The Truth About Travis Scott's CACTI Spiked Seltzer

There was a meme going around a little while ago of the famous dude with a sign saying something along the lines of "Not every alcohol brand needs a seltzer." And while the validity of that statement might be debatable, the fact is no segment of the beverage industry is getting crowded faster in 2021 than spiked seltzer. It's like the Austin of drinks.

But Travis Scott has never been deterred by stiff competition, and much like he's risen to the top of the also-crowded hip-hop world, so is he seeking to do it with seltzer. Cacti, his new hard seltzer offering, is already making a big splash, bringing a 7% ABV and agave-sweetened goodness to seltzer shelves nationwide. The stuff packs a more powerful punch than any other seltzer on the market, which some might think defeats the point of seltzer in the first place. But Travis Scott and his friends at AB-Inbev know exactly what they're doing, and we learned all about why Cacti is poised to take seltzers in a whole new direction.

Cacti is made by the same people who make Budweiser

Not that anyone was scooping up Travis Scott's new seltzer because they thought it was some sort of backyard, craft beer creation. But just in case you had any illusions of mom-and-pop brewing, you can put them to rest knowing the stuff is made by the undisputed King of Beers. Well, by their parent company anyway. While Budweiser isn't necessarily sharing barrel space with Cacti, it is a creation of Beyond Beer, a division of beverage giants AB-Inbev. Formerly known as just plain old Anheuser-Busch.

According to Beyond Beer's Group Vice President Monica Mody, her division is the one that includes Cutwater, canned Micheladas, and seltzers like Cacti (though Mody added because seltzers have grown so much, they're actually their own category now). Basically, it's the stuff AB Inbev makes that isn't beer, but can still be sold with wine and beer at convenience stores.

Travis Scott has as much to do with the product's development as AB Inbev

The world of celebrity-owned alcohol brands is a crowded one now, with Kendall Jenner even boasting her own tequila brand now, and her brother Brody becoming the face of tequila-based seltzer Mamitas. But Beyond Beer Group Vice President Monica Mody dished that Travis Scott is far more than just a pretty, tattooed face hocking some booze.

"You see a trend of celebrities proliferating their brand with products, even in the seltzer category," she told Mashed in an exclusive interview. "I've worked with other brands on celebrity partnerships, and I have not seen a celebrity involved with a product the way Travis is involved with Cacti."

So how, exactly, is a rapper so invested in a seltzer? Mody says he worked intricately with AB's brewmasters, and was a hands-on presence throughout the tasting process. He also came to AB with flavors he personally enjoys, and has been a big part of everything from the can design to shelf toppers in grocery stores.

Travis Scott has skin in the game, with Cacti

Though Mody didn't delve into any financial specifics, she repeatedly told Mashed how much Travis Scott was invested in Caci, referring to him numerous times as a "co-owner" of the brand. While no details were given as far as how much he owns, or what that stake is worth, it was clear from our interview that he was far from a paid pitchman.

"I wouldn't even call this a partnership," she said. "Travis is a co-owner with skin in the game and he is vested in every single aspect of the product. He's very much focused on business results, and who can bring more innovation. It's fundamentally different."

He's also Cacti's Chief Creative Officer, meaning most of the seltzer's branding comes from him. Mody says that's why so much of Cacti feels like an extension of Travis Scott –- very leading edge and futuristic. And certainly not like any other seltzer on the market. Whether or not that's a good thing, however, depends on your opinion of sweet, high-ABV drinks.

Cacti was developed to appeal seltzers to a younger, multicultural market

One doesn't exactly associate hard seltzers with people sitting around retirement community pools in Boca, as a 2019 Neisen survey found the most prolific hard seltzer drinkers were between the ages of 21 and 44 (via Brewbound). And while legally, it would be impossible for AB Inbev to target a younger demographic, Cacti's branding and marketing efforts are aimed at capturing the lower half of that age group.

"We looked at the existing drinker, and we saw a huge opportunity with the younger, 21-30 drinker," Beyond Beer Group VP Monica Mody told Mashed. "We wanted a more multicultural drinker, so we looked at Travis' fan base, and the areas where he has an immense amount of loyalty and fan fervor."

That is to say, the Travis Scott fan demographic is the same as the Cacti seltzer target demo. So, no, you don't need to be a Gen Z hip-hop fan to enjoy the stuff. But if you do, you're who Cacti is trying hardest to bring into the fold.

Cacti is the rare seltzer that's sweetened with agave, not sugar

Where some hard seltzers use sugar or other sugar-like sweeteners to sweeten their drinks, Cacti is taking a different path. It instead has opted to use 100% blue agave from Mexico as its sweetener of choice, the same plant used to make mezcal and tequila. Now, it's important to differentiate that even though Cacti uses agave as a sweetener, it's not a tequila-based seltzer like Mamitas and some others. It's still a malt beverage, just rather than traditional sweeteners, it's using agave.

That said, the ingredients in Cacti still include cold-pressed cane sugar, so if you're looking for something completely sugar-free this is not the drink. Still, the agave certainly gives the stuff a stronger flavor, and though some other seltzers also use it, none have quite the same taste.

It is the unique mix of the agave syrup and bold flavors that make the product different from everything else on the market," Beyond Beer Group VP Monica Mody said.

Cacti's Grammys commercial kicked off the biggest seltzer launch in AB's history

On March 15, 2021, Cacti first hit shelves across the country. And by the time it did, America already had an inkling of what the stuff was, thanks to a curious, futuristic commercial that aired during the previous night's Grammy Awards telecast.

"The Grammys felt like a natural fit," Beyond Beer Group VP Monica Mody told Mashed. "From a timing standpoint, we were launching March 15, it was the right time to hit the culture with Travis' new product."

For his part, the Chief Creative Officer was also intensely involved with the first ad's production, selecting the director, musicians, creative treatment and voice-over talent. Whatever he did worked: Mody said the launch has been the largest in AB's history, with the highest rate of sale and sellouts in numerous stores. "It was really the Travis Scott effect," she said. "People were taking 10 9-packs at a time!"

Rolling Loud Miami made Cacti even more well-known

By summer, Cacti had already gotten a pretty big name for itself, with its celebrity co-owner/Chief Creative Officer driving the biggest seltzer launch in AB history. But Cacti really put itself on the map in July when it was the official seltzer sponsor of the Rolling Loud music festival in Miami. As part of the festivities, Travis Scott traveled around South Florida in a big Cacti Truck, making surprise appearances around the city in bars, restaurants, and stores selling Cacti.

At the festival, Cacti hosted a multi-level "oasis," a branded installation tailor-made for social media with creative can displays and plenty of samples. They also teamed up with UberEats to bring Cacti to thirsty customers, and offered up limited-edition Cacti T-shirts with hand-written thank you notes from Travis Scott. If the world hadn't heard of Cacti before Rolling Loud, it certainly had after.

Cacti his a much higher ABV than other seltzer, and more calories

Part of why people love seltzers is because of their low ABV and fewer calories. Many hover around 5% and 100 calories, much like light domestic beer. Cacti ain't about that noise, clocking in at 7% ABV – similar to Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA – and 150 calories per 12oz can.

"We're looking to open up new occasions for the seltzer space," Mody said. "We're looking to expand the market and we felt this was a good entry from a differentiation standpoint." If you don't speak marketing jargon, this means they wanted to find other ways for people to drink seltzer other than slamming 10 of them at a pool party, and felt like a higher-ABV, higher-flavor seltzer would set them apart.

She also said that she didn't believe the 150 calorie count would matter, and the added flavor would more than substitute for the carbs. To wit, she added that Cacti has already become a segment leader among convenience stores, and the 7% ABV is likely a major factor.

Cacti comes in three flavors: Strawberry, pineapple and lime

Though not everyone can boast an impressive array of flavors like White Claw, Cacti has debuted with three pretty impressive offerings for its initial launch. According to an email from Cacti, the flavors are created by mixing water, cold fermented cane sugar, agave syrup, lime juice, and the ever-ambiguous "natural flavors." Thanks, FDA. Mody said Travis Scott was as involved with creating and refining these flavors as anyone on the Beyond Beer team, and the results are very much his vision.

So, we tried all three flavors, and none tasted nearly as boozy as a 7% ABV beer. The flavors are certainly the strongest of any line of seltzers, and though the calories were a little higher nobody felt bloated or full after drinking them. The fruit flavors didn't seem much more natural than any other hard seltzer on the market, but they were significantly bolder. And though picking up a variety pack will give you a nice sampling of each, if you're standing in front of a convenience store cooler and trying to find one to enjoy, here are our tasting notes and rankings for every flavor of Cacti.

Strawberry is the best flavor of Cacti

Cacti puts out the most strawberry-tasting seltzer of any on the market, and it's not even close. The agave sweetening really shines through in the strawberry flavor, and if you're a fan of stuff like strawberry lemonade or strawberry soda, this may be your new favorite canned alcohol. It stands out above Cacti's other two flavors as well, easily the most craveable while not attacking your mouth with sweetness.

Now, understand this is all relative. And in no way, shape, or form does anything in Cacti's strawberry flavor taste like a Saturday afternoon at the local You-Pick. It's obviously artificial and has the same chemical notes that every fruit-flavored seltzer brings. They're a little more like the strawberry scratch and sniff stickers you got on perfect spelling tests, or the red-colored Mr. Sketch marking pen.

Pineapple is the next-best flavor of Cacti

When it comes to pineapple flavored seltzers, they can really be all over the board, tasting like everything from pineapple candy to apricots. Cacti's pineapple offering is probably the most artificial-tasting of their flavors, giving an almost plastic-like taste upon initial sips. The pineapple sets in a bit after, and there's a certain sweetness and bite as you get further into the experience. After swallowing, you may notice a bit of a vodka –- or even lighter fluid –- burn as it goes down. It's not quite like doing shots of Bacardi 151, but of the Cacti flavors, you taste the booze here most.

That said, it doesn't have that "how many calories are in this?" sweetness you find in stuff like Mike's Hard Lemonade. So if you're not reading the label you probably wouldn't notice that it's got 50% more calories than other seltzers. Then again, if you're washing down, say, an order of Buffalo chicken strips with the stuff, calories probably weren't your concern anyway. Just understand there's a lot more to Pineapple Cacti than your taste buds might tell you.

Lime is the bronze-medal winner of Cacti flavors

There is an episode of "The Golden Girls" where Rose introduces her roommates to a St. Olaf delicacy called Sperhoeven Krispies, a midnight snack that smells so bad that, as Dorothy quipped, "if (they'd) been offered to the Donner Party, they'd still have eaten each other." But hold your nose when you eat them, and they're a mixture of cheesecake, fresh strawberries, and chocolate ice cream. That's kinda what you have to do with Cacti Lime.

The initial blast of yeast after cracking the can is rough. Not "about the throw up from the stench" Sperhoeven Krispies rough, but not exactly appetizing. But hold your nose, and it's a pleasant lime drink, that's almost like a fuller-flavored Sprite or even a nicely balanced limeade. This is definitely one you'll either want to pour in a glass, or drink after you've had enough that your sense of smell is slightly dulled.

Cacti is designed to be made into cocktails ... and there are already recipes

Perhaps the most common take on Cacti's flavors was that they really taste better when mixed with something else. And though many of us spent quarantine putting vodka in our White Claws, Cacti is making an art out of it. At its installation at Rolling Loud Miami, the brand introduced fans to a whole slew of Cacti cocktails. And if you're curious how to make them, Cacti hooked us up with the recipes for everything from its Mago Chill to a Cacti Colada:

La Flame

  • 3oz CACTI Strawberry

  • 1.5oz Gin

  • 1oz Lime Juice

  • 2oz Strawberry Puree

  • Torn Mint for Garnish

CACTI Colada

  • 3oz CACTI Pineapple

  • 1.5oz White Rum

  • 1oz Pineapple Juice

  • Top with Coconut Cream

It's Lit

  • 3oz CACTI Pineapple

  • 1.5oz Mezcal

  • 2oz Pineapple Juice

  • 1oz Your Favorite Aperitif

Cactus Jack

  • 4oz CACTI Lime, Pineapple or Strawberry

  • 1.5oz Tequila Blanco

  • 1 Lime Wedge

CACTI Mango Chili

  • 3oz CACTI Lime

  • Fresh Mangos

  • .5oz Simple Syrup

  • 1.5oz Lime Juice

  • .5oz Chamoy Sauce

  • Chile & Salt