How White Claw took over Davidson

Plus: Charlotte economy projected to keep booming in 2020; New MLS team makes first hire; Matt Doherty calls out selfish Porsche owner at Clemson hotel

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Programming note: The Ledger will return on Monday, Dec. 30. Enjoy the holidays.

Hard seltzer now dominates the college party scene, and even men are drinking up; seltzer ‘totally destigmatized’ at fraternity parties; down to 40% beer at SAE

by Ariana Howard

At promptly 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Davidson students stream from their dorm rooms to head “down the hill” to the senior apartment complex known as “F.” Men who are in fraternities occupy F’s first-floor apartments, and on weekends, they crank up the music and bust out the alcohol.

The party scene might sound familiar to earlier generations of college students. Some come to chat with friends in the courtyard. Others dance or play beer pong. No matter what they’re doing, nearly everyone holds a canned drink. Until the spring of 2019, that beverage was overwhelmingly beer. Today, it is more likely to be White Claw.

The story of how hard seltzer came to dominate Davidson’s party scene illustrates why the drink — a carbonated and flavored alcoholic beverage, like La Croix with a kick — has become so popular across the country. It took advantage of fortunate timing, tapped into a market of health-conscious drinkers and has benefited from surprisingly strong inroads with men.

At Davidson, senior housing used to serve Franzia boxed wine or hard liquor in addition to beer. But lines and crowding became common, and party hosts worried about serving drinks with high alcohol content.

For those reasons, hard liquor and wine slowly began disappearing at parties, making beer the primary drink option at F.

And then hard seltzer exploded. From 2018 to 2019, hard seltzer sales tripled, according to industry data.

Searching for ‘healthier’ alternative: Once students returned from winter break in January 2019, it seemed as though everyone was suddenly drinking hard seltzer, particularly White Claw, at parties. Students were in desperate need of a refreshing, ready-to-go beverage that they could drink at parties with the same ease as beer but with a better taste.

Some students say they perceive White Claw as a safer and healthier alternative. Since each hard seltzer lists alcohol content on the can, unlike mixed drinks, students believe hard seltzer may promote safer drinking at Davidson. “Hard seltzer is replacing mixed drinks [for me] almost entirely,” says senior Marina Shallcross.

‘Pre-game’ alternative: For senior AC Keesler, hard seltzer is a drink to begin with at pre-games instead of going straight into shots. “My stomach gets full faster so I’m not consuming as much,” she explains.

Due to the taste, price and ease of hard seltzer, refrigerators inside every first floor F apartment are now stocked with both beer and hard seltzer.

But it doesn’t appeal only to women. An informal poll by the school newspaper, the Davidsonian, found that women prefer hard seltzer over beer (68%), and men enjoy beer and hard seltzer equally. Nationally, a study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that 50% of the consumers of White Claw, the top selling hard seltzer brand, are men.

“Honestly, a lot of our guys like it a lot,” says senior Jack Heaps, president of Kappa Sigma. “Last spring, my friends and I drank White Claw more than beer, I’d say. It’s just so much lighter. … Maybe initially there was pushback from the masculine stereotype sense that [hard seltzer] was more ‘girly’ than beer or whatever, but at least in my circles, it’s totally destigmatized at this point.”

‘Totally destigmatized’: Hard seltzer drinks such as White Claw have surpassed beer as the drink of choice at fraternity parties. It has become popular even among men, like this group of seniors from Kappa Sigma at Davidson.

When the fraternity brothers began buying hard seltzer for parties, they initially wanted to supply an alternative beverage to beer in order to appeal to the female students on campus. But they soon found out that male students were drinking the White Claw, too.

Outpacing beer: One of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s social chairs, senior Connor Penegar, reported in October that his fraternity would begin buying more hard seltzer than beer for parties. “At the moment,” he explained, “we are trying to find a ratio that works for us. For example, on our upcoming bulk pickup, we are buying 60% seltzer and 40% beer.”

With its popularity, White Claw sometimes draws comparisons to Zima Clearmalt, a lightly carbonated alcoholic beverage introduced in 1993 by Coors Brewing Co. While considered an alternative to beer, Zima, unlike White Claw, was not considered a healthier alternative. It had more calories and carbs than light beer. White Claw has fewer.

Davidson students think hard seltzer has staying power. “It’s easy to drink, it’s only 5% alcohol, so it’s not super aggressive, and it’s not heavy like beer,” Keesler says. What it really comes down to, she explained, is that White Claw is simply “more refreshing.”

Ariana Howard is a senior at Davidson College who is majoring in political science. She works for the newspaper at Davidson and hopes to pursue a career in journalism upon graduating.

The Ledger produced this article in partnership with The Davidsonian, Davidson’s college paper.

Soccer 101: offside

With Major League Soccer headed to Charlotte, we ask hardcore fans to explain the game and its traditions.

Q: Can you explain offside and why it exists?

“It’s when the ball is put into play to a player that is past the line of defense. So if your offensive striker is ahead of the defense line, and the ball is kicked to him, he’s offside. If he’s level or a little bit in front of it and the ball is kicked to him and then he passes him — turns on the jets — he’s good.”

Q: Why do they have that?

“It prevents cherrypicking.”

Q: What does that mean?

“You can’t just sit in front of the opponent’s goal and wait for the ball to come to you and just tap it. It prevents unfair advantages.” — Dave Dowell, 35, of Shelby

Got a question for a diehard soccer fan? Email

Loves me some internet

Former Tar Heel basketball coach Matt Doherty calls out the guy hogging two parking spaces with a Porsche at a Courtyard by Marriott in Clemson, S.C.:

Sweet ride. Obnoxious parking. Hate when ppl do that. And if you’re really big time, don’t stay at a Courtyard! Valet your car at The Ritz! Am I wrong here? 😉
December 20, 2019

Replies on social media included “Don’t hate on Courtyard” and “Coach K at it again.”

Prediction: Charlotte boom times to continue into 2020

Wells Fargo economists last week took a deep dive into the Charlotte region’s economy. And they like what they see, citing strong population and business growth, a booming office market, construction all over town and a newly thriving tech sector, among other strengths:

Charlotte has strong momentum heading into the New Year. The metro area remains one of the most affordable large, rapidly growing areas, which is attracting a host of new businesses and residents. We estimate the metro area’s population added between 50,000 and 60,000 new residents this past year and look for a similar gain in 2020.

There are risks, too, but they seem slight:

The greatest risk for Charlotte is that the region’s extraordinary growth chokes off new development, as the area becomes too crowded and too expensive. We doubt this will present a hurdle in the next few years, however, when Charlotte should see strong, broad-based economic gains that will rank among the best in the nation. One of the most encouraging aspects of Charlotte’s growth is that it has broadened well beyond its well-known financial sector. While economic mobility for some poorer residents remains a challenge, the city’s political and business leadership is striving to improve this situation and is well ahead of most other metro areas.

The full analysis is available here.


Because of an editing error, a line in an article about Major League Soccer last week that said Atlanta United FC had hired an executive from the “Tottenham Spurs” to oversee pro soccer in Atlanta. Readers pointed out that the English team’s name is “Tottenham Hotspur,” and while it is sometimes nicknamed “Spurs,” nobody refers to the team as “Tottenham Spurs.” The Ledger regrets the error (mostly).

In brief:

  • Soccer hire: Charlotte’s new Major League Soccer team has made its first hire, bringing aboard the academy director and director of player development from the Seattle Sounders, Marc Nicholls. He’ll work for the club’s general manager, who has not been hired. “That hire is likely to come from abroad.” (The Athletic, subscriber-only, but you can read the top of the article for free.)

  • Concord Mills traffic nightmare: Concord police took control of several intersections outside Concord Mills on Saturday evening to help with traffic congestion. Shoppers said, “I’ve been in traffic more than an hour and a half” and “We were stuck at an intersection for about 30 minutes.” (WSOC)

  • New brewery? Developers are considering turning a 30,000 s.f. warehouse near South End into a brewery and office space, according to city records. The building, owned by Carolina Custom Tank on Toomey Avenue — near where West Tremont Avenue approaches I-77 — was built in 1969. Records say owners are evaluating “converting existing industrial use building into an adaptive re-use for brewery and office use” but have concerns about parking.

  • Fare deal: Charlotte to Madrid, $457 round-trip on Delta (one-stop), various dates January-March.

  • Tobacco age raised: The legal age to buy tobacco, including e-cigarettes and vape products, will rise from 18 to 21 nationwide under a bill signed into law on Friday. (ABC News)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.