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An iconic Philly cocktail will soon be available in cans, and the 12-ounce bottles will pack a fitting punch. The ready-to-drink Fishtown Iced Tea with an ABV of 9% is scheduled for launch this spring.
In partnership with Interstate Drafthouse, where the cocktail was invented, the cans will be made by a new spin-off called Rectified Spirits, which will mix and package the cocktail at a warehouse in Kingsessing that was formerly an Amoroso Bakery.
That’s slightly less than the alcohol content of the drink as made at his 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 of making a canned version came about during the pandemic, Interstate co-owner Michael McCloskey said, when the Girard Avenue tavern operated only as a to-go shop, selling hundreds of Fishtown Iced Teas through the front window each week.
“That saved this place,” McCloskey said. “We found it had a kind of cult following.”
McCloskey and former bar co-owner Bob Ritchie, who is selling to become a partner in the new canning business, went to high school together and began talking to John Logan, a North Catholic graduate student, about the possibilities.
Logan is now a director at Rectified Spirits. Having spent time as an assistant plant manager at century-old liquor maker Jacquin’s in northeast Philadelphia, he was acutely aware of the industry trend toward canned cocktails.
“Michael probably just got the idea instinctively,” Logan told Billy Penn, “but the data is there, [with] Billion dollar projections for the next few years for RTD [ready to drink] Segment.”
From hard seltzer to canned cocktails, spirit-based beverages are the fastest-growing alcoholic beverage category in the United States, according to industry research. Just about every major conglomerate wants a piece of the White Claw-inspired pie, but local businesses have gotten in on the act, too.
New Liberty Distillery in Kensington introduced a range of canned cocktails last spring, and neighboring Federal Distilling (of Stateside Vodka) is now offering several varieties as well. The suburbs aren’t immune either: Boardroom Spirits in Lansdale has been selling cans of flavored vodka sodas since the summer of 2020.
As the partners envision, Fishtown Iced Tea would stand out from the crowd in a number of ways. Namely not in the slim can favored by many suppliers.
“There’s nothing wrong with this drink,” McCloskey said. “We don’t rely on low-cal. We’re not.” He also noted the cocktail’s relative complexity. “There are four liqueurs in there. That’s hard to do at home.”
You don’t even have to visit a Fishtown corner store to pick up a pack of Arctic Splash – the partners worked hard with their flavor consultant in California to reproduce this particular flavor.
It took a couple of weeks to get everything right — “The first ones didn’t have that cardboard taste,” Ritchie joked — but by September 2021, they had found a definitive formula that uses real tea extract and natural lemon flavor. The drink is meant to be poured over ice, but it’s also meant 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 will you be able to get your hands on some? According to McCloskey, May is the target start date. “We hope people drink this by Memorial Day weekend.”
The product will initially be self-distributed, with plans to sell the first batch of 350 cases to bars and breweries across the city. If there’s one snag that partners are worried about, it’s that they may not be able to keep up with demand.
“We don’t know how much we can make at first,” Logan said. “This is a barebones basic operation. Please be patient with us!”