Ready-to-drink cocktails represent one of the strongest selling categories at the liquor store, with increasing consumption at the expense of beer and wine due to the changing tastes of younger consumers opting for lower-alcohol alternatives. Interest is soaring as more consumers recognize the value of pre-mixed, securely sealed, single-serving drinks that are a flavourful one-stop shopping item.
The selling point of ready-to-drink cocktails once centred on convenience and portability. Now, there’s some peace of mind, too, from a sanitary standpoint. You don’t even need a glass.
The circumstances for enjoyment have expanded beyond the traditional picnic, pool and patio settings. Now, they’re also a solid option for your pre-dinner aperitifs at home or as a respectful libation to bring to a socially-distanced gathering and home again to safely recycle the empties at home.
Anyone who hasn’t inspected the range of ready-to-drink spirit-based products available today is sure to be surprised by the sophistication and variety on offer. There’s more to explore than the seemingly interchangeable alco-pops from liquor giants such as Bacardi, Canadian Club and Smirnoff that once defined the category.
Innovations in the category have led to the embrace of more premium ingredients, more variation and, in some instances, mixologist-inspired flavours as well as health-conscious recipes and marketing. Calorie counts are prominently on display, with 100 calories trumpeted as loudly as 100-point scores from wine critics.
It’s clear that the booming market for hard seltzers, inspired by the likes of Social Lite and turned into a viral success story by White Claw, can be attributed to the cocktails’ sugar-, gluten- and carb-free attributes and low-calorie nature as much as how they actually taste.
The growth in the ready-to-drink category has also inspired a similar upscale push in canned wine and well-balanced refreshing wine coolers. Premium products are rounding out the selection, giving consumers more choice.
Having recently auditioned a vast selection of new and popular single-serving selections, ranging from wine and wine spritzers to hard seltzers and other fizzy concoctions, I’ve centred in on 10 pleasurable selections to enjoy while out and about or in the comfort of your home. These recommendations come with a caveat that as much as the canned cocktail, cooler and wine market has improved, it won’t replace the total control of mixing a favourite cocktail or the ritual and experience of opening a choice bottle of wine for enthusiasts or connoisseurs. But as an affordable and convenient alternative, they’re useful to have on hand for summer picnics or any day when you wish to enjoy a glass and unwind.
Amalfi Aperitivo Spritz (Canada)
An Ontario product inspired by the cocktail culture of the Amalfi coast, this new refreshing cocktail combines sparkling wine, sparkling water and a bitter-sweet alcohol infused with citrus, herbs and roots including quinine. It’s an agreeable stand-in for a house-made Aperol Spritz. Serve over ice in a stemmed wine glass with a slice of orange to complete the experience. Available in Ontario.
Gaze Blueberry Pomegranate Moscato Cocktail (United States)
Gaze is part of the new wave of wine coolers looking to play to active, health-conscious consumers by embracing trendy ingredients, such as coconut water and pomegranates, and coming in a sleek, resealable aluminum can. The brand comes from Vintage Wine Estates, a California company whose president, Terry Wheatly, previously worked on the Bartles & Jaymes cooler brand. The fruit flavours pack a punch, with a slight effervescence to balance the considerable sweetness. Available in Ontario, various prices in Alberta.
Good Fortune Raspberry Hibiscus Sparkling Wine (Canada)
This mix of sweet and tangy berry and floral notes is boldly flavoured and concentrated, common traits of most alcoholic pop-style cocktails. The difference here is the flavours seem more natural than confected. For best enjoyment, serve in a tumbler over ice – better yet, with a splash of soda water to tailor the sweetness to your taste. Available in Ontario at the above price, $2.99 in Manitoba.
Lindeman’s Shiraz 2018 (Australia)
Packaged for ease in a single-serve can, this simple and pleasant Australian red displays the fruity intensity that helped make shiraz a household name. Some spicy notes add some interest to the fresh plum and berry flavours. Available in Ontario at above price, $3.49 in British Columbia, $4.40 in Manitoba, $4.99 in New Brunswick, $5.99 in Newfoundland.
Matt & Steve’s Caesar Original Lightly Spiced (Canada)
Bartenders Matt Larochelle and Steve McVicker started with their company 20 years ago with the Extreme Bean Hot & Spicy, designed to be an upgrade on the unassuming celery stick garnish for a Caesar cocktail. Other pickled and cocktail-related products have followed, with the natural line extension coming with the launch of a pre-made Caesar that’s a satisfying blend of vodka, tomato juice, spices and Extreme Bean brine. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Social Lite Lime Gin Soda (Canada)
$2.70/355 mL can
Canada’s Social Lite helped to create the ready-to-drink, low-calorie vodka soda market with its 2013 launch. The range boasts a number of clean and crisp pre-made cocktails with unsweetened natural flavours, such as Pineapple Mango and Grapefruit Pomelo, that boast no sugar and no carbs. That same philosophy is behind the brand’s first gin-based cocktail, Lime Gin Soda. It’s light and fresh, with a delicate lime flavour. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in British Columbia.
Stiegl Grapefruit Radler (Austria)
This thirst-quenching, low-alcohol blend of Stiegl’s lager and grapefruit juice has been a summertime staple for years. The grapefruit character is bright, pure and unmistakable, with nice effervescence and a refreshing finish. Available in Ontario at the above price, $3.29 in British Columbia, $3.99 in Saskatchewan, $3.49 in Manitoba.
Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay (United States)
This popular California chardonnay comes packaged in a stylish, slender and resealable aluminum can that holds half a bottle of wine. The style is ripe and flavourful, with appealing fruit and a smooth, creamy texture that gives it mass appeal. Available in Ontario at the above price, $11.49 in Alberta, $9.50 in Manitoba.
White Claw Mango (Canada)
White Claw made its debut in Canada in March, hoping to duplicate its runaway success in the United States, where Instagram and other social media channels made the fruit-flavoured spiked seltzer water last summer’s drink of choice. The mango flavour is appetizing: it smells and tastes as advertised, with a refreshing character that’s easy to appreciate. Black Cherry rivals Mango as one of White Claw’s most popular flavours, offering a richer and more flavourful style that’s too sweet for my taste, but is likely just right for the target market. Available in Ontario at the above price. Six-packs of the slim 355 mL can are $12.99 in British Columbia, $15.99 in Manitoba, $14.10 in Quebec, $17.99 in New Brunswick, $19.98 in Newfoundland.
Windfall Hail Mary Cider (Canada)
Founded by Jeff and Nathaly Nairn, Windfall is a so-called urban cidery, located in Vancouver with a focus on producing food-friendly, dry ciders from 100-per-cent British Columbia apples. This enjoyable rosé cider, Hail Mary, was launched last year. A blend of apples with ripe berries, it offers an enjoyable mix of juicy and tangy fruit flavours with mild carbonation and a crisp finish. Available in British Columbia, windfallcider.ca.
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