Canned cockails and canned wine are a thing, thanks to improved ingredients and technology. They make their debut this year at Canfest, the Reno canned craft beer event. Johnathan L. Wright/RGJ
Indulge me, if you would, in a bit of autobiography.
It’s summer, back in the day, a rocky cove on Lake Tahoe. The boys and I have dragged down an ice chest of essentials: water, soda, beer, snacks and, from the convenience store, cocktails in little cans.
The manhattan tastes of turpentine, the gin and tonic like solvent, and the martini should come with a hazard label, but we continue cocktailing anyway. They’re better than nothing — right? — and it’s not like we can haul a bar to the beach.
If only we’d had the cans of today. Thanks to better ingredients, production and technology, canned cocktails rank among the hottest categories in the spirits trade, following the earlier success of canned craft beer.
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 26
Where: Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, 2500 E. Second St.
Cost: $50 general admission
Highlights: All-you-can-enjoy tasting of more than 100 international canned craft beers, canned cocktails and wine (for the first time), live music, silent disco, event benefits the Reno Bike Project
That’s why it’s fitting this year that Canfest, the annual celebration of that beer, features canned cocktails for the first time. Why now, the booze among the brews?
“We wanted to diversify what was being offered in order to speak to different crowds,” said Ty Whitaker, a founder and organizer of the event running Aug. 26 at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino.
“We wanted to make Canfest about all types of canned alcohol, not just canned beer, and we knew canned cocktails were on the rise.”
Cutwater Spirits reflects that rise. The San Diego craft distillery produces liquors like vodka, gin and rum that are used in its line of 10 canned cocktails.
At Canfest, Cutwater is pouring its Cucumber Vodka Soda, Grapefruit Vodka Soda, Gin & Tonic, Rum & Cola and perhaps the Bloody Mary.
(In the interest of thoroughness, I pop cans of the cucumber and grapefruit versions. They’re crisp and spritzy, lightly flavored, delivering a gentle buzz. Conclusion: Put down the drinks before you can’t write anymore.)
“Having worked with cans through years of previous experience in the world of craft brewing, our team at Cutwater Spirits is excited . . . to create our ready-to-enjoy canned cocktails,” said Nicole Wood, marketing manager of Cutwater.
Canfest “seemed like the perfect event to share what our distilling team has been able to do.”
Craft and convenience
Ten or more years ago, when the boys and I were enduring our bargain buzz at Lake Tahoe, “canned cocktails were a bust,” said Sabrina Sanders, craft brand manager and spirits specialist with Breakthru Beverage, the local distributor of Cutwater Spirits.
The problem, beyond poor ingredients and preservatives, lay with the flavor taint imparted by the can. But improvements to the plastic liners used in cans “have made a huge difference and opened a lot of doors to new products,” Sanders added.
Combine those improvements with a craft ethos and the portability and convenience of canned cocktails — no bottles, mixers, garnishes, shakers, cups or ice needed — and you have the adult beverage trend of the moment, the next iteration of American drinking culture.
“You hunt, you fish, you camp, you’re at the beach, you’re living out of a cooler — you don’t have to worry about the mess of glass,” Sanders said. You just grab these and go.”
Add Burning Man to that list: “There’s no better time to feature a product like this than before Burning Man.”
Cocktails aren’t the only new cans at Canfest.
Niven Family Wine Estates, a pioneering producer from Edna Valley, on California’s Central Coast, is sending up its Tangent brand sauvignon blanc and rosé in cans. The family’s estate vineyard has received Sustainability in Practice Certification for its sustainable approach to farming.
The vineyard provides fruit for the crisp, racy sauvignon blanc veined with green apple and citrus.
For its Tangent rosé in cans, Niven blends albariño, viognier, pinot noir, syrah and grenache (yes, that’s an offbeat mix) to create moments of rose petal, cherry and tropical fruit.
“Bottle, keg, can — it’s all the same wine,” said Chuck Hernandez of Niven Family.
Like canned cocktails, the canned wine trend unites convenience with a concern for quality.
Oh, yes: Canfest this year also offers more than 100 international craft beers. For when you need a break from the booze and the wine.