RTDs are all the rage this summer. No, we’re not talking about the Denver metro region’s bus, rail, and light rail transit service (though that topic might be rage-inducing for other reasons). Ready-to-drink cocktails, also known as RTDs, are surging in popularity, especially for warm-weather adventures and outings. “People need to have something sessionable that’s light and has some alcohol in it but isn’t such a commitment from a strong alcohol perspective,” says Moose Koons, co-founder of Lifted Libations, which released two new canned cocktail flavors in May, a vodka fruit punch and spiked lemonade.
These typically canned options also tend to be made with natural ingredients and without heavy sweeteners, making them (often, not always) a lower-calorie option than beer. Another key benefit: convenience. “People want something right away [that] they can just grab and go, that’s ready to drink,” Koons says. “That’s where the RTDs come in.”
Reach for one of these four locally made RTD options this summer.
“In the sea of RTDs out there, we wanted to be simple and clean,” Koons says. Made with organic vodka, organic flavors, and sparkling water, the Caddy Pack from Lifted Libations lives up to his goal. Each can contains just 96 calories with a 5 percent ABV, making them “really sessionable for the summer,” he adds.
The eight-pack includes two cans each of Tea Time (an update on the classic Arnold Palmer, but made with organic vodka, house lemonade, and black tea from Denver’s own Teatulia), Lifted Lemonade (a spiked version of the summertime staple), Swing Juice (a sparkling vodka fruit punch), and Mile High Mule, which is made with a “really spicy” homemade ginger beer. $17.99 for an eight-pack
Pioneers traveling across the Old West turned to elderberries to support their health and wellness. Today, Montezuma County’s own Fenceline Cider & Wine uses the tangy berries to bring added complexity to its latest release: Understory, a surprisingly sweet, yet tantalizingly tart cider—a cider that, possibly, has some secondary antiviral benefits. “We can’t make any claims about it without FDA approval, but there’s a strong association there between elderberries … as an old folk remedy,” says Sam Perry, Fenceline co-founder.
Fenceline also offers a subscription tasting club that’s perfect for “true cider geeks or ciderphiles” and others “who are seeking out these really rich, flavor-forward ciders,” Perry says. Participants receive 12 different ciders—including special varietals not available in Fenceline’s online store—sent in three, 750-mL-bottle shipments four times per year. $16 for a four-pack of Understory, subscriptions are $59 each quarter plus shipping (or free local pickup)
Like your buzz with added benefits? That’s the beauty of Hooch Booch, Denver’s first, female-founded line of hard kombucha, which launched in mid-May. Featuring live probiotic cultures and brewed with tea from local Teakoe Tea Supply Co., the boozy bevvies still boast 8.5 percent ABV.
Founder Anna Zesbaugh says the speakeasy theme of Hooch Booch was inspired by last March’s (short-lived) attempt to close liquor stores, a move that felt, to her, very Prohibition-esque. Now the three flavors—lemon-honey Bee’s Knees, raspberry-lemon Clover Club, and the Old-Fashioned—as well as the old-school packaging, offer a nod to the Roaring ’20s. “It felt like the perfect combination of both bringing back some of those dark and fun cocktail times and mixing them with the modern twist of hard kombucha, which is increasing in popularity so rapidly,” Zesbaugh says. $15.99 for a four-pack
Kick the classiness level up a notch with the new Classy Casuals line from Boulder-based Cocktail Squad. Made with zero sugar, zero carbs, and no artificial sugar substitutes, these 90-calorie cans (available in whiskey ginger soda and vodka lemon soda flavors) still deliver a respectable 5 percent ABV. Cocktail Squad co-founder Lauren Maggio says the product is perfect “for occasions where people want to hold a cocktail in their hand but want it to be a little lighter so they can have a few.”
If you’re looking for something with a little more zing, opt for Cocktail Squad’s Classy Classics. Available in, well, classic flavors like margarita, whiskey sour, and gin and tonic, each packs a 10-percent-ABV punch (roughly equivalent to a double cocktail). Classy Casuals are $3.49 per can or $13.99 per four-pack; Classy Classics are $4.99 per can or $20 per four-pack
Have a little extra time on your hands? Backyard Soda Co. can help you impress your guests, up your mixology game—and help you use up all that booze you stocked up on last March. The Denver-based company crafts all-natural cocktail syrups made with whole, often local ingredients. New this summer is a cucumber mint variety, which uses fresh cucumbers and mint leaves added to pure, organic cane sugar and water to create a simple syrup. Combine the syrup with tequila, lime juice, Aperol, and two dashes of celery bitters for a Secret Garden cocktail or pair it with soda water and ice for a refreshing, alcohol-free option.
Backyard Soda Co. CEO Jonathan Schultz acknowledges that simple syrups can be made at home—it’s just that doing so can be a hassle. “When people are at home, creating a cucumber mint simple syrup may be beyond what they want to do,” he says, especially if they don’t want to wait the one to two hours it takes to make the syrup. “We’re creating that bar- and restaurant-level cocktail syrup for folks who are making fun cocktails at home. We want to make it easy for them.” $8.99 per bottle, $32.99 for a four-pack
Looking for a nonalcoholic drink with more flare than fizzy water and more health benefits than soda? Opt for a canned iced tea or kombucha from Boulder’s own Ku Cha House of Tea. This spring, the local tea experts introduced Sakura Cherry varieties—a blend of Japanese green teas, cherry blossoms, and dried fruit—to both their iced tea and kombucha lineups, as well as a bright, Lemon Blossom Kombucha.
For the past 15 years, Ku Cha has offered more than 170 loose-leaf tea varieties in its three retail locations and began canning its most popular varieties last October. The decision was prompted by a need to diversify after the pandemic forced the company’s brick-and-mortar locations to close, but the drink’s popularity among consumers indicates it’s onto something big. “Canned iced teas are so convenient for people to grab on the go,” says Ku Cha co-founder Rong Pan, adding that the absence of sugar, preservatives, and artificial flavors in Ku Cha’s beverages gives them a “pure taste compared to many commercial-grade iced teas in the marketplace.” $3.95 for a 12-ounce iced tea, $4.95 for a 12-ounce kombucha