With all sorts of premixed cocktails taking over the shelves in liquor-store coolers, it’s becoming clear that ready-to-drink cocktails are the beverage of choice for many consumers.
Ready-to-drink, or RTD, creations are hardly new. Smirnoff Ice was launched in 1999, as was Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which was created by Mark Anthony Brands, the owners of Mission Hill Winery. Still, things have accelerated in recent years, a trend that can largely be attributed to White Claw Hard Seltzer, also created by Mark Anthony Brands.
Saskatoon’s Living Sky Winery and Black Fox Farm & Distillery were actually a little ahead of the curve when they launched their collaborative product Mingle in 2018. A blend of fruit wine, gin, honey and soda, the drink proved popular immediately and is now widely available.
“We quickly became aware that there was a huge opportunity in the RTD market,” says Susan Echlin, Living Sky Winery’s co-owner. “We were one of the first small-scale producers to get an RTD product onto store shelves in Western Canada and one of the first gin spritzers in the Canadian market as well.”
One thing that sets this product apart from other RTD beverages – aside from being bottled and not canned (as most are) – is that it is produced with ingredients entirely from the two collaborators’ farms.
“There are no flavours in our drinks that come out of a lab. Everything you taste in a bottle of Mingle was grown in soil or made by bees. And the difference is, we think, very noticeable,” she says.
Mingle remains one of the premier Saskatchewan-made bottled cocktails on the market and Ms. Echlin says to expect new Mingle flavours in the coming months.
One of Alberta’s most recognizable distillers, Eau Claire Distillery, debuted its first canned cocktail in 2018. The EquineOx Mule, a combination of Annex Ale’s ginger beer and Prickly Pear EquineOx spirit, helped pave the way for the current collection of four premixed drinks. The most recent addition, a Spruce Berry Smash made with vodka, raspberries and spruce tips, was released in the late spring and has become quite buzzworthy.
“Our craft cocktails were the first of their kind made in Alberta by a craft distillery,” master distiller Caitlin Quinn says. “They are unique on the market as we use Alberta and fresh ingredients wherever possible, including sour cherries in our Cherry Gin Collins.”
Ms. Quinn notes that the RTD market changes from year-to-year but is mum in regards to how many canned products the distillery is producing. However, she hints that new creations are in the pipeline.
Fellow Alberta spirits maker, Calgary’s Burwood Distillery, has also thrown its hat into the RTD market. A collaborative canned kombucha cocktail line made its debut last fall and just several weeks ago Burwood released a trio of low-sugar, low-calorie drinks dubbed Burwood Spirits & Soda.
Boasting a striking can design – half the battle, really, when you compete on packed liquor-store shelves – the flavours range from grape, lemon and vodka to strawberry, cucumber and honey eau de vie.
“This was always a dream of ours,” master distiller Jordan Ramey says. “It’s tough to lug your cocktail bar over to a [friend’s] barbecue. We wanted our craft coolers to be fast, easy and, most importantly a genuine, handmade craft experience.”
As with Ms. Echlin at Living Sky Winery and Ms. Quinn at Eau Claire Distillery, Mr. Ramey reinforces the idea that these RTD offerings should stand out from others on the market because of their homegrown approach, something you can taste in both their line of spirits and these new drinks.
“Dollar for dollar, our canned cocktails are built on values we hold dear. We always strive for full transparency in our production process. There is no hidden macro spirit and no highly processed extracts,” Mr. Ramey says.
While large-scale drink companies may be quite vague with their ingredient listings – one only lists “alcohol” as the type of spirit – drinks coming from distilleries such as Burwood create base spirits with Prairie-grown grain, farm honey and other regionally grown ingredients. Terroir can sound like an obnoxious term at times, but when you’re comparing an RTD product such as Nutrl to one of the above, it’s something that’s impossible not to note.
Mr. Ramey says the response from Albertans to the new drinks have been overwhelming and that the distillery has produced nearly 25,000 cans in its first month of production. Though the distillery expects a dip in sales with canned cocktails come the fall, it is planning to launch new seasonal options for the warmer months of 2021.
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