Take yourself back to summer 2019. Before the pandemic upended our day-to-day, after Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral caught ablaze, and around when the South Philadelphia oil refinery exploded, something else captured our attention. It was less memorable, but far more refreshing. It was the summer of (hard) seltzer.

In 2019, the number of hard seltzer brands more than doubled, from 10 to 26. In 2020, it grew to 65. Today, store shelves are awash in so many iterations, one could easily forget fizzy predecessors like Bud Light Lime and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Corporate brands — White Claw, Truly — dominate the market, but Philadelphia has a homegrown maker with big ambitions of its own: Two Robbers.

Two Robbers’ offices are based out of South Philadelphia’s BOK building. Its seltzers are crafted elsewhere, including at Yards Brewing Co. and two out-of-state breweries that enable it to reach distant markets more easily. The start-up, launched by twin brothers Vikram and Vivek Nayar in 2019, recently raised $6 million in financing from investors. The capital will help Two Robbers expand its team and distribution network, which already numbers 3,000 retailers, including Whole Foods and Wegmans.

The Inquirer spoke with cofounder Vikram Nayar about Two Robbers’ plans, hard seltzer’s trajectory, and the ways the beverage might evolve.

» READ MORE: As Bud Light Seltzer lands, Philly breweries get in on the buzziest beverage

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did Two Robbers get started?

We were working on [the brand] for slightly less than two years before we launched it. Our backgrounds were completely new to the beverage industry. I had been working at a hedge fund in New York City; I was ready to do something entrepreneurial, and food and beverage was a space I was very curious about. And my twin brother, he had moved to Philly in the summer of 2017 for grad school.

Really, the genesis of us starting this company was seeing some of the larger seltzer products just starting to hit shelves. We felt like this was really the first time in the history of the beer industry where we’ve had a real, viable alternative to beer that was actually low in carbs and low in sugar. We felt like this was going to be massively disruptive and that there was an opportunity to create a cooler, regional, more grungy, more craft beer-inspired brand.

It started as sort of a side project where we spent a lot of time learning how these products were made, iterating a million times, playing around with packaging, just having fun with it. In early 2019, we started getting some samples, getting them in the hands of our friends, and that led us ultimately to finding a craft distributor in Philly and launching the brand. So I left my job, my brother dropped out of school, and we went all in.

» READ MORE: A South Jersey hard seltzer beat White Claw and Truly in the first national tasting contest. Here’s where to buy it.

How has the seltzer market changed since you launched?

There’s just a lot more competitors now. You’re talking about a category that, when we launched, was maybe $150 million of sales nationally. Today it’s $5 to $10 billion. And that’s been in three years. It’s just been insane to see how quickly it’s grown, how quickly consumers have adopted it, how many new brands have entered the space, and interestingly, how the category now has subcategories within itself.

This is a product that is not loaded up with hops or something that dominates the flavor; it’s meant to be a subtle, low-sugar, fairly low-taste product. What’s really exciting is that alcohol base — if you create it the right way — it essentially becomes a blank canvas off of which you can create any product. You’re starting to see the emergence of a whole new spectrum of products that historically hadn’t existed, where you’re taking that seltzer base and you’re mixing it with things like teas and lemonades that are virtually zero to one gram of sugar and historically hadn’t been able to be that way.

You’ve compared hard seltzer’s growth to craft beer. Can you elaborate?

I definitely see some pretty meaningful comparisons, and then they’re also different. It’s interesting to see consumers starting to seek out what we call hard seltzer 2.0, which is more regional, authentic brands that they actually resonate with, with more interesting products.

In the city of Philly, we’ve established ourselves as a top-five seltzer brand, versus most cities in the country. If you look at the top-10 seltzer brands, they’re all going to be national Anheuser-Busch, Sam Adams, White Claw-type brands. Now, is there gonna be the kind of fragmentation you see in craft beer? I think probably not. This isn’t a category where you really need a brand on every corner. But I do think there are going to be strong regional brands.

» READ MORE: We taste-tested 13 hard seltzers to celebrate the summer of seltzer

In terms of fund-raising, how far does $6 million go in the seltzer business?

It’s definitely one of the largest milestones, if not the most significant milestone for us, so that’s been exciting. The goals are really to scale up production, so that we’re making enough product early enough, going into the summer especially. If you followed the seltzer category closely last summer, you may have seen that a lot of the larger brands in any given region were kind of consistently out of stock in the peak months of the summer. That was a large pain point for us. We went into this year wanting to make sure we were getting ahead of it more aggressively.

The other things really are going to be [growing] the team, making sure we have folks on the operation side, the sales side, the marketing side. So it’s a lot of scaling up the team.

Will that hiring be local to Philly?

A bunch of it is. On the operation side, everything is pretty much around Philly. On the sales side, it’s mostly geographic — our Texas sales team is local to Texas, our Michigan sales team is local to Michigan.

I wanted to circle back to the summer of seltzer. Is there really a seasonality to seltzer?

It was hugely seasonal, [but] I think it is starting to become less seasonal every year. A big part of why is because the products themselves are primarily geared toward the summer. A lot of our flavors — grapefruit, kiwi — are summer-oriented. But again the product itself, if you break it down, is a blank canvas to create anything. So we’re currently working on what we’re going to call our Chapter III set of products. If we can get everything in order, we’re hoping to launch it this fall, and hope for it to be a fall/winter-oriented seasonal product.

» READ MORE: Opinion: The hard truth about hard seltzer: It’s not as ‘healthy’ as you may think

So does that mean a pumpkin seltzer is in the offing?

[Laughs] No, no, I don’t think we’re gonna do a pumpkin seltzer. We’re not ready to unveil it yet, but it will be cold weather-oriented and if we can do it right, it’ll be delicious.