On the surface, White Claw may seem an unlikely obsession for cocktail bartenders. Its “ain’t no laws” punchline and endless fodder for Gen Z memes have done little to encourage serious consideration of the hard seltzer. But once Campari, St-Germain and pineapple rum enter the picture, it starts to make a little more sense.
“It’s just a light, bubbly and refreshing delight for your taste buds and pairs with all kinds of booze,” says Broken Shaker Los Angeles’ bar manager Christine Wiseman. “There’s an interesting intersection here,” says Houston-based bar manager Alex Negranza, of the industry’s love for hard seltzer, “[the] ‘Hot Girl Summer’ phenomenon of White Claw, ‘poking fun’ at menu placement at dive bars, and the lowbrow fun of a cocktail bartender drinking a flavored vodka soda.” Doctored up and built straight in the can or modified into a spritz, White Claw can be as dressed up—or down—as you’d like.
For many, the sip-and-pour approach is most effective. “If you try and make a crazy cocktail, it will mask the flavor,” says Ernesto’s beverage director Sarah Morrissey. With simplicity at top of mind, some of her favorite combinations are just a matter of matching flavors with like fruit liqueurs. “I take a few good sips, then pour about three-quarters of an ounce of Giffard Pamplemousse liqueur for the grapefruit, or the Framboise liqueur for raspberry,” she says. “And of course, I’ll maybe add an ounce of white rum, gin or vodka if I’m feeling a little saucy.”
As for Negranza, his personal favorite reminds him of “the fun parts of a Jungle Bird’” and calls for mango White Claw topped with a shot of Campari (or “Claw-pari”). And for something reminiscent of a Piña Colada, he’ll add a splash of pineapple rum to the lime-flavored seltzer. Negranza has also experimented with pouring top-of-the-line Rochelt Brandy directly into a can of White Claw for the ultimate expression of high-low drinking.
Though the “just add liquor” method is straightforward enough, it’s only natural that a number of bartenders will reach for a few more additions. Denver-based spirits specialist Ian Kearney (who got Morrissey on the White Claw bandwagon) goes the spritz route—opting for one part vodka or gin and a half-part St-Germain topped with lemon White Claw, or a mix of tequila, Aperol and grapefruit White Claw that follows the same proportions. Building directly in the can, The Spare Room beverage director Yael Vengroff takes a lower-proof approach, embellishing the watermelon flavor with a splash of yuzu juice, garnished with a mint sprig, raspberry and dusting of chile salt.
Classics, however, are still fair game. In what she calls a “weird variation on a Negroni,” Wiseman combines a split base of gin and Campari with sweet vermouth over crushed ice, and finishes it off with an ounce each of tangerine- (in lieu of orange zest) and watermelon-flavored White Claw. More akin to a Gin & Tonic, Houston-based sommelier Thomas Marsella’s White Claw boilermaker of choice, meanwhile, is lime paired with the citrus-forward Tanqueray Rangpur gin to bring out its floral and orange notes.
“Find a bottle you never use much at the house—like triple sec or Cointreau or something similar,” Kearney advises, “then add a touch of that to a flavored Claw you’ve never had. Nine times out of 10, it’s going to rule.”