Home Lifestyle The Best Canned Cocktails & Hard Seltzers for Labor Day Weekend

The Best Canned Cocktails & Hard Seltzers for Labor Day Weekend

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Sure, 2020’s been one gigantic endless nightmare, but at least we have a bevy of easy-sipping RTD (ready-to-drink) canned cocktails to dull the pain. While hard seltzers and other carbonated spirits crossed the cultural Rubicon last summer, in 2020 the segment has gone supernova with competitors far and wide throwing their bubbly cans into the bodega fridge. Consider that last year there were only 26 hard seltzers on the shelf, and there are more than 65 on the market in 2020. Moreover, overall sales are up 123% year-over-year in August

Here are some of our favorite new canned cocktail and hard seltzer options that we sampled over the summer, diligently scribbling notes while enjoying a cocktail or six from the edge of our pool. Some are more common vodka and malt-based spirits, while other more unexpected offerings are based on tequila, mezcal and even cachaça. So this Labor Day skip the labor and let these distillers do the work — all you gotta do is pop the can.

Miami Cocktail Company

If you’re looking to keep calories low while maintaining flavor and ingredient standards high, the newly formed Miami Cocktail Company might be your ideal solution. MCC founders Simon Benstead and Ross Graham were looking to elevate the normally entry-level RTD game by offering canned bevs with no preservatives, added sweeteners, or artificial flavors or colors — just top quality organic, gluten-free and vegan ingredients sourced from across the globe (e.g. real Sicilian blood oranges for their Blood Orange Mimosas and Andalusian wine for Sunset Sangrias). All five varieties are organic wine-based spritzes, utilizing either rosé (Sunrise Rose Sangria, Mandarin Rose Mimosa, Mango Peach Rose Bellini) or 100% Blue Weber agave wine (Elderflower Ginger Margarita, Grapefruit and Hibiscus Paloma) with only 100 calories per serving. $13 / 4-pack (250-mil / 4.2% ABV)

Brouwerij West Things Hard Seltzers

From the docks of San Pedro, California, the award-winning Brouwerij West craft brewery offers their superb hard seltzer brand THINGS. Mango and Grapefruit are some of the best seltzers we tried, never syrupy or over sweet like many fruity seltzer alternatives (there’s also a Piña Colada offering that may be more controversial in its coconut-iness). This is true low-volume craft seltzer with attention to detail; extra tall 16 oz. cans are a bonus. The only hangup with Brouwerij West is due to archaic booze laws you can only order THINGS if you’re a Cali resident — so get ‘em if you live in the Golden State. $10 / 4-pack (16-oz / 6.5% ABV)

Empirical Can 01 + 02 Experimental Cocktails

From alumni of NOMA’s experimental kitchen, arguably the world’s most famous foraging restaurant, comes ​Empirical. The erstwhile flavoring company has pivoted into distilling, and with it launched its first twin RTD spirits: Can 01 and Can 02. As can be expected from such an epicurean foundation, the Copenhagen-based collective offers elegant packaging and wildly unexpected flavors — try Milk Oolong, Toasted Birch, Gooseberry, Douglas Fir and Pomelo Zest in their Can 01 (ABV​ 10%) and Sour Cherry, Black Currant Bud, Walnut Wood, Young Pine Cone and Maqaw Pepper in Can 02 (ABV​ 8%). These are as close to an actual world-class cocktail as you will ever get in a can, offering spirits that both please and challenge the palate. With everything so top notch, what’s the catch you’re asking? Well, like NOMA it’s price: a four-pack comes in just under $50. $45/4-pack (12-oz /​ 8-10% ABV)

LiveWire Craft Cocktails

LiveWire is the brainchild of Harvard & Stone bartender Aaron Polsky. While slinging drinks at the beloved Thai Town/Hollywood drinking hole Polsky had a vision: to create a RTD cocktail brand that ran like his favorite (read: non rip-off) music labels. LiveWire was born. Bemoaning the fact that bartenders can’t make money unless they stop doing what they actually love, Polsky wanted to offer top mixologists the chance to keep tending bar while earning royalties via canned cocktails — using handpicked recipes and impeccably packaged with album-like art from celebrated tattoo artists. 

Unsurprisingly, his first two offerings — his own Heartbreaker (vodka, oroblanco grapefruit, kumquat, jasmine and ginger) and fellow H&S alum Joey Bernardo’s Honeydew Collins — explode with flavor. This is not the “clean and crisp” RTD variety, think more proper sit down cocktail. Bernardo’s “Honeydew Collins” featured rich notes of both coconut and elderflower without feeling overwhelming or cloyingly sweet. Next up is another Polsky creation Golden God blending rye whiskey and brandy with green tea, elderflower and apricot flavors. $20 / 4-pack (12-oz / 7.5% ABV)

KONA Spiked Island Seltzers

Best known for craft beers like Longboard Island Lager and Big Wave Golden Ale (as well as coveted limited run brews like Island Colada Cream Ale), the Island of Hawaii’s award-winning Kona Brewery Co. spreads into the hard seltzer game with their Spiked Island Seltzers. Currently four tropical flavors are available (Tropical Punch, Starfruit Lime, Strawberry Guava and Passionfruit Orange Guava), all with zero sugar, 100 calories and naturally gluten free. One of the better sub-100 cal options. $8-10 / 6-Pack (12oz / 5% ABV)

ONDA Tequila

Delivered as promised, a RTD cocktail that tastes exactly as expected: tequila and soda with a squeeze of either real Lime or Grapefruit. No sweetener, no fuss, zero sugars and carbs — just the simplicity of 100% Weber blue blanco tequila, sparkling water and a crisp, tart taste. If you’re the guy who orders a tequila and soda or Paloma at the bar, Onda should be your automatic go-to on pool day. Only 100 calories. $32/8-pack (12-oz / 5% ABV) 

ELENITA Mezcal

While there are numerous vodka and even tequila options on this list, Elenita differentiates itself by using mezcal as its base ingredient — making it the only certified mezcal ready-to-drink beverage available in the US. We love mezcal here and are quick to share our favorite bottles so it’s little surprise we’re picking up what Elenita is putting down. But any mezcal cocktail can only be as good as the base spirit, so Elenita promises their espadin agave is tops: roasted in underground pits for 15 days, mashed via mule-pulled tahona wheel, naturally fermented with zero additives and then doubled distilled. Their artisanal mezcal is currently available in Pineapple Jalapeño (7.0% ABV, four grams sugar and carbs) and Cucumber Lime Basil (6.5% ABV, zero sugar or carbs). $36 / 8-pack (12 oz / 6.5-7.0% ABV)

PABST BLUE RIBBON Hard Tea

Long enjoying its hipster Renaissance, Pabst Blue Ribbon is riding affordable, reliable and tasty bonafides to launch a wave of new product including Hard Coffee, Stronger Seltzer and even Whiskey. Brewed using real tea leaves, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s Hard Tea leverages the brand’s 175 years of beer brewing expertise to create a fermented sucrose-based alcohol that goes down smooth with natural peach flavors and real sugar — but not overdoing the sweetness (only 3 grams). Certainly not the tastiest, loftiest or most refined here — Empirical Toasted Birch and Gooseberry this is not — but it’s an easy drinking Hard Tea that’s also easy on the wallet. $11 / 6-pack (4% ABV / 12-oz)

VOLLEY Tequila

Another tequila-based RTD, Volley promises only 3 ingredients: 100% blue Weber agave, sparkling water and organic juice, never from concentrate. That means no added sweeteners whatsoever, artificial or natural (other than the juice, obviously), boasting only 100-110 calories per can. Their quartet of flavors (Zesty Lime, Spicy Ginger, Sharp Grapefruit and Tropical Mango) are so real they even suggest gently shaking the can before popping to mix the pulp. Some friends found Volley “too tequila-ey”, especially when compared to Onda in which the tequila taste was less pronounced, but we’ll let the drinker decide. $14/4-pack (12-oz / 5.25% ABV)

NOVO FOGO Sparkling Caiprinhas

If you’re a fan of cachaça — Brazil’s famed rhum-agricole-like spirit — then you’ll want to seek out Novo Fogo’s new line of RTDs. Currently available in three flavors (Original Lime, Passion Fruit and Mango) Novo Fogo Sparkling Caipirinhas use their own organic Silver Cachaça to bring the baile funk direct to your backyard. Original Lime (8.2% ABV, 129 calories, 10 grams of carbs) probably hits closest to a traditional caipirinha, while the Passion Fruit (8.2% ABV, 128 calories, 10 grams of carbs) is sweeter and most tropical. But really Novo Fogo’s appeal is directly relative to your personal love of cachaça and caipirinhas. $15/4-pack (200ml, ABV 8.2% to 8.5%)

CUTWATER Cocktails

Cutwater Spirits are on a serious product offensive machine gunning almost 20 different flavors of their canned spirits onto supermarket shelves everywhere. Utilizing a wide swath of alcohol bases, options from the San Diego distillery range from the expected (e.g. tequila-based margaritas and palomas; vodka spritzes, mules and sodas; rum colas and mojitos, etc.), to the more innovative (e.g. Horchata Vodka with roasted medium-bodied cold brew coffee; spicy Bloody Mary; Bali Hai Tiki Gold Rum, pineapple and coconut Mai Tai). The newest is a four-spirit Long Island Ice Tea packing both housemade cola and a serious punch (13.2% ABV) to remind you of your favorite sticky dive bar — just in a can. With so many options it might take awhile to find your preferred flavor. Pricing Varies

MARTINI & ROSSI Frosé + Frosecco

This one’s kind of a cheat because it doesn’t come in a can — but we’ll let that slide. Martini & Rossi’s twin RTD offerings are made to be frozen, so just throw the plastic pouch into a freezer and wait for the party to get icy. Frosé uses premium Rosé wine while Frosecco is the first frozen prosecco RTD ever, offering immediate slushy cool downs for torrid summer days. Martini & Rossi use only real Italian wine, natural cane sugar and all-natural fruit flavors, eschewing any and all artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and coloring. $4 / pouch (10 oz / 6.5% ABV) 

CANTEEN Spirits

Utilizing a corn-based vodka as its base, Canteen adds all-natural ingredients to provide a bevy of 12-oz can options: so far Watermelon, Black Cherry, Lime, Grapefruit and Cucumber Mint, with more coming soon. With zero sugar or sodium added and only 99 Calories apiece, the Austin distiller frames itself as the choice for adventurers, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. $14 / 6-packs (12-oz / 5% ABV)

GOSLINGS RUM Dark ‘n Stormy

We have malt, vodka, tequila, cachaça and even mezcal RTD options — why not add some rum to round things out? Goslings’ Dark ‘n Stormy blends the venerable Bermuda house’s Black Seal Rum with ginger beer to create a tasty, naturally sweet Dark ‘n Stormy. Starting with a base juice as good as Gosling’s award-winning pot still rum — aged in once-used American oak bourbon barrels — is as good a start as any can here. Celebrating 10 years as the Official Rum of the Red Sox, Goslings have also made a 12-oz Fenway Park big boy can if you want a little extra swagger in your swing. Plus, Goslings owns the Dark ‘n Stormy trademark so if you want that particular cocktail you can’t get it anywhere else. $11 / 4-pack (250-ml or 12-0z. / 7% ABV) 

PARTY CAN Margarita

You can’t get more accurately named than the Party Can – a full-on party in a can. The Triple Spice Margarita claims to be the first-ever large format RTD craft cocktail, its pool-sized 1.75-liter drum delivering a dozen full-sized margaritas to you and the homies. Using only quality ingredients like 100% blue weber tequila, “premium” orange liqueur and fresh lime juice, Party Can then adds a blend of real ginger, cinnamon and chili pepper for their “triple spice” recipe. Just chill, shake and serve: a party in can. Best of all the Party Can is resealable so you don’t have to down all 12 margaritas in one sitting — but what kind of party would that be? $30 / 1.75-liter (12.5% ABV)

Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye

Originally bottled in 2012 and then packaged in can form in 2016, Hochstadter’s Slow & Low pays homage to a whiskey cocktail that dates back to old west 19th-century saloons: the Rock and Rye. Originally used as cough medicine in the late 1800’s, the rock and rye is modernized by Hochstadter’s “Slow & Low Rock and Rye” by taking aged straight rye whiskey and adding Florida navel oranges, Pennsylvania raw honey, a pinch of rock candy and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters to craft a tasty RTD twist on the old fashioned. Be careful though, at 84-proof even these small cans pack a punch. Hochstadter’s suggests drinking them with a beer for a homemade take on the dive bar favorite. $20 / 4-pack (100-ml / 42% ABV)  

Cafe Agave Spiked Cold Brew Coffee

If you need a little wakeup kick with your boozing, look no further than Cafe Agave’s Spiked Cold Brew coffee RTDs. Cafe Agave starts with 100% Arabica, dark roasted cold brew coffee and then blends in alcohol, real cream, agave syrup and other natural flavors for a quartet of cans: Caffe Mocha, Salted Caramel, Vanilla Cinnamon and Espresso Shot — their most “coffee forward” offering. The overall potency is like combining a glass of wine with half a cup of coffee — but their Spiked Cold Brew taste way better than that. Consider Cafe Agave brew their beans for more than 12 hours to create a smoother, less bitter cold brew. It’s tastier than your favorite canned coffee from the bodega, with a slight punch of booze. $13 / 4-pack (6.3-oz / ABV 12.5%)

Source: maxim.com