8 Seriously Great Canned Cocktails To Bring To Your Next Party (Or Wherever)
These days, you can find to-go versions of your favorite drinks pretty much everywhere. Here are eight worth seeking out.
Not too long ago, if you wanted to bring your favorite cocktail to a campsite, concert, or party, you’d have to pack a flask, smuggle it in a purse, or volunteer for bartending duty. But thanks to the growing business of ready-to-drink cocktails (RTD), you can find elevated, to-go versions of everything from perfectly balanced Palomas and Old Fashioneds to more creative renditions of classic highballs at liquor stores, refreshment stands, and airplane beverage carts. Many of them deserve your attention.
By its simplest definition, an RTD is a cocktail in a can or a bottle. While there are many kinds of drink under this umbrella (wine coolers, hard seltzers, hard coffees, hard, well, everything) the most interesting — and fastest-growing category — is spirits-based RTDs, which packages quality versions of cocktails in your hand. Sales of spirits-based RTDs grew 58% last year according to the research company Nielseniq, and they’re expected to eventually eclipse sales of hard seltzer, a category that shrank by 10% last year.
It's easy to understand why. The RTD category was already evolving beyond the hard seltzer craze when the pandemic hit, and canned cocktails became a way for people to get a taste of the craft cocktail bar experience at home. They were also a convenient way to have a portable cocktail party with friends when outdoor gatherings were preferable to indoor parties.
As new as the RTD trend may feel, it is not a new concept. “Canned or bottled cocktails have been around for a century,” says Noah Rothbaum, head of spirits and cocktails for Flaviar, and co-host of the podcast, “Fix Me A Drink.” In Italy, for example, the classic CampariSoda has been around since 1932.
Still, this category is more than just a hold-over of pandemic consumer behavior or us playing catch-up with Europe. Canned cocktails speak to our growing desire for products that are more premium, more tailored to our specific tastes and needs, and more transparent in terms of ingredients and sustainability. Consumers also have more control over how much alcohol they’re consuming because the ABV percentage is clearly labeled.
Now, the RTD market is well-satured. Bespoke microbrands and global corporations are all trying their hands at premium grab-and-go drinks. So, it’s important to be a discerning consumer because many are from brands you’ve never heard of but may be your new go-to. What makes a good cocktail in a bar is not always the same as what makes a good cocktail on a shelf. There are some considerations to make about what kinds of ingredients translate best from bar to RTD, and Rothbaum suggests a few criteria to focus on.
One, focus on options that lean more on their alcoholic ingredients. Highballs, for example, like Gin & Tonic, tend to work very well in a can because their main ingredients are alcohol and soda. More complicated drinks, especially those that involve a lot of fresh citrus, are tough to nail, he says, because it’s difficult to get the citrus shelf stable.
Next, he says to focus on size. Is the volume on par with the volume of that drink if you were to order it in a bar? A canned RTD shouldn’t be 12 ounces by default if the cocktail doesn’t require that volume, or else the balance may be off. For this reason, you’ll often see classic cocktails sold in small 100ml cans.
If you keep these criteria in mind, you’ll find some truly great options. Speaking of which, here are eight excellent RTD cocktails that are all worth a taste. They range from classics like the Negroni and Old Fashioned to more adventuresome options like Bourbon Cream Soda and Bloody Mary made with jalapeño vodka.
A Highball makes a perfect RTD because of its sheer simplicity, and this premium Japanese Highball is made with excellent Akashi Japanese Whisky worthy of sipping neat. Given that the ideal version of this drink comes down to how cold and fizzy it is when served, being able to keep the soda and the whisky chilling together makes it better than a hand-stirred version you’d make at home. Available in 4-packs of 12-ounce cans at 8% ABV.
This Paloma is light, not too sweet, and utterly refreshing––a good example of citrus well translated to an RTD. For a pool party or a tailgate or any time you’d want a cocktail in the afternoon, this is a crowd-pleaser based on Cazadores’ 100% agave tequila. The 4-pack of 12-ounce cans are 5.9% ABV, making them about the same ABV as a beer.
We asked Melissa Watson, a Negroni influencer and aficionado who goes by the handle Negroni Queen to tell us her favorite RTD Negroni, and this was her top pick. The craft to-go Negroni is made with dry gin, sweet vermouth, and red bitters. Togroni uses small cans that are exactly the volume of the drink you would get in a craft cocktail bar to maintain a properly balanced Negroni to-go. The 100ml cans are 25% ABV and sold in packs of 4, 12, or 24 cans.
The Indiana-based Cardinal Spirits comes recommended by Rothbaum, and this highball-style cocktail manages to capture the nostalgic essence of cream soda without being too sweet. Frankly, it’s not only a great bourbon cocktail but it’s a better cream soda than any cream soda I’ve had. The 12oz can is 8.5% ABV. Available as a four-pack.
A brilliant classic Old Fashioned made with rye whiskey, rock candy, raw honey, angostura bitters, and orange peel. You can buy it in 100ml cans and 750ml bottles –– both are 84 proof or 42% ABV. Another Slow and Low standout RTD is their Whiskey Sunshine, a well-balanced rye Collins that nails the citrus element.
A unique take on a Mexican Mule that uses organic wildflower honey as its sweetener, this blanco tequila-based cocktail has food pairing possibilities that make it well-suited for day drinking at a barbecue. The citrus and ginger taste sharp and fresh. The 12oz can is 7% ABV and comes in a four-pack.
Technically a ready-to-serve cocktail rather than an RTD because of the bottle size being larger than one serving, Via Carota bottled cocktails are based on the recipes from the NYC Gastroteca of the same name. They’re sold in beautiful 375ml bottles, which is a great size for entertaining because you can share a bottle among friends. Their Espresso Martini, Classic Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Martini are all great, but their White Negroni is unique, delicious, not too sweet, and bottled at 21% ABV.