It was 2010 when the first kegged cocktails started hitting the restaurant and bar scene. Several restaurants in Chicago were early on the bandwagon. Prairie School, a Frank Lloyd Wright-Inspired bar, blended Toki Japanese whisky with soda water and citrus. Tavernita, once on the corner of Erie and Ontario, started with draft vermouth and then worked with draft line experts to expand their choices, ultimately coming up with 12 cocktails on tap.
Now, eight years later, restaurants and bars are serving cocktails in cans.
How far the mighty have fallen.
I know, I’m sure I’m just behind the times. After all, this new vessel for cocktails has been around in stores for years, though not quite up to the same standards as today’s newer creations. It’s a trend ripe for the younger generations that want what they want when they want it and will probably be on the move while they’re having it. And, in all honesty, I, myself, have tried a Michelada—the spicy Bloody Mary-like cocktail—served in a salt-rimmed can and topped with a slice of lime.
Although I missed the tall glass that also held room for a slice of celery, I must admit that it was very different from the overly-sweet and slightly artificial tasting cocktail in a can that I once bought at a local convenience store… once and only once.
The truth is that ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails may very well be a blessing for both restaurants and their clientele. Drinks are in guest’s hands in a matter of minutes. One bartender and server can prepare and deliver drinks for a 100-cover restaurant. Customers will no longer be sloughing drinks across the dance floor. And washing hundreds to thousands of glasses a night will be a thing of the past, at least for some.
Restaurants and bars that are succeeding with this trend are leaning toward high-quality, natural, unique concoctions. The timing couldn’t be better. 2017 saw, for the first time, more Americans choosing a cocktail or a glass of wine over a beer. The younger crowd has a lot to do with this trend among consumers. The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2006, 65 percent of alcohol consumed by young drinkers was beer. Just 10 years later, that percentage was down to 43.
The effects of the rise in demand can be seen in companies such as Cutwater Spirits, a 2017 startup that produces canned cocktails. Their first-year goal was to be in 10 states by the end of 2017. Currently, you can find them in 34 states. Their unique and popular products include Fugu Horchata Cold Brew—a cocktail that combines horchata’s cinnamon and vanilla notes with Fugu Vodka and roasted coffee, and a Gin & Tonic that offers hints of cucumber and grapefruit. All-in-all, they offer 14 varieties.
Their 200-seat restaurant and tasting bar gives them a chance to “taste-test” their products before sending them out to the rest of the eager U.S. RTD cocktail drinkers.
The rise in unique offerings may be one of the reasons why restaurants are turning to this type of product. After all, not every bar or restaurant can afford its own mixologist. These types of drinks are also a good solution for those that offer outdoor seating and have experienced their share of broken glass.
The Mosaic Hotel Group in Beverly Hills is just one of the many hospitality groups to believe in the benefits (to both the bottom line and the consumer) of the RTD cocktail trend. Their canned Pina Colada consists of a can of La Croix Coconut sparkling water, a mini bottle of Bacardi Pineapple, and a splash of lime juice.
A restaurant taking advantage of the canned cocktail trend is TGI Fridays. They recently partnered with UK-based Manchester Drinks in order to launch their signature RTD cocktails. These will include Passionfruit Martini and Pink Punk Mojito.
It will be interesting to see to what depth this trend will enter the restaurant industry. For now, I think I’ll be ordering my Pina Colada in a chilled glass with a slice of pineapple.