Jeff Wuslich, a founder of Cardinal Spirits in Bloomington, Ind., looked over a stack of more than 100 cases of canned cocktails at the distillery. There are three varieties: a Bramble Mule, made with vodka, raspberry juice, hibiscus and ginger; a Maui Mule, made with vodka, passion-fruit juice and ginger; and a vodka soda.
“That’s going to be depleted,” he said over the phone. “We’ve been doing a brisk business because people are drinking their faces off.”
Canned cocktails have gone from nearly nonexistent to ubiquitous in the United States in just a few years, and sales have climbed steadily. But with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread stay-at-home orders, interest has skyrocketed.
Sales for Cutwater Spirits, a leading producer of canned cocktails with more than 20 varieties, were up more than 70 percent in March, compared with the same month in 2019. Neal Cohen, a founder of Tip Top Proper Cocktails, a new producer in Atlanta, said the 50 percent bump he saw in the same month was similar to holiday-season numbers. Ramona, a popular line of canned wine spritzers, experienced a 232 percent spike from March 7 to April 7, compared with the previous month.
Sheltering Americans, unable to visit bars and restaurants, are drinking more at home. Wine and beer, long available in portable containers, are natural options. Mixed drinks are a trickier proposition. Taking advantage of newly relaxed laws, many bars are doing a brisk trade in to-go cocktails in New York, Los Angeles, Denver and elsewhere. But canned cocktails, already mixed and securely sealed, have certain advantages.
“I think convenience is a such a big one,” said Jordan Salcito, the founder of Ramona. “Also, you’re home and you’re busier than you usually are. You’re cooking every meal. The kids are at home and home schooling. If I’m making dinner and want something delicious, I just open a can.”
Making cocktails from scratch can mean fretting over ingredients from two or more shops. Canned cocktails are a one-stop option. Also, concern about how the coronavirus spreads and lives on surfaces may have something to do with their sudden appeal.
“Every decision has to do with: How much of this do I have to wipe down?” said Ms. Salcito.
“Maybe it’s OK to have something that’s already been formulated and filled for me,” said John Maggio, who started the canned cocktail business Cocktail Squad with his wife, Lauren, in Colorado in 2018.
Some producers think idle hours have led customers to their products.
“People are home, they do not want to go out,” said Dragos Axinte, the founder of the cachaça brand Novo Fogo, which produces three types of canned caipirinhas. “They don’t even want to go to the grocery store. Maybe the liquor store is closed. So trying to find alcohol online has become a favorite pastime.”
The pandemic may also be encouraging consumers to venture outside their comfort zones and try something new. In the past, the safe and familiar vodka soda was Cardinal Spirits’s top-selling can. Today, the Maui Mule and Bramble Mule far outpace it.
Whether customers will revert to their usual drinking habits when bars reopen and stay-at-home orders are lifted is unclear, but producers are hopeful.
“There’s still a long way to go,” said Valerie Masten, the president of the Los Angeles company Hoxie, which makes a line of canned spritzers. “But there’s also the opportunity that comes with something of a clean slate, in terms of drinking habits.”
Canned cocktails are not going to replace high-end spirits for the home cocktail enthusiast, or “the great bartender for people when they’re out,” said Mr. Wuslich of Cardinal Spirits. “But it will become part of their repertoire.”