Cocktails Get Canned

Ready-to-drink libations are easier than ever to experience thanks to clever new packaging. Here are five brands giving spirits the six-pack treatment.  

By Mark Fadden

There’s a scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation — the film that chronicles one of our favorite movie family’s trip across the pond — where the flight attendant asks Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold if he wants his drink in the can. He glances back at the plane’s bathroom and then tells her, “No, I’ll have it right here.”  

For many years, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have also been seen as a bit of a joke — they could never stand up to the same version made by a knowledgeable bartender. In order to taste right, a great cocktail must rely upon a well-balanced mixture of exact ingredients to produce an elixir that tantalizes the senses. Trying to mass-produce such an experience has been difficult, to say the least. That is, until now. New businesses are changing the rules when it comes to cocktails that can be enjoyed on the go. Here are a few canned cocktails to consider:

Cocktail Squad

While the cocktails featured here are all unique, the people behind them all share a common trait: They used their background knowledge to fill a need in providing consumers with a superior product. Lauren Maggio is a great example of that entrepreneurial spirit. She founded Cocktail Squad with her husband, John. “We were having dinner at a local restaurant and I had a great cocktail. As an avid home bartender, I asked the bartender for the recipe, got it and went to three liquor stores that night to get all the ingredients,” Maggio says. Then, the two of them called upon John’s 25 years of experience in the food and beverage industry to fuel a brainstorming session. “What if we could batch RTD cocktails that are premium in quality? Could we use real spirits — and not make it a malt beverage? What would be the best container?” Maggio recalls. The last question would almost be the one that stopped things before they started. In the initial stages, the can liner couldn’t hold up, and bottling wouldn’t solve the portability piece. For Maggio, drinking a great RTD cocktail was all about the experience, and a glass bottle wouldn’t allow people to be on a boat or at the beach. That’s when she saw a can option that contained premium wines, gave it another shot with a different can — and it worked. 

Though figuring out the right packaging was the first step, Maggio knew it’s what goes into the package that counts the most. “We use only premium spirits for our drinks, along with natural and organic ingredients, so no sugar substitutes,” Maggio said. Her team met with celebrity chef Bobby Flay early on to get advice on flavors. “He really enjoyed our margarita, which features blue agave sweetener produced in Boulder, Colorado. On the Greyhound, he said to add a bit of sugar to the grapefruit to accentuate the flavor, so we’ve got a pinch of 100% organic sugar in it,” Maggio says. In addition to the drinks, there are other ways to become part of the Cocktail Squad, such as the “Squad Sessions,” which are online concerts featured in their social media platforms. “It’s not just about the alcohol,” said Maggio. “We want to build a community where anyone can be in the Squad.”

Cocktail Squad’s canned lineup includes Greyhound, Margarita, Bourbon Smash, Whiskey Sour, Gin & Tonic, Vodka Soda, Whiskey Ginger Soda and Vodka Lemon Soda.

Cooper Spirits Company

When third-generation distiller Rob Coooper came up with Cooper Spirits Company, he envisioned a craft-bar-quality cocktail in a can to provide greater portability to consumers for a wider array of usage occasions. It’s worked out pretty well so far for boaters, beachgoers and, really, anyone who wants that perfect old fashioned on the go. “Slow & Low Rock & Rye is a muscular yet approachable 84-proof, craft-bar-quality, proper old fashioned, ready to drink out of the can or pour over ice for perfect consistency,” says Bryan Townsend, vice president of sales. 

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While Cooper Spirits Company was founded with the introduction of St-Germain, an artisanal French liqueur made from fresh elderflower blossoms that was heralded as one of the most influential cocktail components of the past decade by the New York Times, Cooper is continuing to prioritize the rye whiskey category that he feels has been long overlooked by the mainstream. To do that, the company will begin offering their Slow & Low Coffee Old Fashioned this May in a 750ml bottle, and the canned version will follow in August. The coffee-flavored old fashioned will feature Intelligentsia Coffee. Says Townsend, “Intelligentsia is a specialty coffee pioneer that thoughtfully sources, roasts and extracts the finest coffee from around the world.”

Crafthouse Cocktails

This is perhaps the most innovative of the bunch in terms of the development of the can itself. The founders of Crafthouse Cocktails found that no matter how good a cocktail is on the go, there was one big problem. “Once you opened it, you couldn’t close it,” says co-founder Matt Lindner. “We wanted to not only make a world-class RTD cocktail, but we wanted something that was ultraportable. For example, you could be hiking, open it, take a sip, close it and then put it back in your pack.” 

Their closeable can features a screw-top lid, but it’s what’s inside that takes “craft” to a whole new level. “People were saying that high-quality craft cocktails premade in a can couldn’t be done. But by using homemade mixers like our ginger beer and grapefruit soda, combined with sourcing spirits from some of the best distillers in the nation, we’ve been able to create some really amazing drinks,” says Lindner. 

There are currently eight canned Crafthouse Cocktails: Gold Rush, Moscow Mule, Paloma, Pineapple Daiquiri, Rum Old Fashioned, Smoky Margarita, Southside and Spicy Margarita.

Links Drinks

Sometimes, as the saying goes, you just need to stop the proverbial bleeding. Perhaps it was that saying that helped name the Transfusion, a drink of vodka, ginger ale and grape juice that’s been a go-to libation at golf clubs across the nation. “The idea that you can have these crafted cocktails using premium ingredients such as 6x distilled premium vodka, concord grape juice and natural ginger ‘to-go’ was exciting,” says Links Drinks owner Fred Evanko.

While Links Drinks’ names are a play on golf — the “Front Nine” Transfusion containing orange juice and the “Back Nine” Transfusion using cranberry juice are currently in development — Evanko’s motto of “Get out there and enjoy life!” goes far beyond the links, and these canned cocktails can be enjoyed anywhere.

Tip Top Proper Cocktails

While cocktails on the go might signify a more laid-back, casual experience, that doesn’t mean the consumer shouldn’t expect a drink that has been created with exacting measures. With its current three-drink lineup of an old fashioned, a Manhattan and a Negroni served in a 3.4 oz cans — an equivalent portion size to what you’d receive if ordering one of these classic stirred drinks at a proper bar — Tip Top Proper Cocktails specializes in high-proof cocktails while not taking themselves too seriously. “Each of our cocktail recipes took over a year of development with seven-time James Beard finalist Miles Macquarrie (of Atlanta’s Kimball House and Watchman’s) in order to meet the standard we set for Tip Top,” says co-founder Neal Cohen. 

Tip Top Proper Cocktails keeps it classy with their drinks, but they also play around with their ingredients to make sure that the customer is left with a taste that they’ll remember. “A traditional Negroni is made with Campari, but we’ve formulated our own Italian red bitter aperitif in that style,” says Cohen. “When we set out to create our own bitter aperitif, we had to use our own palates to try to unlock Campari’s secret recipe, and we weren’t sure if we could do it. We were surprised to find that by taking Italian chinotto (an extremely bitter citrus fruit) and brightening and softening it with white grapefruit, Brazilian orange and botanicals like angelica root, we created a unique and delicious homage to the original.”

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