Photography by Belle Morizio

Styling by Julia Stevens

Published on August 7, 2021

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Over the past few months, it seems that every time I pop into my local beverage shops (shout-out to Alkali Rye and the Epicurean Trader) there’s a new canned or bottled beverage on the shelf. It’s official: RTD cocktails (aka ready-to-drink, as they’re referred to in the spirits industry) are having a hot moment. Ranging from lower-alcohol seltzers to high-proof classics, these bevvies only need to be opened and enjoyed, no mixing required. So obviously I had to try as many as possible.

As a former bartender and longtime connoisseur of thoughtfully mixed beverages, I was a bit skeptical of the medium at first. But with the help of a few friends, we sipped, we took tasting notes, we debated—and we eventually found the best of the best, from super-refreshing, beach-friendly sips to mind-blowingly delicious craft cocktails that you’d never believe were premade. I even discovered a nonalcoholic one that’s truly a joy to drink—really! 

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Not only are they ridiculously delicious, they’re generally portable, one-to-a-few servings each, and made with very cool packaging. In a nutshell, they’re a genius summer entertaining solve. Just fill up an ice bucket or cooler with these beauties and let your guests enjoy. Cheers!

The Bubbly Ones

High Noon Sun Sips Hard Seltzer

Let’s just say, I will no longer be reaching for a White Claw now that I’ve been introduced to these easy-sipping seltzers. They’re made with vodka, fruit juice, and sparkling water, and come in seven not-too-sweet flavors (of which, pineapple, black cherry, and grapefruit are standouts to me). I can’t imagine a better poolside beverage on a hot summer day. 

Amass Hard Seltzer 

If your average hard seltzer is spring break in Cancun, then Amass’s rendition is a two-week trip to a private villa in Majorca. They’re made with interesting botanical extracts (like sweet quince, green cardamom, and oak) and fermented organic cane sugar, and they come in three sophisticated flavors—Surfer Rosso, Faerie Fizz, and Sun Sign—that are all equally delicious. Everything from the packaging to the taste is downright chic. 

 Volley Tequila Seltzer 

Fare warning: If you don’t like the taste of tequila, these are not for you. If you do, however, you’re going to capital-L Love them. They’re light and superfizzy, and while the tequila in these drinks is prominent, everything else about them in general is subtle. They come in four flavors—Zesty Lime, Spicy Ginger, Sharp Grapefruit, and Tropical Mango—that use just three ingredients each: organic juice, sparkling water, and blue agave tequila. They’re straightforward and simple, and that’s exactly what makes them so good.

Two Chicks Sparkling Vodka Cutea, Sparkling Apple Gimlet, Sparkling New Fashioned

These are a nice marriage of a bubbly light seltzer (they each have just 5 percent alcohol) and a complex spirit-forward cocktail—with more of a garden party vibe than an all-day beach beverage feel. They’re refreshing and not saccharine, but with unique flavor combinations like peach, cucumber tea, and thyme (my fave). Chill them and drink straight from the can, or pour in a glass if you want to feel extra-fancy. Each contains two servings. 

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The Low-Proof Ones

Haus Apéritif Sampler Kit

Being introduced to this suite of aperitif wines was a major game changer for me. Beyond the fact that every flavor is incredibly nuanced, balanced, and easily sippable, I’d just feel impossibly chic pulling out a bottle to share when impromptu guests stop by. They conjure the effortless hostess that I’m not but aspire to be—just put a couple pieces of ice in a glass, pour, and sip away. While I can vouch for the deliciousness of all the current flavors (the company introduces new varieties seasonally), go for the Rose Rosé, Spiced Cherry, and Grapefruit Jalapeño. 

Straightaway Negroni, Apicco, Last Word, and Fiore Spritz

Sorry, Aperol fans: In Spain and Italy, a spritz tastes more like what you’ll find in Straightaway’s canned lineup—with their subtly bitter, more herbaceous, less sugary flavors. My tasting notes for these say “weird/good” in several places, and for me that’s shorthand for something that’s interesting, unexpected, and not basic. You don’t even need ice—just chill them and serve or drink right out of the can. And because each has two servings, go ahead and share with a friend—that’s what aperitivo hour is all about, after all.

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The Hard Stuff

Cutwater Vodka Mule

As good as any classic Moscow Mule you’ll get at a bar, this can is great to drink as is, but adding a fresh squeeze of lime will take it to the next level. Just be sure it’s nice and cold before sipping. 

Golden Rule Margarita

Is it the best margarita I’ve ever had? No. But did I enjoy drinking it with the minuscule effort it took to crack open a can and pour it over ice? I certainly did, and I see this as a total unlock when it comes to carefree entertaining—or scenarios where a marg is called for but you just need your beverage to be supereasy (i.e., hosting a 2-year-old’s birthday party in a park). 

Home School Blood Orange Manhattan

I am a whiskey/bourbon drinker, and this mix from Home School blew me away. It is smooth and balanced and has me thinking I’ll never need to mix my own Manhattan ever again. Just be warned that it’s a strong one—35 percent alcohol—so sip slowly and enjoy. Each bottle has two servings that are best when poured over ice. 

Tip Top Proper Cocktails Bee’s Knees 

Honey lovers, get excited, because this gin-based cocktail has your name written all over it. Inspired by a classic Prohibition-era recipe that was born in Paris, it’s sweet and strong in all the right ways—and it comes in an itty-bitty can that’s just adorable. 

Deloce Espresso Martini 

I was initially drawn to this one for its Dieter Rams vibes, but I was won over by its true espresso flavor. Because it’s a little sweeter than I usually go for, it’s not one that I’d drink several of, but if you’re craving a coffee cocktail (or just want to jump on the espresso martini trend), crack open a cold one.

Wandering Barman Cocktails 

Of all of the cocktails I tried, these are the ones that I was most impressed by—as were my tasting companions. The mixtures are inventive with unexpected ingredients. The Fomo is a vodka-based cocktail that includes pineapple, turmeric, and hatch green chiles. The Miss Casanova is a hibiscus and chipotle take on the classic daiquiri. But maybe the best part? Each 100ml, flask-shaped bottle is just $6. Go ahead and do yourself a favor: Grab one of each. 

The Tropical Ones

Drifter’s Passion Fruit Caipirinha 

If you want to feel transported to a tropical locale by way of beverage, this is the way to do it. This just-launched brand collaborates with bartenders on its recipes, which are all inventive twists on classics. In this case, the Brazilian caipirinha is reimagined with tart passion fruit, lime, vanilla, cardamom, and lemongrass. It’s summer in a can.  

Sunboy Spiked Sparkling Coconut Water 

Refreshing and light, its subtle sweetness comes from a hint of juice, not added sugar. I was so genuinely perplexed by how delicious these drinks are that I prodded the brand’s cofounder, Luke McKenna (also the co-mastermind behind Co Co & Co), for answers. He attributes Sunboy’s yumminess to—among other charming factors like passion and perseverance—the fact that he spends his winters touring coconut farms worldwide, tasting every possible variety and then choosing the best. Make sure you get this one really cold before enjoying it. 

The Nonalcoholic One

Lyre’s G&T, Classico, and Amalfi Spritz

As someone who was recently pregnant, I am not one to underestimate the importance of a good booze-free option. These are not afterthought mocktails (of which I experienced many during those nine months). Instead they have the flavor profiles of real-deal drinks—just no chance of a hangover. 

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