Sometimes you want a little fizz, like with a beer, hard seltzer, soda or sparkling water. What do you do when you’re tired of the bubbles but want something that packs a little punch? Canned alcohol without carbonation exists, and some are actually really great, award-winning, in fact. How do you find the best ones without wasting money on the not-so-good ones?
First, let’s look at what’s happening in the hard seltzer market. If you’re like millions of Americans, you’ve tried these carbonated, malt-based drinks. Their popularity skyrocketed during the hardest months of COVID-19, when every bar and restaurant was shut down, leaving consumers on their own when it came to alcoholic drinks. Seemingly all of a sudden, carbonated hard seltzers lined grocery and convenience store shelves, and sales grew 49% in 2020 from the year prior.
Almost as quickly, Americans’ desire for these beverages is waning. Bloomberg reports that while hard seltzer sales in the U.S. are still strong, their sales growth is anything but. In 2021, hard seltzer sales grew only 4% during the 4-week period ending July 11. The downward trajectory tells the story.
Some of the loss is due to other factors outside of consumer preferences, such as an overcrowded market. It appears consumer tastes are evolving, however. Carbonated alcoholic beverages are still popular, but people are ready to try more sophisticated premixed cocktails that are more like something made by a bartender. They want real distilled spirits, not malt-based alcohol, and quality ingredients like liqueurs and bitters, not sour mixes and artificial flavors—all at the right proportions and at the proper strength.
The market is listening. Ready-to-drink cocktails, canned beverages that contain alcohol but may or may not be carbonated, are filling shelves and gaining traction quickly. Drizly, a popular online platform for alcohol delivery, found in its 2021 consumer survey that consumers are supporting smaller manufacturers of these canned cocktails, preferring their higher quality ingredients and family operations over the giant beer companies’ versions.
A Little Background on Carbonation
Carbonated beverages add a pop, a zip, a zing, but not all have the same carbonation levels. According to Cask Brewing Systems, White Claw, considered the instigator of the hard seltzer revolution, is made with 2.31 volumes of CO2, Jack Daniel’s & Cola comes in at 2.61, Truly is 2.48, and the non-alcoholic Perrier, that touts its high fizz experience, sits at 2.68. Craft beverages often have higher carbonation levels.
What’s most interesting, however, is what Cask explains as the “Threshold of Perception”, saying, “Just like beer, fizzier non-beer beverages taste better than flat ones. However, it doesn’t have anything to do with the bubbles actually bursting in your mouth. The ‘taste’ of carbonation we experience is activated by the enzyme “Carbonic Anhydrase 4 (CA-IV) reacting with CO2 sending a sensory message to our brain that we are tasting something with some zip to it.”
While many may believe that carbonated drinks taste better than flat ones, there are those who enjoy a beautifully crafted, non-carbonated cocktail.
Canned Alcoholic Drinks Without Carbonation
For those looking for the convenience of ready-to-drink beverages but want canned alcohol without carbonation, the options are expanding. Just a few years ago, this category of RTDs was relatively small. Today, you can find hundreds of brands, each with its own take on classic cocktail recipes and creative concoctions.
Of course, some classic cocktails naturally come with fizz. Take a vodka soda, a bourbon and Coke, or a gin and tonic. But if you’re looking for something more along the lines of an Old Fashioned, a Margarita or even an Espresso Martini, you’re in luck. Those and more now come in cans, ready to drink without any fuss. For some, you just shake and pour over ice or into a chilled glass. It truly doesn’t get any easier.
Unlike many canned alcoholic drinks with carbonation, these varieties are often stronger, made with the proper proportions—proportions a mixologist would use in a bar. With nothing to water them down, you get the full-strength cocktail you’d expect.
Why Are So Many Canned Cocktails Low ABV?
Alcohol by volume (ABV) depends on the size of and ingredients in the can. Hard seltzers are made more like a beer, involving zero distilled spirits but malt, sugar alcohol or a fermented grain instead.12-ounce cans contain mostly carbonated water, which is as basic as it gets: water with added carbon dioxide. It has no taste, thus the need for flavorings. One brewer put it this way:
There are so many variables that need to be considered to make the ingredients taste like nothing, in a sense, before adding in flavors and creating something that people are willing to drink. “Making it well is not for the faint of heart.”
According to Draft Mag, your average hard seltzers contain up to 5% ABV, with the primary ingredient being cane or regular sugar. Beers contain anywhere from 3 to 20% ABV, with a main ingredient of malted grains.
On the other hand, the much smaller standard 1.5-ounce serving of liquor is ~40% ABV. While it’s still the same amount of alcohol per serving as a larger hard seltzer, beer or wine, it’s packed into 1.5 ounces, not 12. Some canned cocktails have double shots in a can that’s less than half the size of a hard seltzer. This ingredient and size difference is why you’ll see canned alcoholic drinks without carbonation at much higher ABVs.
How Are Canned Cocktails Made?
As you now know, the term “canned cocktail” can mean anything. It can contain malt, sugar alcohol, fermented grain alcohol or spirits. The point of the canned cocktail is to give consumers a more convenient cocktail experience.
Some people enjoy alcoholic beverages in social situations which are not always in a bar, restaurant or someone’s home with a stocked bar. Whether tailgating, packing coolers for an outdoor get-together, or coming prepared on trips, portable, canned versions of favorite cocktails allow anyone to enjoy beverages without having to bring an entire bar to do so.
Not to mention the ease of use, even in home bars. If you’re hosting a party, do you want to pay for a full bar setup or see a line of people waiting for drinks? Canned cocktails make parties simpler, giving guests more variety with less wait while you spend less money and time on the bar. People can just grab what they want and go. No half-full bottles of leftover cranberry juice, a bottle of rum no one touched and a crowd around a cluttered bar.
Ingredients Make All the Difference
The best canned cocktails are made with premium ingredients, top quality from the spirits, liqueurs and bitters to the juice, coffee and syrups. No skimping with “natural” flavorings, cheap liquor or preservatives.
A great cocktail is perfectly balanced—not too sweet, not too bitter, but alcohol-forward. You should be able to taste the spirits. The mixers should complement the spirits and add dimensions, not overpower them. When made correctly, the cocktail should be smooth, balanced, and hit all your tastebuds in the right way.
While you may want a canned cocktail with a low ABV, if you’re looking for a true bar-like experience, you want your cocktail to be full-strength. It should have at least 1.5oz of a base spirit, though some drinks, like the Old Fashioned, are built a little stronger.
Explore your options and see if you don’t prefer canned versions of your favorite alcoholic beverages. If you’re in the mood for canned alcohol without carbonation, give Post Meridiem’s line of award-winning, authentic canned cocktails a try.