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By Liz Crowe
It’s that time again. “What time?” You loyal Liz-is-your-favorite-booze-expert readers ask. It’s time to talk about a trend.
No, I’m not testing seltzers. I know I promised you that, and I might still get to it later this year. But we’re going to talk about an even trendier trend. Think you can stand it? I think you can.
This is a tale of seven cans and four tasters — all of whom are, let’s say for the sake of politeness, possessing of a mature palate. That is to say, on the older side of the age spectrum. Chronologically gifted. One of us was even celebrating a milestone birthday — you know, the kind with a zero attached to it. All of this is to remind you that sometimes, our chronological gifts and preconceptions about how things should taste will skew our perception of what we’re tasting. Caveat emptor to all who venture into the next eight hundred or so words.
As you may know, a “cocktail” is an alcoholic mixed drink that is a combination of spirits, or spirits mixed with other things like syrup, fruit juice, carbonated water, or soda. Typically, one orders a cocktail at a dining or drinking establishment and expects that said drink will be mixed fresh, many times as a process that can be utilitarian (think “dive bar gin and tonic”) or a bit of a side show (think “hotel bar martini”) or even an entire off-Broadway production (think “movie that Tom Cruise probably wished he never made” or “pretentious craft cocktail bar where the bartender lovingly bruises the mint leaves”).
The modern obsession with lower-calorie, low-carb, low-alcohol convenience has given us a twist on these expectations of mixed drinks. I present to you: the cocktail in a can. I’m doing one better than presenting it, though, because Liz is here for you. I taste-tested seven of them, along with my spouse, my 80-year-old mother (who works out on her cross-trainer daily and has her first gin and tonic on the nose at 5:00pm), and her sister, my 75-year-old aunt. Between us, we are talking about a wealth of booze experience — a few centuries’ worth. We’ve done some drinking, in other words. So, rest assured that you’re getting your money’s worth when we make a group recommendation.
We dove right in with a familiar name: the Ketel One Botanical Vodka Spritz, peach and orange blossom flavor. We all like the Ketel One brand of vodka and this one didn’t disappoint. At 3.6% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 73 calories per can, it would make a nice beach drink option. And that, of course, is the convenience part of the canned cocktail equation. Toss the cans in a cooler, add ice, and voila, a party is born. This was nicely flavored, which was no surprise to this group, as we all like their cucumber lime vodka for our Bloody Marys. The “spritz” part came from the sparkling (fizzy) water; that was a nice jaunt down memory lane to a time when mixing cheap vodka with club soda was a thing because neither vodka nor club soda have a distinct odor, ergo it was a way to be sneaky. Someone (who shall remain nameless) at the table’s exact words were: “Kinda tastes like college drinking.” We gave this can a 4 out of 5 star average rating based on quaffability, which is a made-up word, as well as refreshing-ness. And it was my mom’s favorite, in case that matters.
Next up, we switched gears to one of the Jack Daniels can options. Out of what seemed like fifty or sixty canned options offered by this company, I chose two, and one was a simple Whisky and Seltzer at 5% ABV. No calories or carbs listed, because if you’re drinking “whisky,” one assumes you don’t care about that stuff. This one was…unimpressive. It was bland, boring, and weak. It smelled like whisky, but tasted like fizzy water, and like someone had waved a whisky bottle in its general vicinity. 2 stars out of 5, and no one’s favorite.
Next up: the Miami Cocktail Company’s Margarita Spritz. Mind you, I realize that the word “spritz” seems like a theme, and it is with these drinks, mainly because it’s an ingredient that provides something useful (carbonation/fizz) without imparting a single calorie or carb — an attribute of prime importance to the marketers of these drinks. Now, back to what was touted as a mix of agave wine, elderflower, and ginger. Honestly, none of us expected to, but we liked this one a lot. “Elderflower” sounds cool but typically has little impact on a drink’s flavor; but in this instance, it did because it was mixed with organic orange and lime juices. That combination, with ginger, was subtle and created something we all agreed that we’d love to get hammered on at a nice beach somewhere. 3.75 stars out of 5. Not a 4-star because it was misleading to use the word “margarita,” in our combined expert opinion. Agave wine wasn’t quite the tequila kick we expected. It has 110 calories and is 4.2% ABV.
The next can we popped open was something called a Kentucky Mule by the Monaco Craft Cocktail Company. Monaco is a vodka distillery, which makes sense because a traditional Moscow Mule is a vodka-based drink. But this one I had to have us try, because we’re all from Kentucky and it said “bourbon” on it and, well, you can extrapolate the rest. This drink is two shots of bourbon and ginger beer, and as a group we agreed that it was lovely. As some of us at the table are bourbon snobs (another trend), it was agreed that making your own high-end bourbon and ginger ale drink is better, but this one was darn good, factoring in that whole convenience thing. It tasted fresh, sparkly, and bourbon-y without a hint of aftertaste, like some of the drinks we tried. It was the highest ABV at 9%, with who-cares-how-many calories and if-you-have-to-ask-don’t-drink-it number of carbs. This one was a group favorite, and we argued over who got to keep the other three cans.
Moving along, we tried a Bacardi rum, lime, and soda. It didn’t make our cut as we all got the dreaded “seltzer after-taste” thing; that’s why I’m reluctant to review any alcoholic seltzers. But on our 5-star scale we gave it a 1.5, some of which was out of disappointment as rum usually makes for a sweeter drink. It has 6% ABV.
The last couple of cans we opened were a mixed bag, opinions-wise. We tried another of the Jack Daniels options. This was the Tennessee Honey — a whiskey, honey, and lemonade mix which was on the “not bad” side of things. It was super sweet as you might imagine, and was better than the first J.D. can we tried. We came down on the “kind of dangerously not bad” side, since drinks as sweet as this one go down way too easy, and at 7% they can be the kind of overly sweet drink that makes you pay a price. Ask any of us, as we have all fallen prey to the siren’s call of the Mint Julep.
The last can we opened was a traditional Moscow Mule by Two Brothers Artisan Sprits. What didn’t work about it was the hyper carbonation that made three out of four of us sneeze and/or cough at first. But once the fizziness settled, it wasn’t too bad, if a bit on the too-gingery side. Two Brothers is a brewery and distillery in Illinois and they use their own vodka, which their website states is “flavor-forward” and made from a 100% corn base. We can talk more about making vodka from corn later, as many popular craft brands do this, but suffice it to say at this point that it does impart a distinct flavor, whereas more traditional (read: Russian) vodkas aim for minimal flavor. And that part of the drink, once you got past the spiciness of the ginger, was pretty good. It was the sort of canned cocktail that you needed several sips of to render an opinion and once we did that, we gave it 3.75 out of 5 stars.
If I learned anything from this fun and informative exercise, it’s that there are way more options than I managed to gather for our first foray into the Land of the Convenient Canned Cocktail. There are coffee options, a White Russian or two that are probably worth a try, and I realized too late that I had left gin out of our tasting party round-up. Rest assured, Booze 101 acolyte — I will remedy this soon and bring more enlightenment and multi-generational opinions to these hallowed pages soon. If you have a favorite canned cocktail, feel free to shout it out to me on a social media and I’ll add it to my now-growing list.
Cheers (and pass me that Kentucky Mule, y’all),
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
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