Ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have a lengthy history that dates back to the late 19th century. In fact, it was not long after the development of America’s bottling industry that the first RTD cocktail was trademarked. The American public has long sought a convenient way of enjoying a bar-quality cocktail at home.
Over the years there have been many versions of the ready-to-drink cocktail, from low-proof spirit and soft drink blends, to full-strength classic recipes. Even during challenging time periods, like Prohibition and WWII, the RTD cocktail continued to be in demand. Today, spirit-based RTDs are thriving, with the drink category expected to increase by a staggering $11.6 billion over the next five years.
The most recent surge in RTD cocktail popularity has been led by unprecedented industry innovation. From canning processes that protect flavor without preservatives to premium-quality spirits, certain brands are redefining quality expectations for RTDs. Let’s dive into why industry innovators are committed to improving ready-to-drink cocktails, and what’s next for this drink category.
The Rise of Today’s RTD Cocktail
In any consumer-driven industry, there will be fluctuations in trends over time. In recent years, one of the biggest trends in alcoholic beverages has been hard seltzer. Made from a combination of carbonated water, malt-based alcohol, and flavorings, this drink enjoyed years of widespread popularity. Major beer brands and independent companies alike entered the market with their own versions of the sparkling drink.
As the marketplace grew increasingly crowded, however, these beverages began to lose their novelty. Consumers started looking for better-tasting alternatives made from more elevated ingredients. While people have always sought great-tasting beverages that are simple to enjoy from home, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for a bar-quality experience.
Like hard seltzer, premixed canned cocktails are easy and convenient to consume. However, they also feature unique characteristics that other beverages simply can’t beat. RTD cocktails put familiar bar favorites into an affordable, hassle-free package. What’s more, innovative new companies have gone above and beyond RTD cocktail offerings of the past, bringing quality, natural ingredients, and an authentic taste.
What Defines the New Ready-to-Drink Cocktail?
The RTD cocktail of today is much different from the offerings that were available in the past. Previously, canned cocktails were full of the sorts of ingredients you wouldn’t find at your local bar. From cheap malt liquor to preservatives, food colorings, and flavorings in place of fresh ingredients, such beverages clearly left room for improvement.
Today, new businesses are making significant changes to how these drinks are crafted. In fact, a large part of the resurgence in the popularity of RTD cocktails is due to the commitment certain companies have made to quality and innovation. Let’s explore the key characteristics that set the new generation of ready-to-drink cocktails apart.
In the past, RTD cocktails were not always sold at full strength or using the correct proportion of ingredients. Today, the best cocktail companies are committed to offering full-proof beverages that are professionally mixed. These options were developed in collaboration with mixologists to create perfectly balanced cocktail bar favorites.
Correctly Sized Cans
Professionally mixed cocktails involve specific measurements of each ingredient and should be offered in a standard size developed to protect its contents optimally. Throughout the long history of RTD cocktails, both bottles and cans in a variety of sizes have been used. Today, the best companies package their beverages in standard 100ml-sized cans. This is just the right size to hold a classic cocktail.
Just because you’re purchasing a cocktail at a liquor store instead of a bar doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice ingredient quality. The best brands use only premium spirits instead of malt liquor. This means real tequila, whiskey that’s been barrel-aged for three to four years, and high-quality liqueurs imported from Italy.
Unlike previous RTD cocktail options, today’s consumers don’t have to accept anything less than authentic ingredients. The top ready-to-drink cocktail companies of today are using 100% real fruit juices. This means no lime-flavored citric acid or self-stable, preserved product.
This quality extends to other ingredients, as well, such as espresso martinis made with 100% arabica cold brew, and vodka gimlets with lemongrass oil. In the past, many companies considered quality like this too difficult to achieve, or prohibitively expensive. Today, it’s a mark of distinction that top companies are proud to offer.
Giving a New Meaning to “Real” Ingredients
Throughout the entire food and beverage industry, the word “real” is used so often that it’s begun to lose its significance. Many times, it doesn’t actually indicate a whole ingredient at all. In the ready-to-drink cocktail category, however, certain companies are using authentic, quality ingredients, rather than flavorings. These new products are setting the bar for cocktails and ensuring consumers are able to access truly top-quality products.
How to Identify the Best-Crafted Cocktail Brands
With all of the options out there for RTD cocktails, how can you identify the brands that will taste the best? Here are a few key characteristics to look for in a canned cocktail:
- Clearly printed contents: Top brands won’t hide their ingredients in fine print on the back of a can. A company that’s proud of its cocktails will display this information in an easy to read format.
- Easy-to-understand ingredients: There shouldn’t be long lists of preservatives, food dyes, and other confusing ingredients. Look for the simple ingredients you’d expect in a cocktail.
- Award-Winning: Top RTD cocktail brands usually enter (and win!) US or world spirits competitions and can demonstrate their quality achievements.
- Classic recipes you know and love: Premium companies follow the traditional recipes you expect in a cocktail, without taking shortcuts or making substitutions. The recipes they use should be easy to find on the label.
A Cocktail Without Compromises: The Future of Ready-to-Drink Cocktails
Since technology is constantly evolving, businesses are now able to create higher-quality beverages than ever before. In fact, certain proprietary canning processes have even made it possible to protect delicate flavors without preservatives. While industry-standard canning operations have long been deemed “good enough,” industry innovators have now built their own improved canning lines to deliver a superior product. The RTD cocktails that result from these improvements have redefined quality for this industry.
In addition, the types of cocktails currently available in a ready-to-drink format are much more numerous today than in the past. Some of the first RTD cocktails sold in America were variations on the martini. Later on, product lines were expanded to include gimlets and Manhattans.
Today, however, top brands feature more lengthy cocktails menus with diverse flavor profiles. Some of the most popular RTD cocktail offerings include products with complex ingredient lists that demand quality, such as old fashioneds, margaritas, mai tais, daiquiris, and espresso martinis.
Thanks to new canning capabilities and an unwavering commitment to quality ingredients, it’s now possible to bring home a truly authentic, bar-quality cocktail. In the future, the diversity of these product offerings will undoubtedly continue to grow.
How Consumer Values Are Shaping the RTD Industry
According to industry market research, younger generations make up an increasingly large proportion of RTD cocktail consumers. These buyers not only want to enjoy a wide variety of cocktail flavors, but they are also health-conscious and care about the way their beverages are made. In contrast to previous decades where more inexpensive, novelty beverages were in demand, today’s consumers value natural flavors and premium-quality spirits.
In addition, creating a unique drinking experience is important to consumers today. Cocktail drinkers are not only consuming RTDs at home, but want to incorporate them into memorable experiences. Since they are so portable and hassle-free, ready-to-drink cocktails can easily be taken on a camping trip, enjoyed on a picnic, or served at a party. Top RTD cocktail brands use small packaging to accommodate these needs and continue to offer new recipes with premium ingredients.
Taste the Best of RTD Cocktails
While there have been many trendy alcoholic beverages throughout the decades, the popularity of RTD cocktails refuses to fade. In fact, thanks to the commitment to quality seen in industry-leading brands, the demand for these products is higher than ever. By seeking out beverages that are made with real ingredients and created with care, it’s now possible to enjoy a truly bar-quality beverage from the comfort of your home.
Post Meridiem crafts award-winning, full strength cocktails using only authentic ingredients. Our products are unique because they’re made in small batches to ensure quality and are professionally mixed according to classic cocktail recipes. We print our recipes right on the label, so you’ll always know what you’re getting. If you’d like to bring home the most innovative cocktails on the market, visit our online shop and look for your favorite cocktail.