The Birth And Rise Of Premixed Cocktails
Image Credit: Cocktails

The earliest known commercially produced premixed cocktails were first sold in America by Heublein. The company started out as a restaurant in 1862 in the eastern city of Harford, Connecticut and began selling premixed drinks in 1875. The drinks were initially sold through the restaurant but the surge in demand led the management to scale up productions to a distillery and start canning the cocktails. Over the years, Heublein would go on to acquire the distribution rights for various foreign alcohol brands, the sales of which would monumentally increase the company’s profit. 

This money was reinvested into the company, with a good bit of it being spent on expanding both the lineup and distribution of the premixed cocktails the company sold. Heublein created an impressive range, selling eleven different offerings that included everything from traditional fare like Manhattans and Martinis, trendy drinks like the Brass Monkey, and even tiki cocktails like Mai Tai and Navy Grog. The company would go on to become one of the largest F&B brands in US history up until its dissolution in 1998.

The phenomenon spread to Europe as well. The Lonkero, a mix of gin and grapefruit soda, was introduced at the 1952 Olympics in Finland, where the brand continues to be popular today. The world has seen several such alcopops, with production booming in the 80s and continuing to this day. We're now accustomed to brands like Mike's hard lemonade, Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer et al leading the fray. Although these are technically cocktails, they can't really be prepared in a bar or at home owing to the recipes being trademarked. Further, the methods employed for production are deemed intellectual property and therefore inaccessible to the average person.

There was a more niche market at the time that remained unrealized. Bar favorite drinks such as the whisky cola, G&T, and wine-based coolers would really sell well in a similar form factor, especially with older consumers who did not take well to the sugary, artificial taste that are characteristic to most alcopops. This would all change in 1986, when Frederick Booker Noe II, a the sixth generation master distiller of the Beam family, was tasked with making the drinks to be served at his son's wedding. He used a bourbon barrel to make a cooler, topping it off with cola to make a low proof drink. 

The drink earned great praise from the guests who were captivated with how well the vanilla and oak of the whisky paired with the treacly sweetness of the cola. His son, Fred Noe, who also succeeded him as master distiller, recounts the event, “They were low-proof and quite a refreshing drink. No one had ever seen them before. They were really a novelty thing for people”. Jim Beam would go on to can the beverage and sell it nationwide. The move would prove a great success, paving the way for the company to take over the RTD (Ready to Drink) market for decades to come. People all over the country began consuming the beverage in place of light beer, which made it a mainstay at parties, a reputation the company holds to this day. The beverage was first sold overseas in 2004 and met with similar success globally.

Jim Beam was also long renowned for being the first and only company to feature the brand name spirit in a ready to drink beverage. That is a distinction it held well into the 90’s before companies like Bacardi launched their Rum based RTDs and Jack Daniels saw an opportunity to cash in on the whisky-coke RTD market as well. It was not long after that several other American whisky companies followed suit. 

Gin brands noticed the burgeoning market and the lucrative nature of the growing  phenomenon, and threw their hats into the ring towards the end of 2019. Several popular brands like Bombay, Tanqueray and Sipsmith sold canned G&Ts featuring their namesake beverages mixed with Indian tonic water. Given the simplicity of producing the beverage, several smaller artisanal gin brands began canning their beverages as well, greatly increasing exposure and availability. 

India hasn't missed out on the fun either. Mr.Jerrys, a Goan brand established in 2022, launched several premium RTD cocktails sold in glass bottles. The current line up consists of Mai Tai, Long Island Iced Tea, Espresso Martini, Cucumber and Elderflower Fizz, and Negroni.