I Tried 20 Canned Cocktails — These Are the 7 Worth Drinking
I feel very lucky to eat and drink for a living, and this week was one for the scrapbooks. Yes, I was tasked with the very arduous task of sampling every canned cocktail I could get my hands on. And, as I’m sure you are well-aware, there are a lot of canned cocktails you can get your hands on these days.
The ready-to-drink category has nearly literally exploded over the last few years, with basically any bar classic you can think of now coming in a canned version. So how is one supposed to surf through this wave of booze? Well, I drank my way through as many as I could (roughly a baker’s dozen this week alone, 20 in total) that ran the gamut: punches, daiquiris, Finnish long drinks, ranch waters, margaritas, negronis, cosmos, espresso martinis. You name it, I drank it all for the good of food journalism everywhere.
Pour some of these in a fancy glass and I think you’ll be fooled yourself. I surely was.
The Best Canned Cocktails
- Best Tequila-Based Canned Cocktail: Dos Equis Mango Margarita
- Best Mezcal-Based Canned Cocktail: MARGS Sparkling Mezcal Margarita
- Best Vodka-Based Canned Cocktail: Thomas Ashbourne Espresso Martini
- Best Whiskey-Based Canned Cocktail: Sagamore Spirits Rye Honey Paloma
- Best Rum-Based Canned Cocktail: Tip Top Proper Cocktails Daiquiri
- Best Wine-Based Canned Cocktail: Loverboy Limoncello Spritz
- Best Gin-Based Canned Cocktail: Tip Top Proper Cocktails Negroni
Best Tequila-Based: Dos Equis Mango Margarita
Let it be known that this was the drink that truly launched this investigation of canned cocktails, because this one 100% fooled me. If you’re looking to get a pack of canned cocktails and need a surefire winner, this is the cut-and-dry crowd-pleaser. I don’t know what sorcery the Dos Equis people did to make this mango margarita taste so wildly well-balanced, but it’s magical nonetheless.
The base of Mexican blanco tequila is ultra-smooth, the mango juice tastes fresh squeezed (and worth the squeeze). In short, if this is the future of what canned cocktails can taste like, then count me in. Be careful with these, though: Each can is 10% ABV and very (very!) easy to drink. Pro tip: Be sure to “dress” your can with a rim of lime juice and Tajin seasoning to really make it a party.
Buy: Dos Equis Mango Margarita, $13.99 for 4 (12-ounce) cans at Total Wine
Best Mezcal-Based: MARGS Sparkling Mezcal Margarita
If there’s an ocean of canned cocktails, then there’s definitely a sea of canned margaritas all on its own. Having sampled many of them, one particular really stuck out in the mezcal corner: MARGS Sparkling Mezcal Margarita.
As a fan of savory-smoky-spicy cocktails, I bee-lined it to this mezcal pick and was immediately struck by how it nailed the herby smoke-factor you’d expect from Mezcal without it reading as “drinking liquid smoke.” With just a touch of sweetness from the triple sec, tart lime, and a bit of bubbles, this can has the dimension and fun of a bar-made margarita.
Buy: MARGS Sparkling Mezcal Margarita, $12.99 for 4 (12-ounce) cans at Total Wine
Best Vodka-Based: Thomas Ashbourne After Hours Espresso Martini
You might not immediately think of Neil Patrick Harris and “cocktail tastemaker” in the same sentence, but you should. I knew this drink would be a must-try, as I sampled the exclusive cocktail he made for EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival and binge-watched his drag-queen dinner-party show, Drag Me To Dinner. As one of the partners of Thomas Ashbourne’s line of curated cocktails (other partners include SJP, Playboi Carti, and Rosario Dawson) Neil Patrick Harris crafted a, to put it plainly, damn good espresso martini.
Every component of this RTD cocktail (which comes in both cans and a bottle) was bang-on; the espresso tasted freshly brewed with chocolaty notes to it and the vodka base was very smooth and subtle, and it even shook up well (fluffy layer of foam basically included!). Just add a few espresso beans on top and you’ll save yourself a couple of hefty bar tabs by enjoying one of these (or two of these) 12% ABV nightcaps right at home.
Buy: Thomas Ashbourne After Hours Espresso Martini, $19.99 for 4 (200-mL) cans at Thomas Ashbourne
Best Whiskey-Based: Sagamore Spirits Rye Honey Paloma
Just when I thought I knew what I like in mixed drinks, a whole new category makes me reframe all that I know. I don’t necessarily shy away from whiskey-based drinks, but I don’t often seek them out. Personally, whiskey-based drinks are something I didn’t think could be refreshing or anything other than something you slowly drink in a lingering fashion. But then I got to try Sagamore Spirits’ Rye-based canned cocktails and everything changed. If you, like me, assume those things about whiskey-based drinks, these will surely convert you.
Taking flavor cues from tart, bubbly grapefruit-y palomas (which are usually made with tequila), this spicy rye whiskey-based version (which comes in at 9% ABV) has a punchy burst of honey sweetness that goes super well with the brightness of the citrus. This was definitely one of the cans that made me go, “Wow” in an Owen Wilson voice before I got back to sipping.
Buy: Sagamore Spirits Rye Honey Paloma, $14.99 for 4 (12-ounce) cans at Drizly
Best Rum-Based: Tip Top Proper Cocktails Daiquiri
I’m a rum girl through and through, and, poor thing, it often gets a bad rap. The same is absolutely the case for daiquiris. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll never pass up a creamy, frozen beachside daiquiri extruded straight from a Slurpee machine, but sometimes you want to go back to the basics.
Let’s just say, this is the tastiest return around. With a blend of three rums (aged, Jamaican, and silver), lime, and just the slightest zhuzh of cane sugar, this petite can packs in all that you’d expect from the classic cocktail (and will definitely scare the scurvy away and get you a solid buzz at 24% ABV).
Buy: Tip Top Cocktails Daiquiri, $35.99 for 8 (100-mL) cans at Total Wine
Best Wine-Based: Loverboy Limoncello Spritz
Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) a drink is just fun. And these definitely fit that bill in more ways than one (without even mentioning the fun packaging and name). Simply put, this drink kinda has everything: refreshing bubbles that tickle your nose, a bit of heft (courtesy of the orange wine base), and that distinct bittersweet limoncello flavor (and a dash of Himalayan sea salt) that’ll have you feeling like you’re a (very safe) extra on White Lotus. I immediately poured a chilled can right into a spritz glass and certainly felt like I was tasting the closest thing to liquid sunshine.
Buy: Loverboy Limoncello Spritz, $39.99 for eight 250ml. cans at DrinkLoverboy.com
Best Gin-Based: Tip Top Proper Cocktails Negroni
I know that the botanical bitterness of a negroni isn’t for everyone, but it’s kind of the opposite of Green Eggs and Ham for me. As in, I’d drink one on a train, plane, in the rain, etc., which is why I’m pretty in love with the Tip Top Proper Cocktail’s Negroni. If you, like me, often don’t have the three main components (gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari) all at home at any one time, this canned Negroni will make your home bartending game a whole lot easier. The Tip Top Negroni not only nails this classic cocktail’s proportions, but also adds a dimension of its own with a floral, juniper-essenced gin that plays off the juicy-spicy Campari.
Just pour a can over ice (preferably just one big ol’ ice cube) in your favorite rocks glass and add a little orange peel for a flourish (and for those deliciously necessary citrus oils), and you’ve got an expert-level aperitivo in your hands. This alcohol-forward, yet easy-drinking cocktail (alert: Each can is 26% ABV) is just begging to be sipped outside on a patio somewhere warm.
Buy: Tip Top Proper Cocktails Negroni, $39.99 for 8 (100-mL) cans at Tip Top Proper Cocktails
How I Tested Canned Cocktails
We all have our own preferred spirits, of course, so I decided to rank these with a few clear-cut criteria.
- The quality of base spirit: The drink should be as alcohol-forward or subtle as I might expect from a mixed drink in a fancy-ish cocktail bar.
- The quality of mixers: Bubbles should be bubbly, juices should taste fresh-squeezed, bitters should be appropriately bitter.
- The depth of flavor: If it tastes like it “came from the can” in any way (i.e., cloyingly sweet in that “slushy machine daiquiri/margarita” way, tinny, or even lacking in alcohol proportions) then it’s a hard “no.”
- No hard seltzers: Because well, there are actually too many for this particular experiment and one’s favorite seltzer flavors are as personal as DNA, I think.
Did your favorite make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below.