Anyone in the UK who has travelled via a train station and frequented its concourse stores will know that ready-to-drink cocktails (or RTDs, as they’re known in the industry) are nothing new. They will also know, however, that proclivity doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. For years, British drinkers have waived that in favour of convenience and, largely, supermarket own-brands have reigned supreme when it comes to the pre-made game. That was before Covid hit. As bars and brands quickly rushed to pre-batch, bottle or can their cocktails, consumers were soon able to imbibe their favourite pre-mixed drinks at the touch of a button and made to a bartender’s exacting standards.
Nearly two years later, bottled cocktails show no signs of slowing. In fact, the opposite is true. According to drinks market analysis experts IWSR, the RTD cocktail format is growing faster than any other alcoholic drink category. And with new brands, permanent ranges and premium offerings becoming a part of the mainstream in the UK, it looks like bottled and canned cocktails will even be a welcome mainstay on bar menus and in shops, as well as diversifying online.
Ciaran Smith and Aaron Wall, the minds behind London’s Homeboy Bars, are among those to have launched a range of bottled products for delivery. Originally planning to open a bricks-and-mortar shop to sell bottles and cans, the duo have found so much success with their Bottle Cocktail Shop online, they’ve decided to keep busy bottling well-honed classics while also supplying to restaurants who don’t already specialise in cocktails.
Another new brand gaining cult status is Whitebox Drinks, which launched with eight cans by some of the UK’s best bartenders in September 2021. ‘RTDs in this country were for the supermarket chains: stack them high, sell them cheap. In other countries, they are a completely different beast… Nobody has jumped in and owned that space [in the UK] and that’s something we really wanted to do,’ says Jack Wareing, Whitebox’s head of development. He’s currently got another 26 drinks on the boil, and Denmark is knocking on the door for export opportunities.
Big brands are getting in on the action, too. Hendrick’s Gin brought together five international bars to decide on the final iteration of its Batch & Bottle Martini, which is already flying off shelves in the UK and has recently launched in Australia, with the US set to be its next international outlet. ‘We’ve always seen bottled cocktails as an interesting route of innovation, but we’d maybe not done it because there wasn’t the consumer demand or drive,’ explains Hendrick’s global ambassador Ally Martin. Sister brands, Monkey Shoulder, Glenfiddich and Reyka all have their own bottled cocktails too.
And with shops starting to spring up that specialise in RTDs – like Bo Kiri, a shop and bar in Peckham, which sells over 250 cocktails and alcoholic beverages by the can – it’s never been easier to get your hands on them. ‘I don’t see this as a trend,’ says Homeboy’s Smith. ‘I can only see longevity.’
Five of the latest and greatest bottled cocktails and cans to try
The award-winning Mirror Margarita (so called because of the drink’s crystal-clear appearance) from London agave specialist bar Hacha was launched as its own bottled brand in November of 2021, due to huge demand from its baying fan base and positive sales of a bottled version direct from the bar during lockdown. You can opt for a Tequila or mezcal base (or both), and each bottle serves four people. No lime squeezing necessary.
£36 for a 500ml bottle, hachabar.com
Chipper’s Old Fashioned
Each and every one of Whitebox’s eight canned cocktails get my vote (and its Freezer Martini makes my heart melt), but Chipper’s Old Fashioned makes this list as a serious, short whisky-based cocktail that’s fun and accessible. Virgin oak whisky, cherrywood bitters and sugar are perfectly balanced to make a smooth, smart sharpener in a cute wood-textured can.
£36 for six 100ml cans, whiteboxdrinks.com
Tayer + Elementary Palo Santo Gimlet
The second-best bar in the world (according to the recent World’s 50 Best Bar awards) was quick off the mark to turn its hand to bottled cocktails during the pandemic and has, ever since, been the gold standard when it comes to bar-quality RTDs. Of its five signature serves, the Palo Santo Gimlet is the most intriguing, mixing Tayer x Hepple Gin, Tio Pepe fino sherry, Lillet Blanc and a cordial made from Peruvian Palo Santo wood. It’s bright, textural and a clever take on a classic.
£30 for a 300ml bottle, shop.tayer-elementary.com
Batch & Bottle Hendrick’s Gin Martini
One of the best big-brand bottled cocktails out there, this pre-made Martini takes Hendrick’s Gin out of its usual G&T guise and into something that beautifully showcases its delicate rose and cucumber notes. It’s anchored in the florality you’d expect from Hendrick’s alongside fresh citrus and herbal notes, and boasts a smooth and slightly viscous texture. Don’t forget to pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving and swap your usual lemon twist or olive for a cucumber garnish.
£25 for a 500ml bottle, masterofmalt.com
Oranj Pineapple & Sage Daiquiri
The new range from natural wine subscription service Oranj has been created by ex-Smokestak bar manager Ben Dargue, whose line-up is based on creating vibrantly coloured drinks. The Pineapple and Sage Daiquiri is a fun twist on a classic. Sold in a juice bottle container and at a more accessible price point than the other drinks on this list, it’s a fun but interesting option if you’re serving for a mini soiree.