I’m waiting in line at the post office with a 2lb 13oz package that I’m about to mail to two near-strangers who live all the way across the country. We’ve met exactly once, through Skype. Inside the package is a gift I’m really hoping they like. At the very least, I hope it doesn’t explode in transit. That sounds a hell of a lot scarier than it actually is – I just really want this parcel to make it to its destination. And there’s a decent chance it might not, because inside all the bubble wrap are two bottles of Hal’s New York Limited Edition Coffee Seltzer.
For people like us, seltzer is way more than just a beverage.
I am now the sort of person who knows about things like limited-edition coffee seltzer, because I have become a member of a somewhat-secret seltzer society called “Now Fizzing”. (My entry is granted after I track down members on Twitter and share my seltzer-loving truth.)
It’s a closed Facebook group that’s been around since 21 November 2014, and it’s composed of more than 3,100 members from around the world. Within the group, its members offer and ask for tips on where to find sought-after flavors and brands (the Polar seltzer’s seasonal flavors are always a huge hit – right now, everyone is on the hunt for its Blood Orange Lemonade, Starfruit Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade Seltzer’ade flavors), share selfies and videos of themselves trying new kinds of seltzer for the first time (called “seltzies” and “fizzeos”, respectively), and discuss other aspects of their lives through the lens of the drink that has brought them all together.
There’s a two-year-old “star” of Now Fizzing, the daughter of a member who is being filmed doing a March Madness–style seltzer taste test. The group even has its own lexicon: seltzer is “fizz”, unflavored varieties are “ghosts” and other clear sweetened beverages that are simply masquerading as seltzer are called “snakes”.
Now Fizzing was launched about a year before seltzer became the “it” drink that it is today. There has already been much ink spilled over the beverage’s meteoric rise, but to this day, even the makers of seltzer find themselves stunned and confused by the sudden trendiness of their product.
Lisbeth Crowley, senior brand manager at Polar, tells me that the brand considers itself “[an] overnight success 136 years in the making” but can’t seem to figure out why this has happened. (Polar’s website states: “It’s not unusual for us to hear about people traveling hours to get their hands on some or hoard them once they learn we’ve stopped production [on a limited-edition flavor]. We even get passionate emails, tweets and posts about how certain flavors are life-changing (yeah, seltzer drinkers have a knack for hyperbole).”)
Chris Taylor, senior vice-president of Boylan Bottling Co and a member of Now Fizzing, chalks up seltzer’s trendiness to all the innovation going on within the space, paired with the drink’s positioning as a healthy alternative to juice or soda. Say what you will about the seltzer craze that has swept the nation, tweet your vitriolic La Croix memes, or lambast the millennials for their obsession with something you see as (literally) devoid of substance, people love this drink. But few people love it as much as the Fizz Fam does.
“On paper, [Now Fizzing] sounds crazy,” admits Jon Solomon, the New Jersey–based record label head and radio show host who created the group with his friends four years ago. “But I think when you’re part of it, you realize that it’s this unexpectedly wonderful, special thing.”
I was late to the seltzer bandwagon. I really only began drinking it this past summer, a love that developed out of an unexpected appreciation for the majorly refreshing and full-flavored La Croix Pamplemousse (grapefruit). Then, the Polar winter seasonals (particularly Lime Ginger Mule) and Trader Joe’s Starfruit Seltzer clinched my identity as a seltzer enthusiast, and my love for the fizzy drink has bubbled over since I decided to stop drinking alcohol for an indeterminate period back in February. And that’s no coincidence: a significant number of Fizzers don’t drink alcohol. Sometimes Fizzers post seltzies to celebrate sobriety anniversaries.
I was first introduced to Now Fizzing nearly two years ago by a former roommate, who is an active member. The first time she mentioned it, I probably scoffed pretty hard, already a little annoyed with the accumulating boxes of Polar Seltzer’ades being stored in our communal space. And I didn’t fully get it – not just the seltzer obsession, but the idea of a selzter community – until I actually joined the group years later, using a new Facebook account created explicitly for that purpose.
Having abandoned most social media platforms for their negative effect on my mental health about six months prior, wading into the supportive world of Now Fizzing was more refreshing than an ice-cold glass bottle of Topo Chico with a twist of fresh lime.
When Solomon first created the group, he had no idea what would eventually come of it. Like many others, his own personal journey into the world of fizz began when he decided to give up soda (a major vice of his that resulted from managing a bar as a nondrinker). After a weekend trip with friends to a dry campground, where they guzzled seltzer nonstop, Solomon decided to create the group as a play on Now Spinning, a Facebook group for vinyl enthusiasts to share what they’re listening to.
Since then, “it’s grown beyond whatever I could have imagined,” Solomon tells me. At first, the group was composed of just his friends, but it grew exponentially, perhaps aided by the seltzer craze that seems to have first struck around 2015, a year after the group was created. While Now Fizzing primarily exists online, its members have met up in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Seattle. Besides these planned events, Fizzers occasionally recognize each other offline thanks to the distinguishing seltzer-shaped pin and Now Fizzing T-shirt created by members and advertised within the group. And this past December, a bunch of Fizzers banded together to ship Solomon six boxes of Polar’s Mango Limeade to ensure he’d be hydrated during his annual 25-hour radio show.
To find out what made this group so joyful, I began asking around. In addition to being an active member of Now Fizzing, Amanda Brennan is an expert on online communities and fandoms. Understanding the way these networks function and thrive is literally part of her job as the senior content insights manager at Tumblr. And she says that, without question, Now Fizzing is particularly special.
“In the climate of internet where there’s a lot of bad things going on, it’s so great to have this group that feels very pure and very positive just really about this thing that we all love,” Brennan tells me.
Her sentiments are shared by the 15 other members I spoke with, all of whom were exceptionally enthusiastic in their love of both “fizz” and the group. Time and time again, the same adjectives came up: fun, supportive, wholesome, safe, pure, positive, friendly and earnest.
Aria, a Boston-based member of Fizz Fam, tells me a story about a time when she called her mom, who was in the grocery store, to ask her to scope out the scene for new Polar Seltzer’ade flavors. Confused, her mom repeated her request out loud in the aisle, catching the attention of a man who was looking for the same thing. Unable to find it, her mom hung up – only to call back a minute later to tell Aria that the nice man had found it in another aisle and returned to share the good news.
“I posted this story in [Now Fizzing] expecting people to laugh and comment on the random kindness in grocery stores or whatever, but the second comment was actually ‘OH MY GOD THAT WAS ME,’” Aria says in an email. “I noticed that the commenter had posted pretty much the same story from the other side in the group maybe five minutes before my post! It was so strange and hilarious and awesome. Seltzer!”
Fizzers, it appears, are the type of strangers for whom kindness comes naturally. “I’m not sure if all seltzer drinkers are good people,” a Fizzer named Randi explained in an email she wrote me while drinking Polar Orange Vanilla, “but these members are.”
While scrolling through the group for new seltzer flavors, I became so intrigued by its dynamics that I decided to reach out to my former colleague Annemarie Dooling, now the audience development manager at Vox Media. She has more than 10 years of experience moderating communities and is an expert on digital human behavior.
After patiently listening to me drone on about the group, Dooling tells me that there are a few logical reasons for Now Fizzing’s success. One of these is the group’s relatively small size. Another is the coincidental timing of seltzer becoming a cultural phenomenon. But mostly, she says, it’s simply the members who set the tone with such a laser-focused passion.
“People who like certain things and are kind of fanatical about them always find each other,” Dooling tells me, stressing that communities of interest (rather than those of circumstance or geography) are inherently special in nature.
“It’s not always easy to find people who are interested in your interests,” Dooling says. “There is always a group of people that are your tribe, and it’s about finding out who your tribe is. Sometimes that tribe is in front of you, sometimes it’s virtual.”
Ian and Tracy, a married couple living in the Pacific north-west, tell me that Now Fizzing is very much their tribe. They’re exceptionally regular posters within the group. Last year, they scheduled their annual summer trip to New York City to coincide with a Prospect Park meet-up planned by Solomon. They tried new flavors, met the people they had bonded with online, and had such a blast that they ended up making extra room in their packed itinerary to hang out with the new friends they’d just made.
Over Skype, the three of us compare our favorite brands and flavors and discuss the larger seltzer culture. I find they’re exceptionally easy to talk to, with deep, genuine laughs and cool art hanging in their home. They talk excitedly about how they look forward to reconnecting with their seltzer friends IRL the next time they come out east.
“This sounds super corny, like something from a romcom, but [Now Fizzing] makes me want to be a better person,” Ian says. “Because that behavior is encouraged and celebrated, it makes me want to encourage people and be positive, see that the glass is half full of seltzer.”
Tracy laughs and shakes her head at the sheer absurdity of the statement. But I can tell we both agree with what Ian just said. Positivity, compassion and enthusiasm can be powerful forces, especially on the internet, and especially in these divisive and often toxic times. I realize that they’re the reason people join groups like this in the first place.
At the end of the call, I ask Ian and Tracy if there’s any type of seltzer on the east coast that they can’t get where they live. After a stop at my favorite cafe, which stocks five different seltzer brands, I head to the post office.
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