These prepackaged drinks can be purchased in cans and occasionally in bottles with varying ABV, focusing on the lower side of the spectrum.
Walking the aisles and checking out the coolers at the local liquor stores was a lesson in just how confusing the category can be, and hopefully, this guide will help you avoid some of the pitfalls you may encounter.
The Elephant in the liquor store
Out of the gate, one problem that Ready-to-Drink cocktails encounter is the confusion with canned seltzer drinks. These are at their core malt beverages with added flavoring agents.
Love them, hate them, enjoy them as you will, but understand they are in no way Ready-to-Drink cocktails made with Spirits like Whiskey, Vodka, Rum, or Tequila.
When you visit the liquor store, you usually find RTD’s and hard seltzer products side by side on the shelves and in the coolers. It does not help that brands like Jack Daniels have both RTD’s made with Whiskey and malt beverages sitting side by side.
If you are looking for a cocktail in a can, you will need to double-check the labels and make sure you are spending your money on genuine articles. They are very different flavor experiences.
Errors have been made, but hopefully, a little due diligence will prevent them from happening again.
Flavors, flavors, who has the real flavor
Reading labels and understanding what is in a product has become a necessary evil, and it is probably no surprise the more “real” ingredients, the better, as far as I am concerned.
I lucked out when one of the very first RTD’s I tried was from the Novo Fogo sparking Caipirinhas line, which includes Original Lime, Mango and Lime, and Passion Fruit and Lime, at 8.2% ABV per can.
Each product is made with Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca and uses all-natural ingredients for its flavors. The goal of Novo Fogo owner Dragos Axinte was to create a light, refreshing line of products, and his company set the bar pretty high for those who followed them.
Another RTD that got my attention was when I heard about Siponey, a canned cocktail line backed by respected Spirit industry luminary Amanda Victoria and horticulturist Joseph Mintz.
Siponey currently has two flavors in the lineup: The Royale made with New York Rye Whiskey, wildflower honey, and lemon juice; and the Café made with cold brew coffee, honey, Rye Whiskey, and lemon juice, both at 7.25% ABV.
These all-natural ingredients drinks combine to create elevated flavor experiences far beyond what is usually found in the market. Seriously, I tend to enjoy Whiskey sour cocktails, and this surpassed any expectation I had.
The rise of a new brand
One cannot discuss the Ready-to-Drink market without discussing Cutwater Spirits.
The small regional distillery and brewery (originally called Ballast Point) were based in the San Diego, California area that aggressively grew in the region, winning awards and accolades from the Spirits industry.
The company was acquired by Constellation Brands Beer division in 2016 for one billion dollars, and the brewery and distillery business was split. The distillery business was rebranded as Cutwater Spirits, and under the guidance of Yuseff Cherney, the brand was one of the first to lead the charge into the Ready to Drink marketplace.
However, Constellation’s interest in the Ready-to-Drink products was lackluster, and they began looking for a buyer for the brand. In 2019, beer juggernaut Anheuser Busch, part of the AB InBev conglomerate, acquired Cutwater from Constellation and, with an eye toward the future RTD market, provided the stimulus and support for expanding the company.
Today, they offer a full line of 24 different canned cocktails like Vodka Mule, Mango Margarita, Tiki Rum, Mai Tai, and many other products. They are made with real Gin, Rum, Vodka, and Tequila distilled or acquired by the company, blended with various flavors, and have a range of ABV from five to fourteen (White Russian anyone?).
Cutwater Spirits Ready-to-Drink cocktails are now one of, if not the biggest, and most diverse RTD operations in North America, with something for just about every cocktail drinker.
Something old, something new
Bacardi was one of the first large industry brands to enter the Ready-to-Drink market when they launched three products in 2020 with Bacardi Lime & Soda, Bacardi Limon & Lemonade, and Bacardi Rum Punch.
In 2021, they released three new products: Bacardi Bahama Mama, Bacardi Mojito, and Bacardi Sunset Punch.
All of the Bacardi Real Rum Canned cocktails are made with Bacardi Superior, natural flavors, and no artificial sweeteners. They are packaged in 355 ml cans and have 5.9% ABV, and can be found in four-packs or the aforementioned variety pack.
As you have seen, Tequila is not a stranger in the land of canned cocktails, but agave-based Spirits are the last ones to join the RTD market in a big way.
Case in point: Cazadores Tequila has recently released three 12-ounce Ready-to-Drink canned cocktails - Margarita, Spicy Margarita, and Paloma. All three products use 100% Blue Weber Agave Cazadores Tequila Blanco, natural ingredients, and agave syrup - and like other products in the market, they have a 5.9% ABV.
By design, these drinks capture the flavorful essence of their bar-sized counterparts and are enjoyable for fans of agave Spirit cocktails.
Like many other things, the Spirits industry is a slow-moving train when it comes to change. Research and development, consumer buy-in, product identity in a cluttered marketplace were all hurdles that Ready-to-Drink product producers had to overcome.
The fact that collectively this product category has achieved so much in so little time is impressive. There are many products out there, and availability is ever-changing, depending on the country, region, or even the season.
Enjoy the exploration and read the label to make sure you are purchasing a genuine article.
Do you have a favorite RTD cocktail? If so, please share it in the comments.
Cover photo: Novo Fogo Facebook