The race to rule the ready-to-drink cocktail market has grown by such magnitude that there are now subgenres to the genre. There is the canned spritz, a favorite format of first-gen adopters. There are, by our count, at least 10 brands, from Ramona (now available in three expressions) to St. Agrestis, Sprezza, Hoxie, Ventura Spirits’ Angeleno and Greenbar’s trio of fruit-forward spritzes. Some, like Mezzo, willfully stretch the definition of the spritz, combining cider, sparkling water and botanicals in a format that sells itself as half the alcohol and calories of your standard spritz. Others, like Miami Cocktail Co., have simply spritizified everything from the Margarita to the Mimosa.
The spritz, the thinking goes, is the perfect cocktail to put in a can: low-ABV, refreshing, bubbly by nature. Of course, hard seltzer begs to differ, and they have the numbers to prove it. In 2019, hard seltzer sales grew by 226.4 percent and the category is poised to hit $3.5 billion in sales by the end of 2020. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re likely aware of the cultural phenomenon that is White Claw. Whether consumed ironically or earnestly, dressed up or down, The Claw has managed to find its way into the hearts and homes of just about every Gen Y and Z drinker in America.
It’s now joined by a stable of competitors from every corner of the market, from water brands (Polar, Two Robbers, Topo Chico) to big beer (Bud Light, Corona, Natural Light, Boston Beer Co.), small beer (DC Brau’s Full Transparency, Oskar Blues’ Wild Basin, 10 Barrel Brewing’s Clean Line) and craft upstarts (Bon V!v, Ficks, Social Club). In a way, hard seltzer has grown such that it has become a microcosm of the larger spirits space, where craft brands and big brands vie for market share. The question, now, isn’t if a brand will make a hard seltzer, but when. Even Four Loko is back from the dead, to corrupt the youth yet again, with their own 12-percent ABV version of hard seltzer.
Of course, the ready-to-drink cocktail category could not be complete without those that adhere to the more spirituous side of things. The Negroni, the amped-up symbol of aperitivo, is something of a holy grail. Making one’s own red bitter liqueur to take the place of Campari is no easy task, but landing in the vicinity of the drink’s iconic flavor profile has a tremendous upside. There are now pouched Negronis, boxed Negronis, bottled and canned Negronis. The Old-Fashioned, the Manhattan, the French 75, the Margarita and a whole gaggle of mules have also joined the party, eager to snag the consumer with drinks they already know and love.
Overwhelmed? We haven’t even gotten to the growing category of bartender-led ready-to-drink cocktails, like Aaron Polsky’s LiveWire Cocktails, each release a formula developed by a star bartender; Julie Reiner and Tom Macy’s Social Hour cocktails; Tip Top’s line of canned classics, developed by Atlanta bartender Miles Macquarrie; and Wandering Barman, a line of cocktails from the team behind the Brooklyn bar Yours Sincerely. And let us not forget Empirical Spirits’ Can 01 and Can 02, two cocktails that defy categorization in their signature style by relying on flavor combinations like plum kernel and jasmine, or toasted birch and green gooseberry. Or those canned cocktails that simply wrap flavors around a single spirit, such as mezcal in Elenita’s line and tequila in Onda’s. (Currently, Drizly is showing a whopping 154 different ready-to-drink cocktails available for delivery to our office in Greenpoint.)
The future, it would seem, is canned. If you are not yet stocking a four-pack of cocktails next to your six-pack of IPA, the canned cocktail will find you, and when it does, it will deliver whatever it is you fancy. Because if you can dream it, someone will can it.