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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.
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. Be sure to read up on each can's nutrition information to educate yourself on the alcohol content.
Best Overall: Long Drink Company The Finnish Long Drink
Refreshingly crisp taste
Distribution is limited
The Finnish long drink has been popular 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 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.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 5.5% | Alcohol: Gin
Best Craft: Fling Craft Cocktails Blood Orange Vodka Soda
Produced by craft brewery
Tasty ingredients and real liquor
Fascinating flavor options for any drinking preference
Premium price tag
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 botanical gin and tonic along with a mai tai and a margarita. Fling has fans of dark spirits covered with its zesty ginger and lime Rye Whiskey Mule. 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.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 5% | Alcohol: Vodka
Best Moscow Mule: Sesh Moscow Mule
Zero sugar, 1 gram of carbs, and 120 calories
Newer to the market so initial availability is limited
The Moscow mule is a favorite for canned cocktail producers, and there are many excellent versions to try. The team at XED Beverages has done a wonderful job with the popular mixed drink. The company’s first release is a line of hard seltzers called Sesh, which is designed to find a balance between great-tasting cocktails and low-calorie drinks. They pulled it off spectacularly, and the Sesh Moscow Mule is an excellent introduction to the portfolio.
Available in 12-ounce cans, this Moscow mule is a nice bridge between canned cocktails and hard seltzers, and makes the best of both trendy beverages. It is refreshing, crisp, and an easy-drinker at just 6 percent ABV. While the flavor is softer than a mule made with ginger beer, it retains the original cocktail’s ginger-lime combination nicely. Sweetened with stevia, Sesh contains no sugar.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 6% | Alcohol: Hard seltzer
Best Margarita: Fabrizia Spirits Italian Margarita
Interesting take on the margarita with limoncello
Can be difficult to find
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.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 7% | Alcohol: Tequila and limoncello
Best Bloody Mary: Cutwater Spirits Spicy Bloody Mary (24 Pack)
Tastes like the real cocktail
Might be too spicy for some tastes
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.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 10% | Alcohol: Vodka
Best Caipirinha: Novo Fogo Sparkling Caipirinha
Made with cachaça
Intriguing flavor notes beyond lime
A sparkling caipirinha is not original
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 Novo Fogo’s 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.
Size: 6.8 ounces | ABV: 8.2% | Alcohol: Cachaça
Best Gin Cocktail: Rogue Spirits Cucumber Lime Gin Fizz
Quality ingredients, including craft gin
Pricey for a canned alcoholic beverage
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.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 7.5% | Alcohol: Gin
Best Whiskey Cocktail: Cocktail Squad Bourbon Smash
A fun twist on a classic cocktail
Made with organic ingredients
Among the most expensive canned cocktails
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. Cocktail Squad does note that this is “two cocktails per can,” and drinking the entire thing is equivalent to half a bottle of wine.
Size: 12 ounces | ABV: 10% | Alcohol: Bourbon
Best Rock and Rye: Slow & Low Rock & Rye Whiskey Cans
A classic recipe in a bottle
Sweet, flavorful, and a fan-favorite
It’s as strong as whiskey
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.
Size: 3.4 ounces | ABV: 42% | Alcohol: Whiskey
Best Spiked Coffee: Cafe Agave Spiked Cold Brew Coffee
Rich coffee flavor
Cold brew coffee is less acidic
Alcohol bite on finish
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.
Size: 6.3 ounces | ABV: 12.5% | Alcohol: Agave wine
The Finnish Long Drink (view at Drizly) is a must-try simply because you can’t make it yourself. Fling Craft Cocktails are a joy to drink and made with a really nice vodka, which only makes the Blood Orange Vodka Soda (view at Total Wine) that much better. And, when you really want to indulge, the Cafe Agave drinks (view at Drizly) are just too much fun to pass up.
What to Look for in Canned Cocktails
The same attention you put into buying the liquor and mixers for your handmade cocktails should go into these canned drinks. Some of the best are produced by distilleries and breweries that know a thing or two about crafting great drinks, and you generally can’t go wrong with those picks. And, when you find a canned cocktail you like, try that brand’s other flavors because they’re likely enjoyable as well.
You will notice that canned cocktails are not cheap. Often sold in packs of four or six cans, they can be as pricey as the most expensive craft beers. Don’t let that put you off entirely. Remember that these are very often stronger than beer, so you’re actually getting more alcohol for the buck. Plus, that means you’ll likely drink fewer canned cocktails than you might beer. If not, you risk getting drunker than you might hope and increase the potential of a nasty hangover. Treat these like cocktails and you’ll be fine.
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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 enjoys exploring classic and modern cocktails and developing original recipes.