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A legendary Philly cocktail will soon be available in cans, and the 12-ouncers will pack a fitting punch. Ready-to-drink Fishtown Iced Tea is slated to roll out this spring, with an ABV of 9%.
In partnership with Interstate Drafthouse, where the cocktail was invented, the cans will be produced by a new branch called Rectified Spirits, which will mix and package the cocktail from a Kingsessing warehouse that used to be an Amoroso bakery.
That’s slightly lower than the alcohol content of the drink made at the home bar, where vodka, rum, tequila and triple sec are poured into a box of Arctic Splash to create a localized version of the hangover-inducing Long Island Iced Tea.
The idea of making a canned version came together during the pandemic, said Interstate co-owner Michael McCloskey, when the Girard Avenue tavern operated solely as a to-go business, selling hundreds of Fishtown Iced Teas through the windshield every week. .
“That saved this place,” McCloskey said. “We realized it had a bit of a cult following.”
McCloskey and former bar co-owner Bob Ritchie, who is shedding to partner in the new canning industry, went to high school together and talked to John Logan, a fellow Northern Catholic student, about the possibilities.
Logan is now a director at Rectified Spirits. Having spent time as an assistant factory manager at age-old Northeast Philly boozemaker Jacquin’s, he was hyper-aware of the industry’s trend toward canned cocktails.
“Michael probably just came up with the idea on instinct,” Logan told Billy Penn, “but the data is there, [with] multi-billion dollar forecasts for the coming years for RTD [ready to drink] segment.”
From hard seltzers to canned cocktails, canned spirits are the fastest growing category of alcoholic beverages in the US, according to industry research. Nearly every major conglomerate wants a slice of the White Claw-inspired pie, but local operations are joining in too.
New Liberty Distillery in Kensington introduced a line of canned cocktails last spring, and neighbor Federal Distilling (of vodka from the United States) now offers several variants as well. Even the suburbs aren’t immune: Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale has been selling cans of flavored vodka soft drinks since the summer of 2020.
As the partners envision, Fishtown Iced Tea would stand out from the crowd in a number of ways. It will not be in the thin can that many suppliers prefer.
“There’s nothing slim about this drink,” McCloskey said. “We are not going for low-threshold. We are not.” He also pointed out the relative complexity of the cocktail. “There are four spirits in it. That is difficult to make at home.”
You don’t even have to go to a store in Fishtown to pick up a pack of Arctic Splash, as the partners have worked hard with their California flavor advisor to recreate that special flavor.
It took a few weeks to get everything right — “The first ones didn’t have that cardboard taste,” Ritchie joked — but by September 2021, they’d found a final formula that uses real tea extract and natural lemon flavor. The drink is meant 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 has been drawing t-shirts for Interstate Drafthouse for years.
When can you get your hands on some? According to McCloskey, the target launch date is May. “We hope people have been drinking this by Memorial Day weekend.”
The product will initially be self-distributed, with plans to sell the first batch of 350 boxes to bars and breweries across the city. If there’s one issue that worries the partners, it’s that they may not be able to keep up with demand.
“We don’t know how much we can earn at first,” Logan said. “This is a basic operation. Please bear with us!”