By now, for your virtual happy hours, you’ve either discovered your inner bartender or have found yourself sorely missing the professional ones you used to see regularly, back in the old normal. If you’ve always thought that a proper cocktail needs to be prepared in real time and served in the proper glassware, then the Covid-19 crisis, which has left so many of us bereft of our favorite bars, may have you humming a different tune. It might be time to try some of the more premium ready-to-drink cocktails.
Our selection of bottled and canned cocktails serves the same purpose as a virtual happy hour— it’s not quite like being at your favorite bar, but it’s the next best thing for sure. And even cocktail snobs will, if they deign to try them, admit that it’s indeed possible for a really good cocktail to come out of a can. Although we recommend using a nice glass—the right vessel elevates the whole experience, just like the friends on the other side of your screen.
Dante’s Bottled Negronis
The downtown NYC stalwart was voted the best bar in the world in 2019, and the team is still proving its brilliance with its bottled cocktails, available for pickup or local delivery. Dante is known for its Negronis, and the bottled version of their classic, with Bombay Sapphire, Campari, and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, is a great place to start. But you’ll want to drink through the rest of the menu, which includes a rye whiskey Old Fashioned, gin and vodka martinis, and a variety of Negroni variations. Perhaps the best of the lot is the Unlikely Negroni, which switches out gin for tequila and adds Cocchi Torino, along with banana, coconut, pineapple and sesame, for an elegant, tropical twist on the classic.
This elegant canned cocktail, made from three-year-old rye whiskey, locally sourced honey and lemon juice, has a dry, slightly tart flavor, slightly reminiscent of a Brut Champagne. And a share of the profits are going to replenishing honeybee populations, so you can drink in good conscience. It’s rolling out this spring, starting in New York.
Empirical Spirits Flavors Three-Pack
Empirical Spirits stretches boundaries with booze the way the legendary Copenhagen restaurant Noma stretches boundaries with food—which makes sense, since Empirical’s founders are both Noma alums. By experimenting with distillation and fermentation techniques and sourcing ingredients from all over the world, they intend to create flavors that evoke specific times and places. A pretty tall order for what could be considered a ready-to-drink cocktail. But given the pedigree of the folks who make it, there’s no better time to give it a go. A three-bottle sampler gives you flavors evocatively named the Plum, I Suppose (“sweet, marzipan, floral bright”) and Ayuuk (“earthy, dark red fruit, smoke”), drinkable on their own or with mixers.
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye
A mixture of rye whiskey, rock candy syrup and other flavorings, rock & rye dates back to the 19th century, when it was touted as a medicine. Hochstadter’s, which makes Slow & Low, brought rock & rye back from cocktail purgatory in 2013; more recently, the brand launched a canned version that’s essentially the same as what’s in the bottle. This version is flavored with orange, honey, and Angostura bitters, as well as a touch of rock candy. Clocking in at a hefty 84 proof, it’s the closest you’ll get to a proper cocktail in a can. And while it may not have any medicinal properties, it’ll make you feel good for sure.
The Finnish Long Drink: Strong
Said to have originated at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Long Drink is a crisp, carbonated mix of gin and grapefruit that’s neither too sweet nor overly juniper-forward. It’s a terrific warm-weather drink, even if those beach and park excursions are replaced by a cocktail hour in front of an open window.
Amor y Amargo’s Unfinished Story
One of the things for which Sother Teague’s downtown NYC temple of bitters and amari is famous is the complete lack of fruit juices—all the cocktails are spiritous through and through. They’re always delicious, but they also have the added advantage of traveling well. This original creation—the Unfinished Story ($15)—is available for pickup or local delivery in New York and features Bertoux Brandy, apple brandy, limoncello and absinthe, among other ingredients. It’s as sophisticated a drink as you’re likely to find during the shutdown.
Cocktail Squad Bourbon Smash
Cocktail Squad was born when a married couple in Boulder, Colo., loved a cocktail so much they asked the bartender for the recipe—and then spent more than $100 tracking down the ingredients. The proverbial light bulb flicked on, and soon they had a line of canned, ready-to-drink cocktails. The bourbon smash ($5), one of their most recent releases, is more complex than their early creations—it’s flavored with blackberries, mint and lemon, which could be a recipe for disaster. But it really does taste like a proper cocktail, even when swigged from the can—although it’s much better in a glass with a couple of ice cubes and perhaps a sprig of mint for a garnish. But we won’t judge.
Putting cocktails calling for fresh ingredients into a can has always been a challenge, but the California-based Drnxmyth has figured out a nifty hack—a dual-chambered container that keeps the mixers (in the case of the Eastside cocktail, that means pureed cucumber along with mint-infused water and fresh lime juice) and the spirit (gin) separate. Twist the top and the ingredients combine. Shake it, pour it, and you’ve got a pretty good approximation of a fresh-made cocktail at a very reasonable price. The brand’s roster of five cocktails are all developed by pro bartenders.
Novo Fogo Sparkling Caipirinha
Novo Fogo’s cachaças are wildly popular among the American bartending set and the small but passionate cachaça fan base. Their canned caipirinhas ($4) do the spirit justice; the tart lime juice, sugar and powerful, slightly funky cachaça are in perfect balance, and the sparkling element, which might seem superfluous, is actually a nice touch. They also make mango and passion fruit flavored caipirinhas, but the classic is the place to start.
Mai-Kai Bottled Jet Pilot
The Fort Lauderdale-based Mai-Kai is one of the most legendary tiki bars in the world, having served up high-octane rum concoctions since 1956. The dinner-and-a-show components are on hiatus, but thankfully some of the cocktails are available for pickup from the venue. Lucky locals can take their pick from four classic libations from the Mai-Kai menu. The mai tai and piña colada are excellent, but for a change of pace, try the Jet Pilot—the recipe is a secret, but it’s described as “fast and courageous, a vigorous blend of heavy-bodied rums and zesty juices.” The bar is selling it only by the gallon ($132), so you’ll have plenty for at least a week’s worth of happy hours. The Mai-Kai assures that the approximately 15 servings will keep in the fridge for about two weeks.