Can-do attitude: why canned cocktails are here to stay

The emergence of quality canned cocktails is transforming our outdoor drinking, says Joel Harrison, with some of the UK’s finest mixology talent now on board

Words by Joel Harrison

Canned cocktails
Some of the best mixology talent in the country is producing canned cocktails, raising the quality across the bar

The great outdoors is not the natural habitat for cocktails. Cocktails are caged animals, traditionally held captive at (rather than behind) bars – raised to be made and consumed in captivity, domesticated and institutionalised over the past century or more. The fact of the matter is that no one wants to lug a full array of cocktail equipment to the local park, let alone a hoard of spirits, garnishes, mixers and glassware to the back garden, just to be able to have a quality drink outdoors.

But fear not. Outdoor drinking is no longer the domain of bottles of beer and lukewarm rosé. Finally we are spotting real-life cocktails out in the wild. Our newfound embrace of the outdoors over the past several months has given rise to an increasing demand for an exotic selection of high-quality, pre-batched cocktails.

This is a much-welcome step up the evolutionary ladder from the drinks offerings previously spotted in the wild – you know, those moribund, mangy gin-in-a-tin beasts, often found in a railway-station convenience store, bred for the sole purpose of quenching the kind of thirst brought on by claustrophobic train carriages and commuter frustration.

Bottled Connaught Martini
London’s Connaught Bar – voted the best in the world – now sells bottled versions of its famous Martinis

This new breed of pre-batched cocktails is a different creature altogether. Made with enjoyment at the fore, they have been crafted by some of the best bartenders in the business, either alongside bigger brands, or at celebrated bars looking to find a new income stream while they were closed – as well as an outlet for their creativity and talent.

An example of a pure-bred premium offering recently released into the wild is the bottled Martini from the team at London’s Connaught Hotel, whose bar was placed in the top spot at the most recent World’s 50 Best Bars awards. Of course, pedigree cocktails like these come at a price – in this case £37 for 240ml – but this is a drink from the world’s best bar that you can enjoy sitting outside with your mates wherever you choose to do so (as long as you don’t mind carrying a glass bottle). First-class mixology released into the wild…

Pocket Negroni by Porter's Gin
The team behind Porter's Gin has launched the Pocket Negroni, a 100ml canned version of the Italian classic cocktail
Negroni – canned cocktails

This rewilding of outdoor drinking is not just the preserve of the well-heeled. A series of accessible alternatives are also available from some of the best bartenders around. The folk behind Aberdeen’s Porter’s Gin, which includes Alex Lawrence, global bar director of the lauded and awarded Mr Lyan bar group, have come up with an excellent concept: the Pocket Negroni.

This little beaut comes in 100ml cans at a just a fiver each. They also do small pouches of the same cocktail that can be sent through the post and slip into a picnic basket with ease.

Take a look, too, at the Easy Social Cocktail Co, a London-based initiative from the team behind Hackney bar Nebula. The aim is to bring a twist of fun to the world of canned cocktails with offerings such as a Peach for the Stars Cosmopolitan and a Takes Two to Mango Margarita – perfect for a summer in the sunshine or a party on the beach.

Yet as with all rising tides, it is not just boats that are buoyed, but a fair amount of driftwood, flotsam and jetsam too. And in the case of convenient canned drinks, this is most obvious in the uninspiring hard seltzer category. Hard seltzers, a mix of sparking water, fruity flavours and alcohol, are huge in America, but I’m afraid to me, they don’t stand up to a good cocktail.

There is a growing selection of great pre-batched canned cocktails out there ready to woo you this summer

When it comes to ready-to-drink cocktails, though, I am a can-half-full kind of guy. There is a growing selection of great pre-batched canned cocktails out there ready to woo you this summer. Yes, there are plenty of big brands releasing decent stuff, but with the enforced lack of footfall in bars around the world last year, I’d rather support smaller brands, born out of a pandemic pivot and showcasing the creativity and skills of genuinely great bartenders, whose work has been cowed by Covid.

I urge you too to do some digging and find out which of your local bars are making pre-bottled or canned offerings to take with you on your trips outdoors.

What Joel has been drinking…

• A family visit to Scotland meant only one thing: the chance to sit down and drink some good, local Scotch whisky. I took the epic tasting box set of 20 Whiskies That Changed The World (20x 3cl samples, £160 from The Whisky Exchange) which provided more fun than a game of Cards Against Humanity.
• Talking of Scotch, it seems to be the season for the very old whisky release, from the Brora Triptych through to Talisker 43 Year Old and a Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant from 1953. The pick for me, however was a Singleton of Dufftown 54 Year Old from 1966 where the oak and spirit balance was perfect, even after such a long ageing.
• Away from dark spirits, the warm weather has increased my consumption of gin – and the wonderful new expression from London distillers Hayman’s, Exotic Citrus Gin, is packed with zingy natural flavours of kumquat, pomelo, Persian lime and mandarin. It makes a wonderfully wet summer Martini.

Joel HarrisonJoel Harrison is an award-winning spirits writer, and spirits consultant for Club Oenologique