We tried them all and loved some more than others.
Welcome to our 2020 guide to ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. What started as a mere listing of today’s RTD cocktails evolved into one of the most comprehensive guides on this booming category. We chilled, shook, stirred, added ice, removed ice, garnished, added more ice, cleansed our palates, sniffed, swirled, sipped, and gulped. We even tried in various glasses in attempt to pair the brand’s image for the complete experience.
One of the most interesting finds during of the research for this guide was that the definition of an RTD is pretty loosely defined by its producers. It has come to mean just about anything in a can that’s not beer or wine – although some were made with wine. Some are made from fermented cane sugar or malt, or by adding spirits, or a combination. The distinction and differences in brewing methods is equally confusing for consumers and State licensing boards, although only the latter really seems to care.
What consumers care most about when it comes to RTD is flavor, ABV, and ingredients. Today’s consumers were introduced to the category largely through the meteoric rise of hard seltzers in the United States. Using White Claw as a launching pad, drinkers were exposed to other delicious canned adult beverages, so those RTDs that work hard to remember their consumer and keep the purity high – and carbs down – will be enjoying the fruits of their labors.
The creativity in production and packaging of RTDs is at all-time high, thanks again to savvy marketers taking cues from hard seltzer. We were impressed by the range of offerings and the ingenuity of the entrepreneurs who have entered the space.
But instead of being fooled by eye-grabbing graphics, we wanted you to know what’s inside those cans. Please enjoy this guide responsibly.
These drinks will mostly survive any season, unlike some of today’s hard seltzers that clearly target beach-goers.
Fling Craft Cocktails
Fling is a carbonated RTD cocktail from Boulevard Brewing Co. These beautiful cans are a delight and bring with them 6 delicious recipes. We loved them all, but our favorite was the standby Margarita. Products range from 5.0% to 9.0% ABV, with nutrition facts proudly displayed on the can. $13.99 for a 4-pack
Click to find Fling.
The Fling Margarita is an absolutely delicious, refreshing, slightly salty treat. Perfect on a warm day, but we drink margaritas year round. No alcohol taste in this one, even at 7.5% ABV. Definitely an easy drinking afternoon cocktail over ice or even just served chilled, but a margarita begs for frozen cubes floating about. What surprised us was having the carbonation, but we quickly fell in love. Packaged in an amazing lime color of a can (which is no reason to buy a cocktail, but wow we had to mention!) We’ll be seeking this one out time and time again. Pours a light lime margarita color!
Two Chicks cocktails are a sensory delight. From the moment you spy the beautiful packaging to hearing the crisp bubbly pour, you know you’re on to something special. These amazing drinks come in 6 varieties, but we homed in on the Vodka Elderflower & Pear cocktail. It’s fizzy but somehow not that heavy carbonation that can fill you up. No artificial sweeteners in these.
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Vodka Elderflower & Pear cocktail
This review could be summarized with “Holy Cow!” We loved it. In this sparkling vodka fizz we tasted a welcome mix of pear and elderflower, and while it clocks in at 5% alcohol by volume, we barely detected in alcohol taste or warming. After sampling with ice and just chilled in a glass, we decided that we prefer enjoying Two Chicks with ice to give it the special treatment this brand seems to deserve. Pours clear, tastes real. Only 5% ABV so suits an active lifestyle, or just a workaholic who wants to rise with a clear head to conquer the world.
Ranch Rider Spirits Co.
With the recent proliferation of various forms of Ranch Water hard seltzers, it’s easy to get confused. But the Ranch Rider lineup of ready-to-drink cocktails brings quality tastes along for the ride. They add real juices to premium spirits to forge their Tequila Paloma, The Chilton, and yes, Ranch Water. But the way to distinguish this brand from the herd is the commitment to no added sugar, and “NO SH*T”. Made in Austin, Texas, these RTDs combine either reposado tequila or vodka with sparkling water, and fresh citrus. Each is gluten-free and 6% ABV.
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The Tequila Paloma from Ranch Rider could take you back to the days of Wink, Squirt, or Fresca with just enough kick to make it an adult treat. We enjoyed the grapefruit on the front and not on the back, so no aftertaste to interfere with lassoing our next tortilla chip. Our feeling at the time of tasting was “This could be made from scratch, poured by a mixologist at popular bar.” Lightly carbonated, not much on tequila warming.
The Post Meridiem lineup of cocktails are perfect for an outing, whether a jaunt to the beach or weekend trip to the mountains. These compact premixed cocktails are in delicious traditional formulations that appeal to a wide range adults. Pour one over ice for an instant drink. There’s no mixing. Be sure to take extras, because if you don’t drink them all, you can bring these mini cans back in a side pocket and put back in the fridge for months. Prices range but usually around $3.50/can.
You’ll love the reliability and consistency, too. Bring an assortment of Post Meridiem cocktails to a pool party so you can regulate your intake a lot easier. You don’t have to worry about your friend making strong pours, when all you wanted was a good cocktail.
This was not too sweet and seemed like a small pour at first – but we’re surprised about how much ended up being in the glass. No sickening sweet high fructose corn syrup to this one!
We couldn’t wait to open a can of Novo Fogo, the brand of ready to drink 8.2% ABV cocktails of Brazilian origin. This unique sized can with intriguing artwork is too much for mortals to resist. Our advice? Don’t worry about pronouncing (or spelling) “caipirinha” or “cachaça” but instead focus on finding one for your next exotic cocktail. If you can swing it, it’s worth the splurge at $120/case. They have kits and t-shirts on their website, too.
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Passion fruit and lime
This concoction from Novo Fogo was a unique and delicious experience. It was full of flavor, mostly tasting passion fruit & lime, but the mixture created unusual notes we had difficulty describing! We highly recommend you experience the delicious caipirinha cocktail for yourself. Medium carbonation with all natural ingredients, low in sugars and calories, in a 200ml can poured over a single cube of ice. Very unique. Delicious. Did we already say that?
Lifted Libations, brought to you by Rocky Mountain Soda in Denver, delivers with a impressive mix of packaging, flavor, and variety. Their cocktails are made with organic ingredients and available in an ever-growing list of states. Using organic vodka instead of fermented malt, these cocktails deliver with non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free drinks.
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Mile High Mule
We were thrilled to try the Mile High Mule. Poured over ice in copper mule cup with lime garnish, we fell in love with the strong ginger flavor that burns the throat a little. Lifted Libations delivered a delicious, lightly carbonated, easy drinking cocktail that we couldn’t (wouldn’t) put down until it was all gone, but we’re stubborn like that.
These classic canned cocktails are helping fuel an effort to redefine the ready-to-drink category. The amount of thought that went into this brand is both obvious and welcome. With an impressive lineup of 8 varieties, Cocktail Squad manages to blend Colorado craft with urban fancy. Not sure how they did it, but we’re glad they did. Feel free to drink from a chilled can or poured over a heaping amount of ice.
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The Greyhound from Cocktail Squad comes in at 10% ABV, your first sign that this is a real cocktail to reckon with. We didn’t pick up much aroma but wow a lot of flavor!
Tastes a little sweet with medium carbonation disguising the alcohol warming. Good representation of a greyhound! Crystal clear & yummy. This cocktail will be lots of fun late at night with friends. We recommend you pour over plenty of ice, as the alcohol will melt it quickly!
You can’t have Miami in your name without an impressive presentation, and Miami Cocktail raises the, uh, bar. These beautiful cans come in five organic varieties and you’ll want to try them all: Bellini, Paloma, Margarita, Mimosa, and Sangria spritzes, each made with organic wine and somehow managing to keep things at 4.2% ABV. But don’t be fooled, these don’t taste anything like a wine spritzer from the 80s.
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Our free-flow of thinking went from “Interesting” to “Like it” to “Yes!” This one is of course great for warm weather. It’s got plenty of carbonation to lift your spirits even in the highest of humidities in South Florida. It’s loaded with great aroma and doesn’t taste sugary or grossly sweet. It pours a pretty pink grapefruit color if you can manage to let go of the gorgeous can. Great for an active lifestyle, with a light refreshing taste and a special treat at only 8 ounces.
Troop Beverage Co.
Troop is a welcome addition to the RTD category with its Mojito and Grandstand made from “honest ingredients and craft spirits.” These 200ml cans manage to deliver a proper cocktail in a convenient package, made for those times when you want to know exactly what you’re drinking, and want to put an exclamation point on the experience. Very impressive lineup from this relatively new player to adult beverages.
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We were greeted by a perfect aroma with a hint of mint, and found Troop’s Mojito to have just right taste of rum. A little heavy mint on finish for a non-mojito drinker. But you may just become a mojito drinker after tasting this one. Refreshing as expected, clean, with no artificial after-taste. Definitely feels like a fancy cocktail in a can. Currently at 13% ABV, but rumors have them introducing a lower ABV option soon.
With an impressive array of 18 cocktails, Cutwater Sprits is doing its part to scale the ready-to-drink industry. We’re amazed at the variety and Cutwater’s attention to creating great cocktails for a wide range of tastes. Founded by Yuseff Cherney in San Diego, Cutwater is both a trailblazer and inspiration to the RTD category. Yuseff’s first spirits were made from an old beer fermenter, but since received awards for his craft spirits brand. They now benefit from the marketing and distribution power of Anheuser-Busch.
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Grapefruit Vodka Soda
We’re so glad we got to try the Grapefruit Vodka Soda from Cutwater. This simple and delicious sparkling cocktail was just what we needed at the end of a long day of writing. It wasn’t too sweet, so we easily could have each polished off a 4-pack. It’s subtle on the grapefruit and the vodka, leaving a carbonated, clean and refreshing drink that will appeal to the masses. We added ice and a slice of lime. Great solid addition to the world of ready to drink cocktails. Thank you, Cutwater.
Tip Top Proper Cocktails
This Atlanta based company produces a lineup of ready to drink cocktails in a mini cans. They currently produce three varieties: the Negroni, Old Fashioned, and Manhattan. Drinks are 100ml (just under 3-1/2 ounces) and range in ABV from 26% to 37% ABV (52 to 74 proof), which restricts the outlets where they can be sold, depending on the state. Tip Top points out that their cocktails are “always within reach, especially if a trusted bartender or fully-stocked bar are not.” These cocktails are not for the faint of heart – but for the experienced drinker, who tends to have searched the planet for the right drink then come back to roost on the classics.
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Upon opening this classic Negroni cocktail, the room instantly filled with delicious aroma of bitters. It begged for ice and an slice of orange, and we complied. The Tip Top Negroni smells great, but also delivers a well crafted flavor for the most discerning mixologists.
Some might find the Negroni syrupy or sweet but as drinkers of bitters we loved it. You could always add a splash of soda water to create, well, a hard seltzer.
The slim cans from Itz Spritz are so beautiful, we almost didn’t want to pierce the veil on the colorful packaging, but were glad when we finally did. Coming to you in three formulations, all at 4.2%, Itz Spritz is a brand that’s in it for the long haul. It’s a lighter, premium quality, ready to drink spritzer. Brewed from cane sugar to be gluten free, these are a balanced profile of natural ingredients.
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The Elderflower Citrus from Itz Spritz pours crystal clear and smells delicious. It’s very effervescent and little sweet due to added cane sugar. Feel free to experiment chilled and various amounts of ice, but we found it best over a full glass of ice cubes. The aroma somehow brought back high school memories of a green jolly rancher (remember those?). We loved this ready to drink treat. Highly recommended for enjoying outside on hot day, or after cutting the grass or gardening, or a long walk with your energetic new cockapoo puppy.
Livewire cocktails were created by Aaron Polsky with the belief “that bartenders could use a platform to reach their fans and future fans around the world.” They launched with 3 formulations, each at 7.5% ABV: Honeydew Collins, Heartbreaker, and Golden Rod. From its unorthodox packaging to the way it autoplays music when landing on its website, Livewire is a unique brand, exposing a new audience to ready to drink cocktails.
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We were surprised by the delicate aroma of this banger of a brand. But once we got past that, we were wow’d by the crafted combinations of flavors. It’s like a cross between the best Moscow Mule you ever had and the Paloma cocktail. We recommend cooling before pouring over ice to preserve some carbonation. Picked up a slight bitter grapefruit in this enjoyable experience.
Reed’s is a company with lots of experience in making non-alcoholic ginger beer. We’ve had many a dark & stormy with Reed’s craft ginger beer, which is made with real fresh ginger root. Now they’re brewing Reed’s Mule, a zero sugar classic mule with 7% ABV.
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Craft Ginger Mule
We poured the Reed’s Craft Ginger Mule over ice and it provided plenty of carbonation that lasted. Ginger flavor is fantastic, hence the murky pour, and delivers an delicious taste. We loved that it’s not too sweet, but did pick up something unusual, perhaps the Erythritol sugar substitute or the stevia leaf extract. If looking for a keto cocktail with no sugar we would definitely buy Reed’s. Good delicious mix with ginger. Highly carbonated so good with or without ice.
Bravazzi Hard Italian Soda
The 12 oz cans from Bravazzi Hard Italian Soda contain effervescent experiences that will take you to another world (or at least another country). These adult treats are inspired by fruity Italian sodas. Their name says it all: Brava (Italian for good) + fizzy = Bravazzi. These colorful, very Italian packages deliver gluten-free hard soda with 4.2% ABV. Brewed from cane sugar.
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Poured ice cold into a cocktail glass. Peachy orange color, but smells like an orange popsicle as the bubbles lift the aroma to our noses. Medium to high carbonation. It’s dangerous because no alcohol flavor or warming at all! Slight bite but from carbonation. Doesn’t taste too sweet. Could drink this one in any season, not just a summer drink. Best part is I could drink one and still drive my Vespa to the market for restocking.
Loverboy’s lineup of Sparkling Hard Teas has just been joined by a suite of spritzes. The teas are offered in three flavors: White Tea Peach, Hibiscus Pom, and Black Tea Lemon. Each tea has 4.2% ABV and starts with organic brewed tea. At just 90 calories and 2 grams of total carbs, we felt no guilt in drink these refreshing RTDs.
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Lemon Iced Tea
The sparkling hard Lemon Iced Tea from Loverboy is made with organic black tea, combined with lemon juice, monk fruit, and just enough ginger to provide an added wake-up call. We had almost forgotten this one had carbonation, which at first seemed a bit odd for a black tea beverage. You barely taste the alcohol, but be aware this one has caffeine, so tread lightly after 5, or else you’ll be in wide awake in bed with your Loverboy. The elegant package goes a long way to making this your favorite accessory when nightclubs reopen.
Onda is a brand started by a team collaborating on a vision of a tequila soda to disrupt the ready-to-drink space. It’s light and refreshing with a hint of real tequila. They are currently available in NYC and shipping to 25 states.
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Onda Sparkling Tequila
We had much anticipation for Onda with its amazing orange can and lime-colored logo that seems to be in 3D. We can picture these standing out a nightclub, being that drink that everyone HAS to have in their hand, complementing their carefully chosen rave outfit or party dress. We even dimmed the lights for the full effect and the Onda logo seemed to hover on its own! Has a nice lime aroma and a highly carbonated soda that will tingle your tongue well into the night.