Durham Distiller launches ready-to-drink cocktails
“Hassle-free” is not the phrase that comes to mind when you’re dreaming of enjoying a G&T on a North Carolina beach. This month, that all changes with Durham Distillery’s release of its line of canned cocktails, a truly first-to-market cocktail concept for our fair state.
The producers of Conniption Gin, Damn Fine Liqueurs and Cold Distilled Cucumber Vodka will launch 2,500, 12-ounce cans of Gin and Tonic—a mix of the distillery’s flagship American Dry Gin and house-made tonic water—and another 2,500 cans of Vodka Soda, all canned at the distillery’s home in a onetime auto body shop in downtown Durham. At around 8 percent ABV, each can packs two cocktail servings, and you can grab a 4-pack at participating ABC stores across the state for around $15.
“We want to bring a nod that it’s OK to experiment, not just with classic cocktails, but to push your horizons and have really good cocktails at home. It doesn’t always need to be in a bar,” says Melissa Katrincic, Durham Distillery’s CEO. “[Mixologists] bring an art to the form that you may not necessarily have the knowledge, or time, or desire to do at home, but [with the cans] we’re doing it for you. We put that care and premium-ization into a can, and that doesn’t really exist today.”
Though North Carolina’s ABC system, and Southern markets in general, have been slow to embrace ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails, they’re already making a splash in other U.S. markets and internationally. San Diego-based Cutwater Spirits sells its line of 10 canned cocktails in 25 states, and RTD cocktails saw an uptick in sales of 5 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to Nielsen data. In a 2016 report, market research company Mintel predicted a 9 percent rise in sales volume for RTD spirits-based cocktails by 2021, with growth mirroring the craft beer movement as craft cocktails become more and more popular among Millennials. Wine in a can, too, has seen significant growth recently, with sales of $6.4 million in 2016 over $1.9 million in 2012.
“We just want to see success with these first two skews,” says Katrincic. She hopes the cans—which will also sell in Durham Distillery’s markets in five other states, including Georgia and South Carolina—will play well due to their their versatility, for easy home drinking as well as for tailgating, beach lounging and relaxing poolside where glass bottles aren’t allowed.
The three-year-old Durham Distillery’s gin distillation process is unique among local and even international distillers and its products are award-winning.
Lee Katrincic, Melissa’s husband and the company’s head distiller, is also a pharmaceutical chemist. After tasting more than 250 gins and spending a year developing two gin recipes—the subtle American Dry, and the savory, juniper-infused Navy Strength—Lee perfected a two-step manufacturing process that weds old-school distillation techniques with modern lab equipment, “the marriage of art and science,” as he describes it.
For each batch of American Dry Conniption, gin botanicals, including Indian coriander, angelica root and cardamon, infuse with juniper via a vapor tray in a sided copper pot still that was made specifically to order in Germany. Then, notes of cucumber, honeysuckle and citrus are distilled at room temperature using a rotary evaporator and blended into the gin base. The Navy Strength gin uses bolder botanicals, such as caraway, bay leaves and rosemary, to blend with juniper and cassia for a stronger flavor and mouth feel.
“The Navy Strength is more of a gin drinker’s gin while the American Dry is for the vodka drinker who has been intimidated to try gin,” Melissa explains. In fact, the only difference between gin and vodka is that gin has, by definition, been infused with juniper. If the initial launch is successful, Melissa says, they hope to start canning their popular mule, made with the company’s vodka and house-made ginger beer.
Since North Carolina law dictates that each county’s ABC board gets to decide what will be sold in all of that county’s ABC stores, bars and restaurants, Durham Distillery’s cocktails in a can may not be available in all 100 North Carolina counties. The best way to make sure they’re available in yours is to request them at your local ABC store, or reach out to your county’s ABC board members.
“If this is something you want to try, go into your local ABC store and ask for it,” Melissa says. “That would help. It will be in a Triangle store, so if you can’t find it, just ask.”