by Joy Summers - June 30 2022
Skillfully crafted adult beverages in ready-to-crack cans are stacking up inside local liquor stores, much to the delight of discerning drinkers honed in an age of craft cocktails and high-class bartenders.
In recent years, hard seltzers like White Claw thundered into the market and swiftly dominated it. Now canned cocktails are eking out a hefty share of the market.
In 2021, premixed cocktails were the fastest-growing spirits category, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. And while there are products from major-market players, those from Minnesota companies are among the tastiest.
Switching distilling gears
Early adopters include Dashfire, the onetime bitters-only company from Minnetonka, and Duluth's Vikre Distillery.
Dashfire first appeared on liquor store shelves with small cans of Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, but recently launched larger sizes and fresh flavors.
"With our decade of experience in crafting cocktails using our bitters, we knew that moving into ready-to-drink cocktails was going to be the way to go," said Dashfire founder Lee Egbert. "It's such a great way for anyone to easily enjoy a quality drink without having to make it themselves."
Meanwhile, Vikre sprang onto the scene with a much lighter beverage, using its distinctive Juniper gin to make a canned twist on the classic French 75. The Frenchie hit stores in 2019 to immediate fanfare. The fact that the cans looked and drank remarkably different from most offerings at that time was intentional, said founder Emily Vikre: "We want what we make to be creative and bring its own perspective — every product is a bit of an art project in that way, an ode to flavor and community."
Vikre's cocktails are influenced by the European tradition of aperitif hour, often effervescent drinks with sweet, bitter flavors that entice appetites. The cans sport a different animal for each variety: a French bulldog in a beret (the Frenchie), a sloth on a BMX bike (the Vélo) and a hedgehog in a bowler hat (the Briar).
"The last I read, less than 2 percent of distilleries are owned and run by women," said Vikre. "While our products are by no means specifically targeted at women, they have a different touch because of who we are and how we operate. We are super whimsical, playful, a bit eccentric, joyful, eclectic and fun, in addition to being deeply, deeply committed to quality and handicraft. A fancy craft cocktail should still be really fun."
"It was always surprising to us that cocktails in cans were lower ABV and not the same as you'd see going to a craft cocktail bar," said Dashfire's Egbert. That's why their initial beverages were more spirit-forward, including a canned martini. The newest products, a variety pack called its Long Drink Series, are still boozy, but lighter and more appropriate pontoon boat companions. Flavors include a blackberry bramble, salty dog, margarita and Florida mule.
The most recent notable local entry is Tattersall Distilling, which has grown from a small northeast Minneapolis distillery to a major player in the craft spirits market with a second distillery in River Falls, Wis. Tattersall's product line has always boasted an array of spirits, liqueurs and some bottled ready-to-drink mixes, but they just started producing canned cocktails in June 2022.
"Our lineup of canned cocktails has been over two years in the making," said Jon Kreidler, who owns the distillery with Dan Oskey, a longtime fixture of the Twin Cities cocktail scene.
"Canned cocktails are great when you're on the go or don't want to grab several bottles, squeeze fresh juice, and ice a glass," Oskey said. "We've done the heavy lifting, both balancing and carbonating the drink as well as incorporating some unique flavors."
Tattersall's initial canned cocktail flavors are Key Lime Gin + Tonic, Blueberry Collins with basil, Watermelon Bootlegger and Easy Street, a whiskey, peach tea, mint and lemon mix.
More on the horizon
Chuck Kanski of St. Paul's Solo Vino, a small liquor store long known for specializing in wine, has cleared space for ready-to-pour cocktails in his small shop and seen remarkable increase in demand and nuanced flavors.
"I can't believe what some of these taste like," he said. "I mean, we've had some that have been ... not good. But some of these new ones are incredible."
Kanski said the Vikre lineup is what he's been known to bring home, but the Tattersall cans are expected to take the lead in bestsellers. "Oskey never produces anything that's not a home run."
4 canned cocktails for your cooler
Dashfire's Bramble: Ripe, juicy fruit is balanced by tart lemon zing and enhanced by just a tiny bit of sea salt. Pairs well with designer flip-flops, campfires and small-town parades. Available as part of its Long Drink Series. Four-pack, $23.99; available at several metro-area stores; dashfire.us
Vikre's Velo Spritz: Summer is an excellent excuse to institute a daily aperitivo, that magical Italian happy hour of backyard bitter sipping a bubbly balance of rhubarb, orange and hibiscus. Pairs well with fancy ham snacks, sunset bathing and jaunty hats. Four-pack, $19; widely available in stores and at vikredistillery.com
Tattersall's Blueberry Basil Collins: Tattersall excels in making cordials that retain ripe fruit flavor and this crisp berry refresher is evidence of that. Mixed with their next-to-neutral vodka and fresh basil, it's a crowd-pleaser. Pairs well with expertly executed Tik-Tok dances, Sun-In and the football beach scene in "Top Gun: Maverick." Four-pack from $14.99, widely available; tattersalldistilling.com
Empirical Can 03: Flavored with carob, fig leaf and lemon myrtle, these fizzy, out-of-the-box beverages are from a Danish maker (by way of Wisconsin) but worth a try. It's refreshing — a little citrusy with an earthy backbone. Pairs well with purifying yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, artful fanny pack placement and whiffs of superiority. Find it at the Dabbler Depot store in St. Paul for $8.99 a can or South Lyndale Liquors and at us.empirical.co