If you’ve been to a grocery, convenience or liquor store in the past few years, you likely noticed the beer selection has been matched by canned cocktails. Flavored hard seltzers have overtaken the aisle across all channels, and spirit-based canned cocktails are taking over whole aisles at liquor stores.
You may be surprised to find out that cocktails in a can are not a new concept. Premade cocktails date back to the late 1800s. Even back then, when everything was a bit simpler, they found it’s easier to crack open a can of Old Fashioned rather than purchase and deal with all of the ingredients to make one by hand.
Premixed cocktails are no longer vintage; in fact, they are the hottest trend in the spirits category, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. It appears these convenient and fun beverages are outperforming American whiskey, tequila and rum sales, while the white-hot seltzer market is stabilizing, with growth rates down by nearly 30% since 2020.
While the premixed cocktail market is experiencing exponential growth, its expansion is still relative, likely only because it hasn’t yet had time to mature. CNBC says, “Premixed cocktails are a small part of the overall spirits industry, accounting for less than 5% of its $35.8 billion revenue. They’re also a tiny fraction of the ready-to-drink category, which also includes hard seltzers, sodas and lemonades. According to marketing researcher IWSR, spirits-based cocktails account for 8% of market volume, dwarfed by flavored malt beverages’ 91% share.”
But the numbers don’t lie. As still a relatively new commercial product, the premixed cocktails trajectory has nowhere to go but up, and this beverage option is already showing massive consumer interest, growing at a sobering 42.3% in 2021 to $1.6 billion compared with just a year earlier. The Daily Beast says, “Premium feeling is something hard seltzer has been missing…Spirit-based RTDs are looking like market disruptors for hard seltzer.”
What Kind of Canned Cocktails Exist Today?
When we talk about canned cocktails, the category is quite broad. While college students and others who buy their alcoholic beverages at grocery and convenience stores may love to knock back can after can of hard seltzers, seltzers are in no way akin to a good canned cocktail. It’s like comparing a light beer to a margarita.
Seltzers do have alcohol, but it’s typically fermented cane sugar or malted barley, and it only contains about 6% alcohol by volume (ABV) at most. Compare that with popular cocktails in a can that use ingredients like barrel-aged bourbon, steeped bitters and imported liqueurs.
The best of these ready-to-drink canned cocktails are intended to mimic the bar experience—both in quality ingredients and strength. Depending on the brand and the cocktail, you could be looking at a 74-proof (37% ABV) cocktail that sips perfectly from an ice-filled lowball.
You can’t find these types of cocktails in all grocery or convenience stores. Current laws in some states prohibit the sales of hard liquor and canned cocktails that contain hard liquor. You’ll have to go to the liquor store if you want to purchase them. And when you’re there, you’ll see quite a few options to choose from, with those options growing by the day.
Just as more major beer players want their fair share of the seltzer market, spirits companies are seeing the opportunities with premixed cocktails. Some are adding their well-known hard spirits to seltzers as an elevated take on traditional seltzers, while others are crafting premium bar-like cocktails with ingredients like 100% real lime juice, top-shelf tequila, and imported liqueur—exactly what those with discriminating tastes would expect from a margarita from a restaurant, bar or their own liquor cabinets.
The Differences Between Canned Cocktails
While you’ll find a dizzying array of canned cocktails to choose from, not all cocktails in a can are created equal, and there are a lot of varieties to cater to every taste. For instance, in their “25 Best Canned Cocktails of 2022” list, the folks at Delish ranked Post Meridiem Spirits (Lemongrass Vodka Gimlet was reviewed) at the top, with a competitor, Cutwater (Gin & Tonic was reviewed, further down the list. The two brands are popular, but they are quite different from each other. Miami Cocktail Co. and get the highest reviews from the folks at Delish, and they are quite different from each other.
Ingredients, Can Size and Strength
Miami Cocktails are spritzers made with sparkling agave wine and grapefruit, hibiscus and ginger juice. They come in an 8.4 oz can and are 4.2% ABV.
Cutwater Gin & Tonic are made with gin and grapefruit cucumber tonic, packaged in 12 ounce cans. The ABC is listed at 6.2%.
Post Meridiem makes traditional cocktails, with its Gimlet containing 2 oz of vodka, ⅔ oz of 100% real lime juice, and ⅔ oz of simple syrup made from cane sugar and lemongrass oil. They come in 3.4 oz cans and are 25% ABV.
Besides the fact that the Cutwater cocktail has much lower ABV, you may have noticed the can size is quite different. There’s a reason for that.
Many canned cocktails come in 8, 12 or even 16-ounce cans, similar to a beer in both can size and ABV, and are meant to be enjoyed like beer. But some premium cocktails with hard liquor are full-strength beverages and come in much smaller containers because they don’t add seltzers or other mixers you wouldn’t use in a drink you made yourself or ordered from a bartender. Post Meridiem, for example, designed their small cans specifically to hold 100ML of liquid, the standard cocktail serving.
For an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s compare another RTD canned cocktail company that landed in the Delish top-ten ranking, Five Drinks Co., with Post Meridiem Spirits—both of which offer a Cosmopolitan.
The Five company’s Cosmo contains vodka, raspberry, lime juice (it doesn’t say whether the lime juice is 100% real, but typically, if it doesn’t say 100% real juice, there are flavorings involved), soda water, and cane sugar. The cans are 200ML and the beverage is 12% ABV.
Post Meridiem’s Cosmo contains vodka, 100% real lime juice, 100% real cranberry juice, and orange curacao. The cans are 100ML and 27% ABV.
While both companies offer Cosmopolitans, you can see they differ greatly in their ingredients and strength. For those wanting a full-strength drink made with the same proportions and ingredients a bartender would use, the Post Meridiem canned cocktail fits the bill and is likely why the company continues to win international spirits competitions.
Not all companies that don’t dilute their cocktails with seltzers and sodas come in small packages. Instead of custom-designing their cans, they opt for standard beer-size cans that contain two cocktail servings. Take Cocktail Squad’s Whiskey Sour, coming in at number 11 on the Delish list. It contains bourbon whiskey, pressed lemon and orange juice (again, no mention of whether it is 100% juice) and Gomme syrup. Yet even with two servings, it only comes in at 10% ABV.
You can find other brands that offer their cocktails in 100ml cans, all of which advertise fewer “filler” ingredients and higher ABVs. You’ll find these all differ, even if slightly, in ingredients. For instance, Tip Top Old Fashioned contains bourbon whiskey, orange bitters and cane sugar for a full-strength, bar-like cocktail. While the cans may look similar, Post Meridiem Old Fashioned advertises a blend of three different bitters, and instead of straight cane sugar, opts for demerara syrup and orange zest oil to mimic the orange zest a bartender would use on the rim of a glass.
Taste and See
In the end, it comes down to personal taste. When looking at the current cocktail in a can market, it’s easy to see this RTD category is here to stay. Whether you like the more subtle flavor and ABV of a hard seltzer or spritzer or you are looking for an elevated, premium cocktail you’d make or order from a bartender, your options are broad and exciting. Look at ingredients and ratings, do some taste tests and find the ones you’d be proud to serve to friends. With canned cocktails still new to many, you can become the early adopter and connoisseur. Find your favorite cocktail at Post Meridiem Spirits.