What Is an RTD Cocktail, and Why Should You Try One?

What Is an RTD Cocktail, and Why Should You Try One?

The drink market has been expanding since the mid-1990s to include more convenient and delicious drink options. Where there used to be a limited selection of beers, there’s now a wide range of craft beers, hard ciders, and hard seltzers. Where consumers would have once had to gather the supplies to mix drinks at home, they can now crack open a ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail in a can. In fact, these cocktails are expected to achieve an annual growth rate of 13.4% within the next seven years. But what is an RTD cocktail exactly, and why are they becoming so popular?

RTD cocktails are precisely what they sound like: a premixed cocktail in a can ready for you to open and enjoy. But if you’ve had a canned cocktail before and were underwhelmed by the experience—either the taste wasn’t quite right or the selection was too limited to be interesting—it’s time to explore the idea again.

Sit back and enjoy the possibilities of an RTD cocktail that suits your style and your tastebuds. Here, we’ll explore the unending appeal of a canned cocktail and why you should try one the next time you’re in the mood for your favorite mixed drink.

What Is an RTD Cocktail?: The Easy, Delicious Alternative to Keeping a Fully Stocked Bar Cart

If you’ve ever had to wait half an hour at a crowded bar for your order, you can already see the appeal of keeping your favorite mixed drink stocked in your fridge at home. Sometimes the fancy strikes for a crisp and sweet margarita or you need the pick-me-up an espresso martini can bring after a long day and you don’t want to wait.

At the same time, mixing up your favorite drink at home might not be your idea of a fun evening. Gathering the supplies for an old-fashioned, getting the espresso shot just right, or squeezing fresh lime juice for a mai tai can be an onerous task when you just want to sit back and relax. And that’s what an RTD cocktail really is: all the flavor and authentic bite of your favorite drink with none of the prep work—a true cocktail in a can that you can keep in your fridge and pour into a glass over ice when you’re ready to enjoy.

Related: What’s So Great About Canned Craft Cocktails?

But what’s the hallmark of a high-quality RTD cocktail? Experimenting with different brands and getting hit with the tinny tang of a canned drink with artificial ingredients can lose its appeal fast. So instead of going with the luck of the draw, look for brands of RTD cocktails that promise these qualities (and can back up those promises):


RTD cocktails promise portability. They’re shelf-stable concoctions that can be stored in your pantry, carried to a party in a cooler, or kept ice-cold in your fridge so you can take one to your table or your backyard. One of the best elements of a canned cocktail is that it’s portable and doesn’t tie you down to a busy bar or your kitchen counter.

When you’re shopping for a truly portable RTD cocktail, look for:

  • Brands that are sold online and in liquor stores—This makes shopping as convenient as possible, no matter how you prefer to shop.
  • Cocktails that include all of the ingredients—Don’t make do with a mixture that requires extra work at home or a can that encourages you to add your own lime juice or garnish at home. Instead, opt for cans that already include all of the syrups, high-quality liquors, and ingredients you expect to find at your favorite bar.
  • Best-by dates between six months and one year away—RTD cocktails aren’t just nice because they’re ready for you now; they’re nice because they’re ready for you later too. But be wary of canned cocktails that stay shelf-stable for years to come. That often means they use artificial options instead of real ingredients, such as citric acid instead of lime juice.


Transparency is the secret to a great cocktail whether you’re ordering one at a bar or putting them in your liquor store shopping basket. RTD cocktails that list their ingredients and concentrations upfront are offering you an authentic cocktail experience, especially if the recipe looks like it’s taken straight out of Difford’s Guide or from the International Bartenders Association (IBA).

So, what is an RTD cocktail—for example, an espresso martini? The IBA describes an espresso martini as having this simple formula:

  • 50 ml vodka
  • 30 ml Kahlua
  • 10 ml syrup
  • One espresso shot

An excellent RTD cocktail follows the same spirit: espresso or cold brew, a strong concentration of vodka, and about half as much coffee liqueur.

Along with having a recipe that reads like a mixologist was in charge, look for RTD cocktails that offer the same concentration of alcohol as you would find in a bar: approximately 20% ABV, depending on the drink. You’re looking for an authentic cocktail, which means it’s not watered down, diluted, or low-alcohol. That means having the right proportions of every ingredient for a full-strength experience.

100% Real Ingredients

The third hallmark of a great RTD cocktail is real ingredients. Artificial ingredients and preservatives that are designed to last for years simply don’t provide the same taste as a freshly mixed drink, and that’s what’s held back so many canned cocktails in the past. But when you’re looking for RTD drinks that taste great and are convenient, you can make sure you’ve found the real deal by checking the ingredient label. Look for cans that proudly state:

  • The origin of their liqueurs and liquor: Avoid cans with malt liquors, which many seltzers default to. Instead, find brands that advertise their use of barrel-aged whiskeys and top-shelf liqueurs imported from Italy.
  • No food coloring: Brightly colored mixed drinks, like cranberry-pink cosmopolitans or bright green margaritas, should get their color from their vivid ingredients. But many canned drinks feature artificial coloring. Side-step these cans to get the ones where the bright coloring is from real ingredients.
  • 100% real fruit juice: Typical canning methods and years-long expiration dates require citric acid and artificial citrus flavors—but these always fall a little flat. High-quality RTD cocktails have the real deal because they’re meant to taste good, not last forever.

What is an RTD cocktail bringing to the table? A quality ready-to-drink cocktail offers all three of these things—portability, authenticity, and real ingredients—without compromise.

Why Your Next Drink Should Be an RTD Cocktail

Still not sure it’s worth trying an RTD cocktail on your next night off? Here are six popular reasons why RTD cocktail fans love having a few cans ready to go in their fridge:

Drink Them Anywhere

Having a party at a friend’s house? Looking forward to a quiet night in front of a movie or in the backyard? With an RTD cocktail, you don’t have to lug around your margarita machine or make sure you have a full bar prepped. Stock up on your favorites or select a variety, and take them to wherever your next adventure awaits.

Never Sacrifice Quality and Taste for Convenience

Convenience is a key benefit of many canned drinks. But connoisseurs and hobbyist mixologists might be leery about the taste. The good news is this: if you do your due diligence and buy a brand that’s committed to quality, you never have to choose between convenience and taste. Instead, you can grab a can when the moment suits you, no prep work necessary.

Prepare It Any Way You Like

How do you take your espresso martini? Do you like it over ice or in a chilled glass, or do you want to experiment a little and pour it over ice cream for an affogato? What about your favorite way to drink a Southside—is it with a twist of lemon or some crushed mint leaves? Maybe you want to stretch out that cocktail and cut it with your favorite club soda.

When you have RTD cocktails, you can enjoy your drink the way you like without having to cut corners or explain it to the bartender. You can also experience it without having to make the drink itself.

Access Award-Winning Cocktails Without Visiting a Bar

If taste is your priority and convenience is a distant second, RTD cocktails can still be your cup of tea. The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is a cutthroat competition of RTD cocktails, and only the best cocktails take home the prize.

Related: Why Canned Cocktails Are Taking Over the RTD Alcoholic Beverage Industry

See this competition’s top-ranked cans for drinks that are just as good as (or even better than) the ones at your favorite watering hole.

Be Ready for Your Next Night In or Party

Do you like spur-of-the-moment get-togethers? Is your home the go-to hangout? RTD cocktails make hosting easier than ever—drinks are basically already served. And when you want a quiet night in where you can kick up your feet and still enjoy your favorite mixed drinks, RTD cocktails are the perfect beverage to have in your fridge.

Limited Prep Work and Clean Up

One of the drawbacks of loving cocktails is all the fussy work before and after. Cocktails involve a lot of different spirits, syrups, and bitters, and that means the accumulation of dirty glasses and cocktail shakers at the end of the night. But with RTD cocktails, you can say goodbye to all that prepping and cleaning.

Get a Ready-to-Drink Cocktail When You’re Eager to Kick Back and Relax

What is an RTD cocktail? It’s a delicious—and deliciously convenient—option for your next social event or evening in. At Post Meridiem, we concoct high-quality canned cocktails with authentic ingredients and a proprietary canning method that offers you the real deal in every can. Browse our selection online or see where we sell cans nearby.