a healthier option as well, as people are getting more health-conscious.”

The team had just gotten some focus groups going when COVID hit, meaning they could no longer run events for tastings. As if that weren’t hard enough, they ran into legal difficulties.

“We discovered that we couldn’t actually legally brew it in Singapore because under its brewing rules, it’s got to be a malt-based beer. We had to get a distillery license despite the fact that it's not a distilled product.

So it was like another year-and-a-half-long journey of getting the  license sorted and behind the scenes, there was also a lot more product development trialling different bulk-based sugars. We were experimenting with all these different yeasts as well.

At some point, I was just like, you know, why are we working so hard to make Singapore's first? Why don't we just get it made somewhere else? I said, 'This is turning into such a mission!' But I'm very glad that we stuck with it. We were happy with the product a year ago, but the product today is already miles better than that. Barnaby kept his brewing the whole way through even once we were experimenting with different things. And eventually we ended up with the one that we've got today.”

3. Joe didn’t intend to name the drink after himself – his friends did that for him

“When you get to the point of putting the brand together, and so many of your friends have seen you battling with this for so long and trying to get it to the point where you can bring it to market, they take to the habit of calling it ‘Joe’s Seltzer’ anway. And I was like, is that bad? Is that really bad to call it after me? But we played around with it and we tried some testing, and we thought, yeah, this is it. And we went with it.”

4. More flavours could be coming our way

While Joe and the team tested eight or nine different flavours with focus groups, they eventually decided to stick with three, which were derived from a Paris flavour house’s natural distillates.

“We definitely want to do some more exotic flavours over time. We’ve run focus groups where some had lemongrass and pineapple sorts of flavours. Some people loved it, but some people didn’t. But the lime, the grapefruit, and the peach were the ones that the most amount of people really enjoyed. We didn’t want to launch with flavours that could be a little more divisive, but over time we’ll start bringing those out. And the world’s our oyster on that front as well.

5. A tip from Joe: Try having it with char kway teow

Where it works quite well is if you're eating a more heavy meal. Having a seltzer just kind of cuts through that. If you're having a curry, maybe you don't really want to have a beer with it that often because it can make you feel a bit bloated. And that's where a seltzer can work quite nicely because it's the same as basically having a sparkling water next to your food. Or (having it with) a kway teow. I had it the other day with chicken rice as well. It's a very versatile drink!

Joe’s Seltzer retails at a promotional price of $96.00 for a case (24 bottles) with the option for a mixed case to try each flavour.

Find out more at Trouble Brewing

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