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Bottled Cocktails

Cocktails in kits, cans and bottles saved bars during the pandemic. Will drinks-to-go keep flowing?

TAKEOUT COCKTAILS AND COCKTAIL KITS PROVIDED A MUCH-NEEDED LIFELINE TO BUSINESSES during Covid. Now, licensees who fought to legalize them are wondering if the concept has any enduring relevance in the post-pandemic world. Cocktail takeout is now legal in all provinces except Quebec, where they were never approved, and Nova Scotia, where the ruling allow- ing them expired with the lockdowns.

“I think it’s here to stay, but I don’t think it’s going to be anywhere near as big as it was at the height of the pandemic,” says Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager of Vancou- ver’s Chickadee Room. Sales of her elegant cocktail kits have slowed since restrictions were lifted, while her canned cocktail (a riff on the Penicillin) called X Marks the Spot, is selling briskly.

During the pandemic, Toronto’s Cry Baby Gallery used the OnlyFans subscription-based social media platform — typically employed for adult entertainment — to deliver a weekly craft cocktail to about 175 “fans.”

“It became the identity of the bar,” notes co-owner Rob Granicolo. But on the bar’s reopening, staff were too busy to handle cocktail delivery. So, they set up a “lemonade stand,” where customers pick up bottles of spicy margaritas in flavours like mango, passionfruit or blackberry. OnlyFans is on the back burner for now, Granicolo says, but the spicy margs will continue. He thinks customers will want to pick up a batch on the way to a dinner party or, perhaps, the cottage.

As the lockdowns came and went — and came again — Matt Boyle offered several pre-made cocktails at Dear Friend in Halifax, including a milk punch and an espresso martini. “Nearly 15 percent of our sales over the past six months were to-go cocktails. People absolutely love them,” he says.

Takeout cocktails are here to stay, according to Jeff Jamieson, a partner in Proof, in Calgary. “It’s been an addition to sales that we’re happy to have.”

Proof’s cocktail boxes are still moving, mostly for corporate gifts and Zoom classes. But their bottled, barrel-aged Negronis, manhattans and other classics —as well as canned cocktails — fly off the shelves. “They’re not labor-intensive and we love having them,” Jamieson says. “Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen again, but if it does, we’re ready.”