Every cocktail has its signature flavor, and every cocktail lover has their own idea of the perfect drink. Sometimes it’s all about flavors, whether the zing of lime juice or the complex notes of whiskey, and preparation techniques—shaken or stirred?
Others might prioritize a strong drink, such as with an espresso martini that combines potent coffee and vodka. Some are more focused on the drinking environment—a crowded bar in the evening or a quiet drink at home. But when you want the best of all three—taste, strength, and locale—canned cocktails are a winning choice.
Of course, finding just the right ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail in a can is a little like finding your favorite bar. You need to peruse the menu to make sure they offer your preferred drink, and you might do a little research to make sure they’re using the right ingredients and that the mixologists know their craft. Most importantly, you need the word from close friends or vetted online reviews about the quality of their cocktails before you commit to a visit.
When you’re hoping to discover exactly what is the best canned cocktail, subject the products to the same level of scrutiny. While only you can decide what the best RTD cocktail is for your palette, this guide can help you know what to look for. We start with a quick overview of what makes an RTD option the best canned cocktail, and then we go in-depth so you can explore the shelves or online stores with confidence.
“It’s 4:58 on Friday afternoon. Do you know where your margarita is?” ― Amy Neftzger
What Is the Best Canned Cocktail? A Quick and Simple Definition
A canned cocktail is a prepackaged mixed drink that can include liquors, liqueurs, fruit juices, bitters, and other ingredients. The best canned cocktail will use authentic ingredients that follow the proportions of bartender-quality recipes while using a specialty canning method to preserve the taste and mouthfeel of the mixture.
You know you have the best canned cocktail in your hand when it:
- Has exactly the same ingredients a mixologist would use if they were making the drink in front of you (with no preservatives or artificial substitutes)
- Has the same ABV or strength that you’d expect from a conventional cocktail
- Is award-winning—industry awards are a quick objective measure you can use when you don’t want to have to shop around for a good drink
When you’re in a hurry, the definition stops here. Look up the reviews of in-store or online cans, make sure there are lots of five stars, and check the reviews for comments about taste, freshness, and the types of liquors used. But if you’re looking for a more nuanced answer—or you’ve had a canned cocktail in the past and found it lacking—keep reading to learn more about how canned cocktails have improved over time. We’ll also look at five sure-fire metrics you can use to make sure the next canned cocktail you open is the best one.
How Canned Cocktails Have Transformed Over the Past Several Years
Ready-to-drink cocktails may have first hit your radar during the pandemic, when cocktail enthusiasts were looking for safe and easy options. But RTD cocktails have been available on the market for years; as the market was shifting to accommodate microbrewery beers, hard ciders and lemonades, and other more diverse drinks throughout the 2010s, canned cocktails became more and more available.
At first, options were relatively limited. Cocktails that were easiest to can and store as shelf-stable products were available first. Wine shops and liquor stores had more options than grocery stores and supermarkets.
But even as the audience grew, there were still gaps in technology and quality that were hard to solve. The canning process used to inherently affect the taste of the drink, and there was no good way to incorporate real lime juice and cranberry juice in a way that translated to canned drinks. If you tried canned daiquiris or cosmos during this time, you might have found the experience a little lackluster.
But sharp spikes in the popularity of RTD cocktails, which grew 226% from 2016 to 2021, have opened up the market and hastened the development of new canning technology. Some brands now prioritize taste over convenience, ensuring that each can uses top-shelf liquors and premium ingredients without artificial flavors and acids. Because the market is so much bigger, options now include the cheap and convenient, the diverse and experimental, and the high-quality and authentic.
5 Key Characteristics That Determine What Is the Best Canned Cocktail?
If you’re searching for that unicorn level of perfection in your canned cocktails, it pays to be discerning from the start. Use these five criteria to judge whether a specific can, a product line, or an entire company meets your standards for the best canned cocktail.
1. It Follows a Bartender-Quality Recipe
One of the fundamental benefits of a canned cocktail is that you don’t have to go to a bar when you don’t want to. There’s no waiting in line, dealing with crowds, or risking a new bartender being on shift when you arrive. You can have a drink at any time, even without leaving the house. But you shouldn’t have to pay for that convenience with a drop in quality.
So look for cocktails that follow actual cocktail recipes. An authentic margarita, for example, should be mostly tequila, about half as much orange curacao, and a hefty dash of real lime juice. It should be well-mixed, made with real ingredients, and never watered down.
A high-quality Old Fashioned follows an even stricter recipe, with straight bourbon whiskey, bitters, demerara syrup, and orange zest oil. Don’t accept variations that are made to cut costs, keep it shelf-stable for years, or bury artificial or poor-quality flavors. Look for cans that print their recipe right on the can without hiding it.
2. The Can Only Holds High-Quality Ingredients
Not only do you want a bartender-quality recipe, but you also want high-quality ingredients. Some RTD cans will use low-tier vodkas, bourbons, or tequilas because they think the flavorings will conceal it or that it’s an acceptable practice for RTD cocktails sold in a grocery store. But when you want the best, every detail matters. Look for brands and products that:
- Use 100% real lime juice and cranberry juice. Many shelf-stable drinks use lime flavoring and citric acid to extend shelf-life—in spite of the hollow, tinny taste. But for canned cocktails, a shorter shelf life means higher quality. Specialty canning processes allow the use of real juice without artificial flavors, meaning no compromise on taste. Check the fine print.
- Detail the liquors. A brand that’s proud of its sources will let you know. Look for cans that say when the bourbon is straight from the barrel, what type of mash bill the whiskey has, and where the liqueur was imported from.
- Use oils for flavor. Vodka gimlets should get their flavor from lemongrass oil, not extract. The same goes for Old Fashioneds with the zippy orange flavor of orange zest oil.
“There is absolutely no substitute for the best. Good food cannot be made of inferior ingredients masked with high flavor. It is true thrift to use the best ingredients available and to waste nothing.” — James Beard
3. The Concentration, Proportions, and Volume Are All On Point
With any canned drink, it’s always important to check the ABV. Cocktails are meant to be potent, and they shouldn’t be watered down from the start (especially if you like mixing your drink with ice). So read over the recipes, the proportion of alcohol to other components, and what proof the drink is at. This does more than provide the right level of buzz—when the proportions are wrong, the taste and mouthfeel are wrong. When they’re right, everything is right.
4. It’s Objectively the Best—With the Credentials and Plaques to Match
What do the experts say about the cocktail? Canned cocktail manufacturers and RTD drink makers of all types gather to compete at events like the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and SIP International Spirits Competition. It’s where the top of the top go to see who wins on taste, authenticity, and all-around greatest experience. If you have award-winning canned cocktails on your ‘maybe’ list, push them toward the top—they’re sure to be delicious.
5. It Genuinely Tastes Like You’re Drinking a Freshly Mixed Cocktail at Your Favorite Bar
This is the most subjective criterion on the list, but that makes it all the more important. If you’ve sifted through different RTD espresso martinis, cosmopolitans, and Mai Tais, and you’ve found the ones that check all the boxes on the list, it’s time for a taste test. Pour the can into a glass (if you like), close your eyes, and take a sip. If it tastes great, you might have solved the mystery of what is the best canned cocktail. If it’s not quite right, keep searching for perfection.
Find the Best Canned Cocktail at Post Meridiem
When you want to kick your feet up or bring the most popular thing to a party, second-tier canned cocktails will never do. So why not discover your newest favorite drink or even try a few cocktails that you’ve not tasted before? At Post Meridiem, we take the title of ‘best canned cocktail’ seriously—that’s why we’re always striving to improve our recipes and give our customers tasty, classic and award-winning cocktails. Browse online to explore our groundbreaking selection of premium canned cocktails and find out where to buy them.