Yes, You Need to Start Drinking This Whiskey in a Can
Yes, You Need to Start Drinking This Whiskey in a Can
Iwas talking with a famous Kentucky bourbon distiller once, and we’d had a few drinks, when I decided to ask what he did with the whiskey he made that just didn’t taste too…well, good. “Why, we send that shit to Australia,” he cracked. What he meant was his crummiest whiskey went overseas to be turned into RTDs (industry jargon for Ready to Drinks), canned or bottled pre-mixed drinks that are wildly popular in certain countries.
Jim Beam makes them. Jack Daniels, too. So does Wild Turkey. Johnnie Walker has one, and no, it’s unfortunately not a Blue Label and Coke. What’s interesting is that most of these products aren’t even sold over here in America, and if they are, they are generally ignored by the public. I’m not even sure where exactly they would be stocked. RTDs are indeed a significant part of Australian drinking culture, though.
Introduced to the country in the mid-1990s, by 2011 RTDs were accounting for a whopping 20 percent of total Aussie alcohol sales. Cheaply-priced and easy-drinking, they had become so favored amongst the Australian youth—and, ahem, the underage—that in 2008 the government instituted insanely high taxes on them, hoping to curb consumption. It worked, somewhat, but RTDs in Oz remain a $218 million industry that continues growing. Which makes it even more odd that the RTD is not really a player in American drinking, accounting for a meager 2.8 percent of booze sales. This is especially surprising considering America’s famed propensity for culinary laziness—remember, we live in a country where pre-made simple syrup is actually a thing you can buy. (It’s called “simple” for a reason, folks.)
Let me back up for a second. There was actually a time when certain RTDs were red hot in America, though these weren’t of the whiskey and whatever variety. You might remember the wine cooler craze of the ’80s, when sickly sweet, brightly-colored bottlings from companies like Bartles and Jaymes were selling so well they were called the “salvation of the spirits industry.” “Alcopops” like Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and even the Bud Light [insert fruit here]-a-Ritas became their spiritual successors in the ’90s and up ’til today, at times selling quite well but never lauded by beverage connoisseurs.
With flavors that sound more like suntan oils and packaging in pouches often more apt for Capri-Sun, perhaps now you see why “RTD” is such a dirty word to many adults. And why the modern, slightly-less-cheesy, whiskey-based RTDs of today can’t get much foothold in this sophisticated drinking era of $15 craft cocktails and $30 bottles of barrel-aged beer. What adult with a job, a spouse, maybe some children, is going to spend his Saturday night pounding BuzzBallz?
What adult with a job, a spouse, maybe some children, is going to spend his Saturday night pounding BuzzBallz?
Things may finally be about to change, though. A new player is actually trying to enter this rocky, canned RTD market in the States, and they’re hoping to finally class things up a bit.
“Most canned RTDs are low quality, low integrity, and low proof. We’re not competing with those products,” Robyn Greene tells me. Greene is the senior VP of marketing and innovation at the Cooper Spirits Company, an independently-owned, artisan beverage company out of Philadelphia, long famous for disrupting the spirits industry with avant-garde offerings, like St-Germain.
Earlier this month, Cooper released cans of Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye. Based on a pre-prohibition recipe Cooper’s been bottling since 2013, Slow & Low combines aged straight rye whiskey with—flowery marketing copy to follow—”air-dried navel oranges from Florida, 100-percent raw honey from Western Pennsylvania, Angostura Bitters, and a small dose of rock candy.”
Forget those air-dried oranges, though, because the packaging is what is worth going gaga over. Slow & Low comes in one-of-a-kind, specially-designed 100 mL cans so small I can hide one in my fist like I’m a street magician—and I don’t exactly have large hands either (they aren’t Trumpian tiny, but I can’t palm a basketball). I’m not one for getting duped by packaging “innovations,” as they say in the business, but this is too cool to ignore. One negative is that the can lacks a top you can pop, instead having a design more akin to an airline can of tomato juice, with a ring pull you have to peel back and immediately discard.
Of further importance: While most of those aforementioned canned RTDs are less than 5 percent ABV—perfect for secretly drinking in your parents’ rec room—Slow & Low is a legit boozy cocktail at a fearsome 84 proof. Like, when I took my first big gulp from the can, I winced. This is clearly a sipper, I immediately learned. It is tasty, though, don’t get me wrong, like a suped up Old-Fashioned, and equally potent, too. You can drink Slow & Low straight from the can, but it might be better to pour over ice to mute the heat a little bit. Then again, that may ruin the whole discreet-alcoholism-on-the-go concept of these bad boys.
Whatever the case, Slow & Low seems destined to be the product that will hopefully kickstart a higher-end, whiskey-based RTDR (Ready to Drink Revolution) in America. Or, at least greatly improve your chances of sneaking booze into a football game this fall.