“Lots of people think this is the sample size,” laughs Yoni Reisman, co-founder of Tip Top Proper Cocktails. But the Atlanta-based company’s petite (seriously—at 100 ml., or about 3.3 oz., you could conceivably take them on a plane) canned drinks pack a punch. Tip Top’s Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and Negronis range from 52 to 74 proof. They’re on the leading edge of the move toward lower-volume, higher-proof canned cocktails among the many bubbly, sweet options that have flooded the ready-to-drink marketplace.
Reisman and his business partner Neal Cohen, both music-festival veterans, knew that developing serious canned cocktails called for seriously tasty recipes, so they partnered with expert mixologist (and previous G&G Made in the South Awards judge) Miles Macquarrie. “We brought Miles in for his palette and trusted him to be the perfectionist,” Reisman says. Under Macquarrie’s guidance as beverage director at Kimball House in Atlanta, the restaurant’s bar has been a six-time nominee for the James Beard Outstanding Bar Award. But mixing a drink for immediate consumption is one thing; putting it in a can is another. “You’re trying to bottle up culinary art and preserve it,” Macquarrie says. The challenge of a canned cocktail, he explains, is shelf life and stabilization. If there’s juice, it has to be pasteurized. If there’s carbonation, it has to be at the perfect amount of pressure to keep the can from exploding. After two years of tinkering, the three decided to skip juice and carbonation altogether in favor of a trio of elegantly simple classic recipes. Take the Old Fashioned: At a bar, this drink contains bourbon or rye, cane sugar, bitters, a slice of orange, and that’s it. To give the canned version a similar citrusy note to that of fresh orange, Macquarrie tweaked the formula with orange bitters and a touch of distillate from orange oil. “There’s nothing in them that goes bad,” Macquarrie says. “If anything, these flavors will just round out and develop over time.”
Because the high proof level would corrode a traditional aluminum can, Tip Top’s drinks are instead canned in steel at a facility in North Charleston, South Carolina. “That container has to hold up over time,” Cohen says. For now, you can find them for just under $5 a can throughout the Atlanta metro area, in package stores, bars, and restaurants. And each steel can illustrates everything you need to know about what’s inside: small but strong.