Bars have been batching and bottling housemade cocktails for several years now, but the trend is really taking off during the pandemic. The surge in contactless service and staff cuts at many restaurants and hotels has made it more practical and profitable to sell readymade cocktails. Plus, acceptance of these formats has increased and consumer demand is up.
On the retail side, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails is the fastest growing spirits category, rising 28% year over year, according to Nielsen Premium Panel data. In the past several months, growth has accelerated even more, to 171%.
Marriott is one hotel chain that is encouraging its properties to make and batch cocktails in-house and add more RTD canned drinks, including canned wines. “The pandemic has changed habits and democratized food and drink,” says Dana Pellicano, Marriott’s vice president of F&B Experience, The Americas.
While the trend was already taking off before the coronavirus—White Claw is the most visible example—there are now more players in the space. And with takeout and to-go orders pushing the demand for portability, “the ready-to-drink cocktail is a habit now,” Pellicano adds.
Marriott focuses on bottled and canned signature drinks from the hotels’ bartenders and boutique producers, although commercially-canned brands are also available. The Raphael Hotel in Kansas City offers bottled barrel-aged Manhattans ($18) and peach and mint Moscow mules ($16), as well as bloody Mary and mimosa kits. These are especially popular for room service.
At the SLS Beverly Hills, four classic housemade cocktails, including margaritas and mojitos, are served chilled and ready to go in a cocktail shaker. “Batching and/or barrel aging cocktails in-house allows bartenders to impart their own flavor profiles, and frees them up for other tasks,” says Pellicano.
Other properties are purchasing premium bottled cocktails from craft companies. On the Rocks cocktails are on offer at some JW Marriott and Renaissance properties. Choices include the cosmopolitan, old fashioned and mai tai, all labeled with the branded spirit used.
Hermetically-sealed cans are sometimes seen as a more sanitary choice and a safer option, especially for poolside orders. Favorites at the Sheraton Denver Downtown are canned cocktails from Cocktail Squad, a small company that offers a wide selection. The casual line has lower-alcohol drinks, such as a vodka lemon and whiskey ginger, while the classic collection includes the gin and tonic, whiskey sour and bourbon smash.
“There’s a lot of variety in how Marriott serves the cocktails,” says Pellicano. “At the pool, the can is the vessel. Same with grab-and-go outlets.” For bottled cocktails, the service may be a little classier, with elevated glassware and garnishes served with the drink.