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A legendary Philly cocktail will soon be available in cans, and the 12-ouncers will pack an appropriate punch: ready-to-drink Fishtown Iced Tea is slated to roll out this spring.
In partnership with Interstate Drafthouse, where the cocktail was invented, the cans will be produced by a new offshoot called Rectified Spirits, which will mix and package the mixed drink from a Kingsessing warehouse that was formerly an Amoroso bakery. The ABV will clock in around 9%.
That’s slightly lower than the alcohol content of the drink as made at its home bar, where vodka, rum, tequila, and triple sec are poured into a carton of Arctic Splash to create a localized version of the hangover-inducing Long Island Iced Tea.
The idea to make a canned version came together during the pandemic, said Interstate co-owner Michael McCloskey, when the tavern off Girard Avenue operated as a to-go business only, selling hundreds of Fishtown Iced Teas through the front window each week.
“That saved this place,” McCloskey said. “We realized it kind of had a bit of a cult following.”
McCloskey and former bar co-owner Bob Ritchie, who is divesting to become a partner in the new canning business, went to high school together, and got to talking with fellow North Catholic grad John Logan about the possibilities.
Logan is now principal at Rectified Spirits. He has spent time as assistant plant manager at century-old Northeast Philly boozemaker Jacquin’s, and was hyperaware of the industry trend toward canned cocktails.
“Michael probably came up with the idea just on instinct,” Logan told Billy Penn, “but the data is there, [with] billion-dollar projections over the next few years for the RTD [ready to drink] segment.”
From hard seltzers to canned cocktails, spirit-based drinks in cans are the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage category in the U.S., according to industry research. Nearly every major conglomerate wants a piece of the White Claw-inspired pie, but local operations have been getting into the game, too.
New Liberty Distillery in Kensington introduced a line of canned cocktails last spring, and neighbor Federal Distilling (of Stateside Vodka) now also offers several varieties. Even the suburbs aren’t immune: Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale has sold cans of flavored vodka-sodas since summer 2020.
As the partners envision it, Fishtown Iced Tea would stand out from the crowd in a few ways. For one, it won’t be in the slim can favored by many purveyors.
“There’s nothing slim about this drink,” said McCloskey. “We are not going for low-cal. That’s not what we are.” He also pointed to the cocktail’s relative complexity. “It’s got four liquors in it. This is hard to make at home.”
You won’t even need to visit a Fishtown corner store to pick up a carton of Arctic Splash, because the partners worked hard with their flavor consultant in California to replicate that special taste.
It took a few weeks to get everything right — “The first ones didn’t have that cardboard flavor,” Ritchie joked — but by September 2021 they’d hit upon a final formula that uses real tea extract and natural lemon flavor. The intent is for the drink to be poured over ice, but it’s also designed to taste good straight from the can.
The cans will be labeled with a design by local artist Jeff Kilpatrick, who’s drawn t-shirts for Interstate Drafthouse for years.
When will you be able to get your hands on some? May is the target launch date, according to McCloskey. “We are hoping to have people drinking this by Memorial Day weekend.”
The product will be self-distributed at first, with plans for the first batch of 350 cases to be sold to bars and breweries around the city. If there’s a snag the partners worry about, it’s that they might not be able to keep up with demand.
“We don’t know how much we can make at first,” said Logan. “This is a grassroots, barebones operation. Please be patient with us!”