Updated: Jun 23, 2022
The Alcohol Professor - Lisa Futterman
May 27, 2022
The exploding ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail category takes many forms, and the latest hit is the large format party size. Perfect for entertaining, gift giving, or keeping on hand in the fridge, these new options run the gamut from fantastic craft booze creations to more mainstream options.
A Bright Outlook
Producers we spoke to believe that the future of RTD’s will lie in premium spirit-based cocktails and are investing in large format ways to present them to their lucky customers. Says Charles Joly of Crafthouse Cocktails, “Premium cocktails continue to grow, as hard seltzers are slipping. I think people appreciate quality spirits, real ABV’s and ingredients they can be proud to sip. We've worked hard for years to show people you can have a proper cocktail in a bottle. These larger formats are the logical next step once you've found a brand you believe in.”
Joly is truly an OG of craft RTD’s. The lauded bar champion and his partner Matt Lindner launched Crafthouse Cocktails in Chicago in 2013. The partners recently started offering three of their varieties in a 1.75 liter bag in box format, the Spicy Margarita (and perfect blend of blanco tequila, jalapeno, real lime juice and a touch of chipotle), the Classic Moscow Mule, and the Pineapple Daiquiri (made with Plantation Pineapple rum, 5yr old Barbados rum and aromatic bitters).
Says Joly, “We find people love having a box tapped at home so they can pour themselves a cocktail whenever the mood strikes. This format is great for keeping your drinks fresh, everything is easily recyclable and you get the best cost per cocktail.” The same holds true when entertaining. “I think people are excited to be back out at bars and restaurants. That said, after spending so much time at home over the past year and a half, many have nested a bit more and upgraded their home bar and entertaining situation. There's a nice balance to be struck when hosting a crowd; make a signature cocktail or two, but then let a quality prepared product do some of the heavy lifting so you're free enjoy time with your guests.”
Scott Goldman, the founder of Party Can, started a meal kit model for drinks called Cocktail Courier before the pandemic saw bottled cocktails become more commonplace. “We discovered there are two types of cocktail enthusiasts, the one who appreciates a good drink at home and likes the art of making a cocktail, measuring it out, and the other subset who says ‘I want a cocktail and I want it right now.’” He had customers asking if he could make the cocktails in a big batch for parties instead of fussing with a kit, leading him and his brothers to decide to give people permission to open a big can of cocktails at a party. They launched Party Can with three fun SKU’s including a purple passion fruit “Cosmicpolitan” and a tea-based Gold Rush Old-Fashioned. “Our cans are resealable, sessionable, and approachable.” The colorful screw-top oil cans get a lot of attention at parties, plus “they make a phenomenal gift.” What birthday boy or girl doesn’t want 12 cocktails sent directly to their house in a box of confetti?
For Derek Mercer, the former beverage director who started Present Tense when Blackbird, the renowned Chicago restaurant he worked at closed during the pandemic, ordering large format cocktails is “just like ordering a pizza. It makes hosting a party a lot easier—there’s no mess so you can enjoy your party. You buy a gallon of milk,” he reasons, “why not buy a gallon of cocktails?”
He started his business delivering smaller (6 serving) bottles of his inventive drinks, like the Coin Toss, a sophisticatedly boozy mix of mezcal, tequila, sweet vermouth, yellow chartreuse and Benedictine. In Fall 2021, he added a line of gallon jugs, plus classic punches from vintage recipes that include the serving bowl, garnishes and cups with the order. Says Mercer, “a punch bowl is like a water cooler where everyone socializes at a party, just flowing bowls of cheer.”
Sunday’s Finest Gold Fashioned, created by the founder of Chicago’s Apologue Liqueurs, represents the ultimate premium RTD, the “luxury” cocktail. Mixed from 8-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon and 5-year Indiana Straight Rye, plus their handcrafted saffron bitters, and boxed with an adorable mini atomizer for custom orange zest application, this smooth, sophisticated dram tastes like it was stirred up at a sexy speakeasy. Robbie Haynes, who created the drink, says “I think there’s a wow factor with the large format. You are making a statement by showing up with this bottle. We wanted to introduce some ingredients, like the aged spirits, that are less accessible…to people that might not have a [high end bar like a] Violet Hour or an Aviary” close by.
Minnesota-based Dashfire recently added a 750 ml size bottled version of their popular, single-serve cocktail cans. From the rum-based Pomegranate El Presidente to the elegant Elderflower Martinez, these cocktails make a great host gift for friends who imbibe.
Deko cocktails launched their classic cocktail duo in 2021 in 4 serving 375 ml bottles. Their fresh-tasting Bees Knees features gin made from Long Island corn, foraged botanicals, and raw local honey.
A pioneer in the RTD category, St. Agrestis offers wildly popular 1.75 liter bag in box Negroni, Boulevardier, and Black Manhattan “fountains” to keep cocktails on tap in the home fridge. Each small footprint box contains 20 three ounce cocktails mixed from their own artisanal bitters and vermouths. Read more about St Agrestis.