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Ready-to-drink (or RTD) cocktails are not what they were just a decade ago, and that's a great thing. There's a new crop of canned cocktails that are surprisingly delicious and duplicate the taste of a freshly mixed drink rather well. Ranging from margaritas and vodka sodas to replicas of the whiskey smash and bloody Mary, they're diverse and offer a convenient libation for drinkers of all tastes. Many are also gluten-free, low-calorie, and made with natural ingredients.
The packaging of canned cocktails makes it easy to think that it’s like drinking a beer. However, just like a made-from-scratch cocktail, the alcohol content can be strong. While the average is 5.5 percent ABV, they can reach 12 percent ABV. Be sure to read the can to avoid getting drunker than you expect.
The Finnish long drink has been a popular drink in Finland since Helsinki hosted the 1952 Olympic Summer Games. In 2018, cans of this alluring beverage were released to the U.S. and it's quickly finding a new fan base.
This beverage (5.5 percent ABV) captures everything that's great about the original. It's a blend of natural grapefruit and juniper berry flavors backed by gin and a refreshing sparkle–a bit like a grapefruit gin and soda. The creators don't like to call it a canned cocktail because it's completely unique. However, its taste rivals all others in this category and it’s a drink that you cannot easily replicate at home. There's a sugar-free, zero-carb version; the “Strong” cans are 8.5 percent ABV; and the cranberry-flavored long drink is tasty, too.
Boulevard Brewing Co.'s canned cocktails are as impressive as its craft beers. The brewery’s Fling Craft Cocktails stand up to the "craft" moniker with well-balanced flavors from natural ingredients and real distilled spirits.
Ranging from 5 percent to 9 percent ABV, the Fling portfolio spans the cocktail scene. You'll find Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonic along with a mai tai and a margarita. Fling has fans of dark spirits covered, too. Its rye whiskey mule and bourbon smash offer a nice taste of the original cocktails. Among all of those, Fling Blood Orange Vodka Soda is a favorite. Made with 360 Vodka, it has a perfect amount of blood orange taste to make it interesting and the soda water gives it a brilliant sparkle.
The Moscow mule is a favorite for canned cocktail producers. The team at Crafthouse Cocktails has done a wonderful job with the popular mixed drink. The company is a collaboration between a Chicago bar owner and a globally recognized bartender. Their goal was to recreate cocktails that taste like a bartender just mixed them up while doing it in small batches using top-quality ingredients.
Available in 750 mL bottles or 200 mL cans, this Moscow mule even comes in a 1.75-liter bag-in-box. Unlike other canned mules, it doesn’t include any additional flavors. This one follows the original recipe and keeps it simple with nothing more than vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. At 10.1 percent ABV, it’s pretty strong, but it’s best served over ice, which mellows it out nicely.
Fabrizia Spirits is a New Hampshire company that specializes in limoncello. Influenced by its Italian roots, the company makes fine renditions of the sweet lemon liqueur and uses it in two canned cocktails: margarita and lemonade. While an American-made, Italian-inspired version of the margarita may be a stretch, this one is impressive.
With that background, it’s not surprising that lemons (not limes) are the featured citrus fruit. Fabrizia’s Italian Margarita includes limoncello and fresh-squeezed Sicilian lemon juice along with tequila. It’s not carbonated or too strong (7 percent ABV), and it’s an ideal balance of sweet and tart, making it a refreshing summer beverage. Serve this margarita ice-cold or on the rocks and don’t forget to shake the can before opening.
It's no surprise that craft distilleries are producing impressive canned cocktails. San Diego's Cutwater Spirits is another gem with numerous unique offerings, including rum, vodka, and whiskey cocktails, and even a Paloma. There is not a bad cocktail in the bunch and they enjoy wide distribution, so Cutwater is easy to find.
Compared to other bottled versions of the drink, Cutwater’s Spicy Bloody Mary (10 percent ABV) is top of its class and has the awards to prove it. This is as close to a real bloody Mary as you will find. Made with Fugu Vodka, it has the taste of ripe tomatoes and an invigorating hot pepper kick. If you don’t have a taste for spicy cocktails, there's a mild version that’s just as good.
For a caipirinha on-the-go, look for a can from Novo Fogo. It offers the same refreshing taste of Brazilian cachaça, lime, and sugar that makes the caipirinha great. With this one, there’s no need for a muddler.
Using its organic silver cachaça as the base, the Sparkling Caipirinha Cocktail (8.2 percent ABV) is bright and flavorful. Though they’re not ingredients, this cocktail even has some unexpected tropical fruit notes, such as coconut, lychee, and guanabana. Adding carbonation to the familiar drink is a nice twist that only increases its refreshing qualities. If you’d like a little extra fruit, Novo Fogo offers passion fruit and mango caipirinhas as well.
Rogue is best known as the Oregon brewpub that expanded from craft brewery to include a distillery. Its venture into canned cocktails has produced some fine beverages as well. While its liquor line-up is primarily whiskey, vodka and gin star in Rogue’s sparkling ready-to-drink portfolio.
For fans of the gin and tonic, the drink to have is the Cucumber Lime Gin Fizz. The cool taste of fresh cucumber and lime is a wonderful complement to the botanicals of Rogue Spirits Farmhouse Gin. Add a little raw cane sugar and some sparkling water, and a well-crafted cocktail is ready to pour over ice or drink cold from the can.
Cocktail Squad focuses on well-crafted classic drinks that are portable and convenient. Based out of Boulder, Colorado, it takes on favorites like the greyhound, margarita, and gin and tonic in small batches. It is in the whiskey cocktails where the brand really shines; the whiskey sour is well-balanced and the bourbon smash has a fun twist.
The original whiskey smash pairs bourbon with lemon and spearmint. Cocktail Squad added a modern spin to the century-old recipe by adding Rocky Mountain blackberries to the mix. The sweet fruit is a perfect match for the minty-citrus bourbon drink. As wonderful as it tastes, each 355 mL can is 10 percent ABV. Take it easy because that’s like drinking half a bottle of wine by yourself.
Rock and rye is a delicious old-fashioned drink of spicy rye whiskey and sweet rock candy. Hochstadter's Rock and Rye has been a favorite bottled version for many years. The modern "Slow & Low" offering is inspired by the original 19th-century recipe and it's available in convenient cans.
The straight rye whiskey is flavored with raw honey, navel oranges, rock candy, and bitters. It’s often served on its own, over ice, or with a beer back. You can even use it to make an old-fashioned when you do feel like mixing. Unlike the other ready-to-drink cocktails, this little 100 mL can is 42 percent ABV (84 proof). That's as strong as most straight whiskey. At just over 3 1/4 ounces, it will pack a big punch, so it really is best to go "slow and low" with this one.
Coffee is not off the table in canned cocktails. Cafe Agave is a line of spiked coffees that will give you double the buzz in a surprisingly tasty little drink. Using cold brew coffee from dark-roasted Arabica beans, these 12.5 percent ABV coffees are spiked with agave wine and flavored naturally.
The flavors include Espresso Shot, Salted Caramel, and Vanilla Cinnamon, each with a rich coffee flavor. It's only in the finish that you get an alcohol bite—a good reminder that this isn't your average cup of joe. The best offering from Cafe Agave is Caffe Mocha. The cocoa nibs and dairy cream give it a delicious and inviting taste that rivals any coffee house iced latte.
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books and has developed numerous original cocktail recipes that feature natural ingredients while remaining practical for the average drinker.