Insights from Drizly’s Top 5 Winter RTD Cocktails
Flavor innovation within this breakout category is inspiring consumers to reach for whiskey-based and seasonally inspired ready-to-drink cocktails in winter months
Ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, which have become a runaway hit in the spirits category, are evolving: Though vodka-soda and margarita-flavored RTDs remain top sellers year-round, several RTDs experienced notable share gains during the winter months of 2021 compared to annual averages, suggesting that consumer tastes in RTDs align with seasonal beverage preferences overall.
“Historically, the ready-to-drink cocktails category has seen seasonal gains in the warmer months,” explains Drizly head of consumer insights Liz Paquette, noting sales typically peak in July and taper off in October. “However, as this category has grown over the past two years, the spread has begun to close, suggesting this category is becoming more of a year-round favorite among consumers.”
In 2021, the share of RTD sales within the liquor category grew by 62 percent over 2020, when lockdowns sent RTDs into the mainstream. As consumers reached for highly portable, single-serve beverage options amid restaurant shutdowns and COVID-19-related restrictions, the trifecta of features offered by RTD products — quality, portability, and consistent portions — allowed the category to thrive. Since 2019, RTD share has expanded by 320 percent, propelled by continuous flavor innovation and the introduction of new brands to the marketplace.
“To date, RTD trends tend to mirror overall seasonal and general trends in the liquor category,” says Paquette, noting tequila-based RTDs expanded in 2021 alongside agave spirits in tandem with occasions like Cinco de Mayo. “In the winter months, we see darker and heavier liquors like whiskey see share gains, which align with the majority of products on this list.”
Three of the top five RTDs with high winter growth are whiskey-based, supporting whiskey’s status as the top spirits subcategory on Drizly overall. Overall, the most popular winter RTD SKUs are a blend of newer SKUs from best-selling RTD brands and RTD innovations from established spirits brands, suggesting that innovation is still a major driver of sales in this category. On the Rocks, Buzzball, and Cutwater are all among the top-selling RTD brands on Drizly overall, while High West and Jack Daniels represent top-selling whiskey brands that have recently added RTD options to their portfolios.
“The ready-to-drink category continues to see sustained growth within the liquor category specifically,” says Paquette. “With sales remaining strong year-round, retailers should consider their seasonal approaches to stocking relevant flavors.”
On the Rocks Knob Creek Bourbon Old Fashioned Cocktail
On the Rocks (OTR) combines Knob Creek Bourbon with this simple, well-known cocktail, making this widely available and seasonal RTD a popular go-to on Drizly. One of Drizly’s top-selling RTD brands in 2021, OTR offers several sizes of this popular bottled RTD, adding another level of choice for consumers.
High West Old Fashioned Barrel-Finished Ready-Made Whiskey Cocktail
High West’s version of the Old Fashioned also leans on the popularity of classic cocktail flavors in successful RTD offerings. However, High West puts a premium spin on their recipe by combining their Straight Bourbon and Straight Rye whiskeys and aging the finished cocktail in second-use rye whiskey barrels. At 43% ABV, the High West Old Fashioned is also a full-strength cocktail, differentiating itself from lower-proof RTDs.
BuzzBallz Choc Tease
Inspired by chocolate martinis, BuzzBallz’s popular Choc Tease offering is a 15% ABV twist on a decadent winter classic. The No. 8 most-popular RTD brand on Drizly in 2021, Buzzball’s chocolate and cream RTD is the lone vodka-based offering among the top five winter RTDs. This suggests that some consumers are more driven by flavor rather than alcohol base when it comes to choosing a seasonal RTD.
Cutwater Long Island Iced Tea
The second-most popular RTD brand on Drizly in 2021, Cutwater makes its Long Island Iced Tea with a blended spirits base unlike other popular winter RTDs. Combining vodka, gin, tequila, and rum in the brand’s traditional version of the cocktail, this 13% ABV RTD is a new offering from Cutwater. “While Cutwater is a popular brand within the RTD category overall, the SKUs that see gains within the winter months are new products outside of popular brands’ traditional top-selling margarita and vodka-soda style RTDs,” says Paquette.
Jack Daniel’s Whiskey & Cola
“We expect established brands will continue to capitalize on the growth of the ready-to-drink category,” says Paquette, and innovations from long-standing brands like Jack Daniels show the potential for RTDs backed by well-known distilleries. The brand’s Whiskey & Cola RTD is already a fan favorite, offering the classic taste of Jack Daniels blended simply with cola in a traditional bar-style cocktail.