Ready-to-drink (RTD) To-go Cocktails Are Here to Stay

Picture of Jorge Cespedes

by Jorge Cespedes

Corporate Chef

The idea of canned or bottled cocktails isn’t a new one, but boy, did it blow out of the water in the past 12 months! It’s one of the fastest-growing categories in the world of adult beverages, and we love it. From retail brands to stand-alone bars creating their own labels, the variety of flavors and styles is enormous.

For years now, there have been bottled cocktail brands on retail shelves; and most of them were way too commercial-looking and -tasting to really grab the attention of classic cocktail drinkers. First, you had mixed drinks like rum and cokes, vodka tonics and hard lemonades. Those had their moment to shine, even though flavor wasn’t really their focus. From there, concepts started evolving into better canned cocktails such as margaritas, Bloody Marys, Cuba Libres and more. Consumers seemed to embrace those for another couple of years, but it wasn’t until around 2010, that the industry decided to elevate the RTD cocktail game and consult with the real flavor experts, bartenders.

From 2018 to present day, we have really reached the top of the game in flavor, style and quality of cocktails that are ready to drink anywhere. Renowned national bars and bartenders began creating their own RTD brands with flavors they would actually serve in their establishments.

One of my favorite brands launched in 2019 is Tip Top Proper Cocktails. It started with three of the best classics out there: a canned manhattan, a Negroni and an old fashioned. The flavor guru behind these is Miles Macquarrie, beverage director for Kimball House in Atlanta, Georgia. His requirements where that if he couldn’t open one of these canned cocktails and serve it at one of his bars, then he wouldn’t make it. For our enjoyment, Mr. Macquarrie very much succeeded; the brand was released this past March, and the shaken line of cocktails includes libations such as the daiquiri, the margarita and the bee’s knees—all home runs for this awesome brand.

The year 2020 brought the greatest challenges our industry ever had to deal with—but deal with them, we did. Right away, when bars could no longer have any customers, creative and clever bartenders started batching and hand-bottling their famous cocktails and selling them for pick-up or online orders. This trend started happening all over the country and abroad. In some cities, it wasn’t even legal, but that didn’t stop entrepreneurs from doing it anyway. I guess, eventually, city authorities caught up with the idea and decided to go ahead and legalize it, even after COVID restrictions lightened. The happy result is that a whole new line of revenue has opened up for bars and restaurants.

With legal RTD cocktail sales, the amount of fun to be had is unmeasurable, and our team can’t wait to taste as many libations as we can. Tiki bars are selling tiki cocktail kits, and more classic bars, like the new and very anticipated Schofield’s Bar in London, now bottles four of its best and unique flavor cocktails, a dark chocolate and mint old fashioned, a raspberry espresso martini, a rhubarb Negroni and a lavender and rose martini. Another well-known bar in San Diego, California, Raised by Wolves, is also canning three unique cocktails they sell online and through their store location.

If this is a concept you’ve been toying with, then this is the time to give it a try; start with what you know: the cocktails that your bar or restaurant already does well. Then find a cool package and design some unique labels! Have fun with it and start selling them. Once you feel comfortable with the idea, start playing with some trending flavors, techniques and textures. These are mass produced and you can keep them ready to go for whenever any customer wants to take a couple of your delicious cocktails home. You can just say, “Here you go… enjoy!”