When you think of ready-to-drink cocktails, you probably picture sugary, syrupy alcoholic beverages. Products similar to spiked kids’ drinks have been on the market for many years. And while there’s definitely a time and place for, say, a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler or even a Bud Light Lime-A-Rita, those aren’t necessarily drinks you want to serve at a backyard party or while drinking (publicly) at the beach. Luckily in the past few years there has been a rise in more curated, custom ready-to-drink beverages.
From ‘Merican Mule to Cutwater Spirits, many of these brands claim to offer high-level cocktails; and as a fan of fancy cocktails, I wanted to put them to the test. I gathered a few friends and we taste-tested an assortment of drinks. Click through the gallery below to see how these brands stack up.
Pop open a bottle and get a cosmo that Carrie Bradshaw would enjoy. The Empower Cosmopolitan Martini is sweet potato vodka blended with triple sec, white cranberry and zesty lime. If you keep it in the fridge, you can simply open, garnish, and drink. For our taste test, we skipped the garnish step, but we did enjoy it. It has a light and refreshing flavor, even if it doesn’t taste as complex as a true cosmo from a (quality) bartender. But what we loved best about this ready-to-drink cocktail is its message. The founder, Tiffany Hall, wanted to create a brand with more thought toward women in a “man-centric” spirit market. Empower Cocktails partners with nonprofits such as Voss Foundation, Kicked It in Heels, and others to champion women’s initiatives.
If you can think of a cocktail you’d like to drink, Cutwater Spirits probably has it. The San Diego-based company creates spirits, canned cocktails and mixers out of one of the West Coast’s largest facilities. Canned cocktails are made with natural flavors and their housemade soda, and many drinks include Fugu, Cutwater’s 15-time distilled vodka. We tried a variety of flavors—including the Spicy Bloody Mary, the Rum and Cola and the Vodka Mule—and none of them let us down. My favorite was the Old Grove Gin and Tonic. Made with their Old Grove gin and a housemade cucumber grapefruit tonic, it’s the perfect combo of refreshing and flavorful. I could easily see myself taking a cooler of these to the beach.
Although the Moscow Mule was created in 1941, it’s seen a resurgence in American bars in the past couple years. A traditional moscow mule is made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime—and served in a copper mug. Since ‘Merican Mule comes in a can, you can skip the mug and take it straight to the pool, or BBQ, or wherever you want to enjoy a cocktail. The company was founded by three close friends with no experience in the alcohol business; they just wanted to create a quality, convenient product. And they succeeded! The canned mule tastes very much like a Moscow mule you’d receive in a bar, if not a tiny bit sweeter. One of my friends called it “Sprite with a kick”… which was not a complaint. It’s an easy, refreshing drink with convenience at its core.
Based out of Sacramento, Can Can Cocktails was founded by bartender Ryan Seng in order to make small batch craft cocktails—in a can, as the name would suggest. There are a variety of cocktails flavors available, each made in 3,000 can batches. With all natural ingredients (Ryan makes his own ginger beer and root beer before adding into the beverages), the canned cocktails are complex and not overly sweet.
We sampled the Jenny and the Mule, Boar’s Bourbon Root Beer and the Raspberry Fizz. Of all the premade mules we tried, this one definitely tasted the most “custom-made.” And with ingredients like honey, mint, saffron and pink Himalayan salt, it’s no wonder. The Boar’s Bourbon tasted more like a bourbon drink and less like a spiked root beer (à la Not Your Father’s or Best Damn) like I was expecting, but it was still a nice drink. And the Raspberry Fizz felt a bit like spiked seltzer—which wasn’t a bad thing—but not as robust as the Jenny and the Mule. They all were delicious, but the mule was absolutely the standout.
Less than a year ago, the Sazerac Co. introduced two premium bottled cocktails: the Handy & Schiller Old-Fashioned and Manhattan. It’s currently only available in New Orleans, but everyone in the Big Easy is in for a treat. The Old-Fashioned is made with the company’s Buffalo Trace Bourbon while the Manhattan uses Sazerac rye whiskey. If you closed your eyes and sipped these drinks, you would have no clue it came from a bottle. They are quality whiskey drinks—and strong, too. At 42 and 32 percent alcohol by volume, they definitely pack a punch. If you aren’t in Nola, don’t worry; the premium cocktails will be expanding to other markets soon.
Purchase locally in New Orleans.
Fabrizia's Italian Margarita
Founded by second generation Italian Americans, Fabrizia Spirits has been making limoncello since the late aughts—and it’s from those fruits, literally, that brothers Nick and Phil have created their Italian Margarita. By making lemonade from the peeled lemons used for the limoncello-making process, they add limoncello and tequila to formulate their all-natural, small batch creation. Now when you’re drinking this, it’s important to get the word “margarita” out of your mind. If you have that idea, it might taste different than what you’re expecting. (Also, ignore the fact that it’s in a can—it’s not carbonated and you are supposed to shake well before opening!) It’s slightly sweet, a little tangy from the lemon and tequila, and totally drinkable. I couldn’t see needing more than one or two at a time; but on a hot summer day, this would completely quench my thirst.
It can always be 5 o’clock somewhere with premade margs courtesy of Margaritaville Spirits. Although the liquor brand offers straight-up and flavored tequila and rum, the ready-to-drink bottles is what we’re focused on today. We sampled the traditional margarita (you can also purchase Mai Tai, Skinny Margarita, Mojito and more). Made with Margaritaville tequila, Triple Sec, and natural flavors, this is the world’s most basic marg—and I mean that in a good way. This is a solid margarita. I would recommend keeping a bottle of these in your fridge throughout summer… for emergencies of course.
On first glance, Chi-Chi’s Cocktails look like the sugary, syrupy type of pre-made cocktails. And don’t get me wrong—they are certainly sweet—but they’re quite delicious, too. The variety of flavors are impressive, so you’re sure to find a flavor you like: You can purchase bottles of Mai Tai, Long Island Iced Tea, Pineapple Margarita and more. When sampling, our favorites were Pineapple Margarita, Pina Colada and Mexican Mudslide. Could you drink a six-pack of these on a hot day? Maybe, but it’d treat these more like a once-in-a-while dessert drink.