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The Very Best RTD Classics

October 20, 2023

Story: Punch Staff

art: Keila Gonzalez


The Very Best RTD Classics

October 20, 2023

Story: Punch Staff

art: Keila Gonzalez

We tasted through 46 takes on the classics, Old-Fashioneds to Margaritas, to find the standout brand in each category.

In the two years since we first surveyed ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, the space has gone from being dominated by canned, crushable drinks designed for coolers and picnics to an entire universe of products for which portability is not the primary concern. Now, the ever-expanding crop of RTDs includes a notably stronger showing of the spirit-forward, stirred variety, many of which are designed for at-home rather than on-the-go drinking. At liquor stores across the country, Martinis, Manhattans and Old-Fashioneds can be bought in large-format bottles, to be stored in the freezer or displayed on a bar cart, ready to be poured at a moment’s notice. 

That doesn’t mean canned cocktails have disappeared, though. In fact, there are more iterations than ever, with multiple examples for nearly every classic cocktail imaginable—spritzes, Negronis, Espresso Martinis and more—on the market. But are any of them, well, good? Punch editorial staff gathered recently to find out. After tasting more than 40 examples, it became clear that more often than not, the most successful ones were made by spirits producers themselves, or with the help of professional bartenders. Here, now, are the best ready-to-drink cocktails to seek out.

High West Old Fashioned Barrel Finished Cocktail

Since the Old-Fashioned is an unequivocally spirit-forward cocktail, it makes sense that the best RTD version would come from the makers of the base spirit itself. High West’s take on the cocktail is made with the distiller’s bourbon and rye, Demerara syrup and bitters; the whole thing is rested in rye barrels, giving the finished drink a cohesive, integrated flavor profile. Other Old-Fashioneds we tasted, which came in both cans and bottles, lacked the same body and complexity. Like any Old-Fashioned, this one is best served over ice.

  • Price: $40 (750 milliliters)
  • ABV: 43%

Luxardo Bianco Spritz

“This feels grown-up,” said one taster of Luxardo’s Bianco Spritz. With a decidedly more bitter edge than many of its canned peers—including Luxardo’s own Aperitivo Spritz—the drink stood out among the bevy of options that were deemed too syrupy, too cloying or too flat. The spritz is made with Luxardo Bitter Bianco, a liqueur favored in certain White Negroni recipes, and, of course, spritzes, and has a pithy, grapefruit-forward quality. In a world where everything vaguely effervescent now gets the spritz label, this RTD actually hits the mark.

  • Price: $20 (four 250-milliliter cans)
  • ABV: 10%

Grey Goose Classic Martini Cocktail in a Bottle

As with the Old-Fashioned and the spritz, the ready-to-drink Martini that came out on top is made by a long-established spirits producer. Issues in the RTD Martini category as a whole ranged from being overly astringent to too perfumy, with some examples even being inexplicably flavored with cucumber, lavender or lemon. Grey Goose’s “cocktail in a bottle,” meanwhile, was an archetypal vodka Martini: crisp and dry, and excellent served right from the freezer.

  • Price: $29 (750 milliliters)
  • ABV: 35%

Tip Top Daiquiri

A standout in the category, Tip Top’s Daiquiri is balanced and bright. Along with the other classics put out by the pioneering ready-to-drink brand, this winning Daiquiri was created with the help of Atlanta bartender Miles Macquarrie. The pop of lime tastes real, unlike the powdery taste that accompanied some examples, while the rum, which seemed to get lost in other canned Daiquiris, was front and center, with an appealing funkiness thanks to a considered blend of unaged and aged expressions. In fact, beware its booziness: The tiny, squat can and the drink’s unequivocally refreshing profile read as chuggable, but it clocks in at 48 proof.

  • Price: $40 (eight 100-milliliter cans)
  • ABV: 24%

NightOwl Vodka Espresso Martini

On one hand, the Espresso Martini—trendy, always mutating, built for the pre-game—makes total sense as a darling of the RTD category. On the other hand, the fact that its quality often hinges on freshly pulled espresso and a good, hearty shake with ice (to achieve its signature frothy texture) makes it a questionable choice for the format. After sampling plenty of options—some described as tasting like “old gas station coffee” and others made with out-of-left-field ingredients like orange wine—we found a clear winner. NightOwl’s Espresso Martini, made by a brand that exclusively makes Espresso Martinis, had not only genuine coffee and vanilla notes, but also the right heft and texture, without feeling too rich or syrupy.

  • Price: $20 (four 200-milliliter cans)
  • ABV: 12.5%

Campari Negroni

Virtually the only classic cocktail to require a specific brand in its makeup, the Negroni is difficult to replicate. That is, of course, unless you’re the producer of said ingredient. Variations on the bottled (or canned) Negroni often read as medicinal thanks to their cough syrup–like viscosity or overpowering artificial lemon and herb flavors. However, Campari’s bottled Negroni, which combines Campari (of course), London dry gin and Cinzano sweet vermouth, makes for a Negroni that’s as close to an à la minute version as you can get. Available in 375-milliliter bottles, it’s designed less for on-the-go and more for at-home entertaining, without the need to break out the jigger or mixing glass.

  • Price: $29 (375 milliliters)
  • ABV: 26%

Tip Top and Cazadores Margaritas

By now we know that the Margarita is not just a fixed thing, but rather a shape-shifter, capable of taking on many different guises. When it comes to canned iterations of the agave classic, the same is true. There are spicy takes, kombucha-based versions and, in particular, a whole lot of Margarita seltzers. Tip Top’s Margarita was a front-runner thanks to its real citrus flavor, but we also enjoyed a version from Cazadores that veered toward Ranch Water territory, thanks to its effervescence and tall build. It was citrusy and tart, and, notably, only 5.9 percent ABV (compared to Tip Top’s 26 percent). Hardly archetypal for a Margarita, but it was undeniably refreshing—one taster compared it to La Croix.

  • Price: Tip Top, $40 (eight 100 mililiter-cans); Cazadores, $21 (four 355-mililiter-cans)
  • ABV: Tip Top, 26%; Cazadores, 5.9%

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