Crushable, easy to transport, and let’s be honest, quite cute, canned cocktails are quickly becoming the best way to down a well-crafted mixed drink without ever stepping foot in a bar.
The idea of canning a cocktail solves a major problem: It's hard to drink fancy, boozy beverages in places that aren't bars. One of the major perks of beer is its accessibility; you can easily open a cooler and grab a frosty pale ale while toying around on a boat or lounging at the beach. And while it's not impossible to whip yourself up, say, a Singapore sling from the contents of your picnic tote, it's objectively a tad more difficult. Cans make life easier. And when you start thinking of all the places it might be fun to drink your favorite craft cocktail (on a boat, at a tailgate, in the park, in the shower), the idea of canning these beloved beverages becomes pretty darn appealing.
Unfortunately, canned cocktails don’t have the best reputation. They usually get lumped in with the cloyingly sweet and aggressively vibrant offerings so popular in the ’90s. But these weren’t technically cocktails—they were malt-based beverages and wine “coolers” that were taxed at the same price as beer. The flavors were mostly created with an excess amount of sugar, and there wasn’t any true depth to the alcohol, because spirits weren’t even part of the process.
Putting liquor in cans “came with heavier taxes,” says Yuseff Cherny, the founder of Cutwater Spirits, an award-winning distillery that paved the way for the now dozens of brands of canned cocktails. “Most companies feared the consumer would turn their nose up at too high a price tag.”
But as craft beer became more popular, it became apparent that folks were more and more willing to spend some extra dough on a quality drink—inside a bar or out. Liquor companies became increasingly comfortable with the higher taxes knowing that their products would be more inclined to sell. Simultaneously, an explosion in craft cocktail bars across the country has meant that curious mixologists are eager to bring their favorite flavors from behind the bar out into the world.
“I was tired of smuggling all of my favorite cocktail ingredients into places that wouldn’t allow glass,” says Adam Glatt, the founder of Proof Cocktail Co., perhaps best known for its remarkably potent canned Mai Tai. “Cans are an incredible vessel. Aluminum is lighter than glass, making for a small carbon footprint in shipment. They also contain more recycled content than other recyclable materials at nearly 68 percent recycled content, and can be endlessly recycled without limitation.”
Positive environmental impact isn’t the only reason to give these canned concoctions a second glance. While it might seem like nothing more than a get-drunk-quick scheme, many of the new additions to the field taste just as great as their bar-bound cousins. As the trend continues to grow, more distilleries and bartenders are finding ways to can cocktails both classic and unconventional. And these folks aren’t just tossing some Coke and Calypso in a can and calling it a day; they’re using innovative techniques, handmade syrups, and organic ingredients to create the sort of cocktail you’d receive at an upscale bar, but with the ability to drink it in whatever location suits your fancy.
Keep in mind, however, that not all canned cocktails are created equal, especially when it comes to ABV. Some are more mellow, with chuggability similar to that of a beer and an alcohol content as low as 5 percent, while Proof’s Mai Tai, for example, sits at 23 percent, and is meant to be split or shared. (Or not, we’re not here to judge.)
New ones are popping up in local liquor stores every day, but we tasted every can we could get our hands on to select the best of the best.
Candid’s Gin with Mint, Grapefruit, and Lime Juice and Vodka with Black Tea, Lemonade, and Thyme
Utilizing fresh mint and real lime juice, Denver-based Candid's Gin with Mint, Grapefruit, and Lime Juice cocktail perfectly walks the line between herbaceous and slightly sweet. Perhaps the biggest strength in this drink (and the rest of Candid's lineup) are the fresh herbs. Candid is unique in that it has totally omitted chemically-derived flavors, creating an approachable yet nuanced cocktail that's as classic as it is convenient. The flavor is similar to that of a mojito, yielding something so fresh that simply a sip transports you to a back porch under a July sun.
Candid founders Melissa Baker and Quinton Bennett both came from 15 years of bar experience, and while they loved the business of craft cocktails, they weren’t entirely crazy about the late hours. Also worth mentioning is their Vodka with Black Tea, Lemonade, and Thyme, which also contributes to the signature “herb-forward’” flavor of Candid’s offerings.
The Mai Tai from Proof Cocktail Co.
When it comes to a Mai Tai, look no further than this variation from Proof Cocktail Co. Literally made on a place called "Treasure Island," this take on an old favorite expertly blends West Indies silver rum, American bourbon-barrel-aged rum, Curaçao, and orgeat with lime and orange juices and just a hint of pomegranate grenadine. The mouthfeel of this drink is what truly makes it remarkable: The syrups are handmade, the juices are freshly squeezed, and it's the only canned cocktail that doesn't microfilter (which can take some of the texture out of citrus juices). It also clocks in at a boozy 23.10 percent alcohol, so a single can goes a long way. The full-size can suggests it contains three ready-to-drink cocktails, and poured over ice, you'd never guess it didn't come straight from a bar.
If the tropical tiki favorite isn’t your thing, then you can opt for one of the brand’s other noteworthy flavors. The Moscow Mule and Paloma are unique from other canned cocktails in that they utilize slow carbonation, giving the bubbles more of a Champagne-like texture than that of soda water. And they’ve got plenty more on the horizon: Stay tuned for a French 75, Manhattan, Gin and Tonic, Tom Collins, and more.
Southern Tier Distilling Company’s canned cocktails
Southern Tier Distilling Company's latest canned cocktail started out as a simple vodka soda, but founder and mixologist Phin DeMink felt that something was missing. He started playing around with citrus fruits to take the place of the cocktail's signature lime or lemon wedge, and eventually landed on a combination of makrut lime, pomelo, and blood orange, along with a hint of rosemary to balance out the acidity.
Phin has a history of creativity in the beverage space, and has spent years developing recipes for beer, spirits, and cocktails. His passion and ingenuity shine through the rest of Southern Tier’s products, which include more than two dozen beers. The company also offers three other canned cocktails: The Vodka Madras (imagine a vodka soda with some extra oomph from cardamom, chamomile, and cranberry), Gin and Tonic, and Bourbon Smash are all a worthy addition to your stash.
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye cocktails
When Shakespeare wrote "though she be but little, she is fierce," he was probably having a premonition about the Slow & Low Rock and Rye cocktail. Though it comes in a practical 100-milliliter can (yes, you can take it on airplanes), it packs the same punch as a drink you'd get at an elegant speakeasy. Based on America's original bottled cocktail, "Rock and Rye," this canned concoction is inspired by the Hochstadter's label's pre-Prohibition era recipe, known for its candy-sweetened whiskey. But the drink is anything but saccharine: The combination of aged straight rye whiskey, rock candy, air-dried navel oranges, raw honey, and Angostura bitters works together to create a drink that's as smooth as it is strong and as sexy as it is convenient.
Fishers Island Lemonade
Fishers Island Lemonade is named after its hometown, a 7-mile strip of land that sits directly north of Montauk, New York. Creator Bronya Shillo grew up working at The Pequot Inn, the only bar on the island, and eventually came up with the idea to can the joint's signature cocktail, a delightfully nostalgic blend of whiskey, vodka, honey, and lemon juice. The combination of whiskey and honey creates that "just right" sort of sweetness, forming a beverage that's reminiscent of East Coast sunsets, ferry rides, and making out with the tennis instructor at your grandma's country club.
You & Yours Distilling Co.’s Gin & Tonic and Moscow Mule
Why do you need a canned gin and tonic when the drink is already just two simple ingredients? I'm not sure, but I bet the hot priest from Fleabag would have an answer for you. The one from You & Yours, in San Diego, is delightfully simple, blending the distillery's own citrus-forward Sunday gin with quinine, soda water, and some natural flavors. You might wonder why it exists, but as soon as you crack one open, you'll be glad it does.
Canned cocktails from Cutwater Spirits
Also from San Diego, Cutwater Spirits has nailed the canned cocktail game, and its Spicy Bloody Mary takes the cake. This award-winning beverage encapsulates the heat and pickly tartness of a Bloody Mary, making it ideal for morning tailgates, picnic brunches in the park, and spontaneous trips to the beach. It's great out of the can, but I also recommend serving it over ice, celery stalk optional.
Cutwater was one of the first companies to have widely distributed canned cocktails, and one of the perks of its years of experience is its versatility: In addition to the Bloody Mary, the brand offers a tequila Paloma, a boozy cold brew, a whiskey highball, and a margarita, just to name a few.
Plain Spoke’s Bourbon Smash and Moscow Mule
With over 11 years working as a bartender, Plain Spoke founder Tom Dufek knows the care and craftsmanship necessary for creating a solid mixed drink. He and his partner spent years studying the canned cocktail business, learning about key techniques like how to prevent accidental oxygen exposure, before launching their own creation.
"I wanted something that was a Bourbon Smash, not something that tasted like a Bourbon Smash," says Dufek. Plain Spoke achieved this goal by choosing legitimate lemon juice over citric acids and oils, and mint extract made from actual herbs. Also worth mentioning is the brand's Moscow Mule—the blend of mint, vodka, and lime is given just enough effervescence to make it the perfect option for a hot day on your neighbor's rooftop. Perhaps one of Plain Spoke's greatest innovations is its combo of spearmint and peppermint extracts—the end results give both the Moscow Mule and the Bourbon Smash a refreshing, herbaceous quality that you'd never expect to emerge from a can.
Vikre Distillery’s “Frenchie” cocktail
Food52 writer Emily Vikre got the idea for a canned French 75 shortly after her first son was born. It was a harried time, and when she finally had a moment to sit down with a friend, she realized just how badly she wanted a French 75, but without all the squeezing and shaking. Thus the "Frenchie" was born.
Vikre and her husband own a spirits company in Duluth, Minnesota, where they use the glacially-distilled water of Lake Superior. Frenchie combines the distillery's certified organic gin with a rosé from sustainable vineyards in California, fresh lemon juice, and homemade elderflower-esque liqueur. This canned version of a classic definitely tastes like a real cocktail and is best sipped, not chugged.
Interboro’s Gin and Tonic
Brooklyn-based Interboro originally gained notoriety for its cloudy, succulent IPAs and pale ales, but is now earning a name in the craft cocktail scene. Perhaps the biggest strength of this offering from Interboro—another classic G&T—is its simplicity. Comprised solely of tonic water and the distillery's own Goodwill Hill gin, which features six distinct botanicals (angelica root, juniper berry, coriander, lemon peel, licorice, and black pepper), this canned cocktail doesn't need any bells and whistles to sing its anthem. While it's highly enjoyable straight from the can, you can enhance the premade potation by pouring it over ice and adding a twist of fresh lime.
Cardinal Spirits’ Maui Mule and Bramble Mule
It's no surprise that Cardinal Spirits, which was founded on the idea that alcohol can be used as a bridge to create human connection, jumped at the opportunity to bring its drinks outside the bar and into our hands. And while fusions can be tricky, this fun-focused brand nails the more tropical take on a classic Moscow Mule. Spicy ginger contrasts nicely with the not-too-sweet passion fruit, especially when rounded out with the company's light and slightly floral vodka. All that's missing is a background melody of steel drums—but we're sure you'll find a way to make do. Cardinal's Bramble Mule swaps out the passionfruit for raspberry and hibiscus, and to great effect.
Boulevard Beverage Co.’s Fling Margarita
Concocted by the brewers at Boulevard Beverage Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, Fling is a new craft cocktail brand with a handful of refreshing, easy-drinking cans. Its canned margarita is a twist on the original, sort of like the bubbly little sister to the boozy salt-rimmed concoctions you'd find in a good tequila bar. It's got the sweetness and fruit-forward flavor of a Jarritos Mexican soda, but with a hint of salt and the depth of agave tequila. They also make a gin and tonic with cucumber and lime, a rum Mai Tai, and a blood-orange vodka soda.