Ready To Drink Cocktails are Here to Stay

canned cocktail cans with one being opened and exploding with spray

By: Kris Bohm – Owner of Distillery Now Consulting

Canned cocktails also known as ready to drink cocktails (RTDs) are taking the distilled spirits market by storm. RTD sales in the US grew 24% from 2022 to 2023. (Neilson) Part of this growth came from breweries branching out into spirits by canning cocktails using their existing packaging equipment. There are many ways to create canned cocktails and an abundance of variety in flavors of canned cocktails. Moving from an idea to a finished product is a lengthy and challenging venture but there is immense potential in the RTD market. This article will take a dive into how breweries are producing RTDs and the lessons learned from launching ready to drink cocktails for a few different companies. Let’s learn about canned cocktails!

  Many breweries are looking to the next trend in beverages to grow their business. While some folks say non-alcoholic drinks are the upcoming trend, we believe RTDs are the answer. 5 years ago, RTDs had a sense of uncertainty among those working in the distilled spirits industry. The uncertainty came from the fact that the perceived price point was too high for canned cocktails compared to beer and retailers were not willing to give RTDs space on their shelves. Flash forward to today and canned cocktails are thriving and selling at a much higher price point per unit than beer. Consumers have become more health conscious of what they drink and low calorie spirit based drinks fit that bill. If your brewery is debating between getting into producing seltzers or RTDs there is no question that RTDs are the way to go. Before you jump right into making your own RTDs let’s talk about how to develop a product.

Product and Process Development

  Whether you are a distiller or a brewer looking to produce RTDs there are many aspects to consider to achieve the goal of creating an RTD. Below is a list of the questions that you should answer before putting a product into a can.

•   What kind of flavor or style of cocktail?

•   What is the desired ABV and what kind of spirits will go into the cocktail?

•   What will flavor the product? Extract flavors or raw ingredients?

•   Will there be sugar in the product?

•   Will there be juice or other natural ingredients and are they readily available?

•   Is the recipe and product shelf stable?

•   How long of a shelf life can you expect?

•   Does the product require refrigeration once packaged?

•   Will the product be highly carbonated, lightly carbonated or noncarbonated?

•   How will the product be branded and marketed?

  It is essential to answer these questions early in development. RTDs are a very different product than beer or distilled spirits. Take the time and diligence to give careful consideration to the product formula, flavor, cost, packaging process and shelf life. Time spent in development will save you money and avoid problems as your project moves from idea to a finished product. 

  Selection of the packaging itself is important to give consideration to early during the planning and development phase of creating an RTD. The package itself will dictate the equipment used, the label on the package and many other key factors. Cans are by far the most common and affordable choice for packaging. Cans come in a variety of sizes, shapes and different liner types. A second option for RTD packaging is aluminum bottles. Aluminum bottles are closed with a screw cap or crown top. Aluminum bottles cost more than cans but aluminum bottles also are unique and provide differentiation to stand out in the sea of canned beverages. Volume and shape of the packaging must be selected early, as part of the TTB formula and label approval process must include this information. The options are numerous for packaging in most instances the best choice is to package in containers that are compatible with your existing equipment.

Packaging Lines

  Hopefully your business already has most of the equipment for packaging of RTDs. If you do not have all the equipment there are numerous vendors who build the equipment necessary to package RTDs. A few key components and pieces of equipment are essential to transform distilled spirits into canned cocktails. Below we have detailed equipment and steps needed to produce a carbonated canned vodka soda.

  A water filter is a key tool to produce clean and sterile good tasting to make a good cocktail.

A chiller and a brite tank are essential to build the product. The chiller provides the cooling capacity to bring a liquid down in the tank to the proper cold temperature, which makes it possible to carbonate the beverage and fill cans with minimal foaming. The product is transferred from a brite tank to a packaging line anywhere from 34 to 40 degrees F. A canning line is a complex piece of equipment that handles the movement of the liquid and cans in sequence to clean the cans, purge cans of oxygen, fill with liquid, then place a lid on the can and seal the can. Canning lines can vary in speed from producing a few cans a minute to over 100 cans a minute.

  Several manufacturers build reputable canning lines suited to canning or bottling RTDs. A critical component to consider before selecting your canning line manufacture is the beverage itself. Some packaging equipment is built to handle high levels of carbonation, while some equipment will only work with lower levels of carbonation. Determining the complete formula of your RTD is important to do before producing the product on the packaging line. It is prudent to discuss the specifics of your concept product with the equipment manufacturer, including product PH, carbonation level, gravity. 

  An alternative option to buying a packaging line for canning cocktails is to partner with a mobile canning company. Nearly every large city in the US has at least one company who offers mobile canning service. A mobile canner will come to your facility with all of the equipment needed to can cocktails. Mobile canning is an excellent choice if your business is looking to quickly produce products but might not have the space and or resources to install packaging equipment. It is important to consider the downside to mobile canning is the additional cost per item. The cost of packaging through a mobile canner is typically twice as expensive as canning using equipment that is owned.   

  There is also sometimes a cost per unit added to the total cost to hire a mobile canning company. The plus side of utilizing mobile canning is that there is no major capital investment in equipment required to get started which means you can start canning cocktails sooner rather than later.

  Creating canned cocktails is a challenging endeavor with strong potential for success if done well. There are many steps and much complexity to producing RTDs.  Developing a successful RTD will certainly be a challenging and serious project. Good equipment and knowledgeable people are the two most important things needed to get it done. Sales of canned cocktails are growing tremendously year over year. Take the leap and join the RTD revolution. Canned cocktails are the future of spirits and can be the key product to grow your beverage business.

  Kris Bohm is the owner of Distillery Now Consulting, who loves pursuing outrageous adventures. Bohm has also helped to create successful RTD products for Grand Canyon Distillery and Toddi Cocktails. He can be reached at

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