The Untold Truth Of Cutwater

There are so many RTD (ready-to-drink) canned cocktails on the market, but no company is doing it quite like Cutwater Spirits. The San Diego-based distillery has an extensive and diverse lineup of products, all made from its in-house distilled spirits. Cutwater also offers many of its staple canned cocktails, like vodka sodas and margaritas, in a variety of different flavors. There's seemingly no bar order the brand won't try to capture in a can. 

Cutwater is one of the most common canned cocktail brands you can find across the U.S., in liquor stores, bars, and beyond. And there are so many products and flavors worth trying that you're bound to find something you like. Given the brand's ubiquity, it's easy to wonder how Cutwater got such a hold on the massive and ever-growing canned cocktail market. So Mashed decided to dig deep into the ins and outs of all things Cutwater. Keep reading to find out how the brand came to be and what led to its tremendous popularity. Along the way, you might even discover some new Cutwater products to seek out next time you're at the liquor store. 

Cutwater was born out of a brewery

The Cutwater name is synonymous with boozy cocktails that take minimal effort, but the brand was actually born out of a brewery. Founder Yuseff Cherney became fascinated with distilling as a hobby while working as the head brewer and COO at Ballast Point Brewing (via Cutwater Spirits). The facility already had the canning operation, so he just needed to figure out the distillation aspect. 

In 2007, Cherney built his own DIY distiller, made out of a beer fermentator, to create his first batches of liquors. He then spent years making distilled spirits as an extension of the brewery. Cherney finally turned his side gig into a full-time endeavor in 2015, when he and Ballast Point founder Jack White sold the brewery to Constellation Brands for $1 billion. Cherney used the money to open Cutwater the next year. Since then, the brand has continued to grow, and was bought by Anheuser-Busch in 2019 (via The San Diego Union-Tribune).

Even though Cutwater Spirits has made it big in the booze world, Cherney still keeps the operation tight-knit. He remains a familiar face at the Cutwater production facility, overseeing all efforts to innovate the brand while making sure it stays true to its roots. 

It may have been the first San Diego distillery since Prohibition

Cutwater is a monumental company for many reasons, but it stands by one pretty lofty claim that makes for a great fun fact. "We claim the title of first distillery in San Diego since Prohibition," founder Yuseff Cherney told Pacific San Diego in 2019. Cherney counts the nearly 10 years he was distilling spirits at Ballast Point before the Cutwater brand was officially born out of it in order to make the claim (via The San Diego Union-Tribune). And it's worth noting that even though it wasn't officially a brand until 2016, Cutwater and Ballast Point's make-shift distillery were well-known for years prior. In fact, back in 2014, the San Diego Reader reported that the brand's Fugu vodka was Ballast's biggest seller for locals. 

While it hasn't been totally proven, if this fun and interesting fact about Cutwater happens to be true, it's pretty significant; if not, it's still a fun joke to throw around. 

Cutwater makes nearly 30 canned cocktails

It's legitimately difficult to keep up with all of the offerings in Cutwater's lineup. The brand is constantly introducing new flavors and mixing up its products to keep customers interested. Sure, there are the classics, like vodka soda cans in lime, grapefruit, watermelon, and cucumber flavors, but that's just scratching the surface. If vodka is your drink of choice, you can also try Cutwater's canned versions of a White Russian, bloody mary, and vodka mule. 

If you prefer tequila, but want to skip the salt rim, the brand offers canned margaritas in several flavors, including pineapple, lime, peach, mango, and strawberry. Cutwater also makes tequila sodas, a paloma cocktail, and a variety of flavored ranch waters

For the rum drinkers, Cutwater offers mojitos in three flavors: mint and lime, passionfruit guava, and mango watermelon. It also makes a canned version of a mai tai, rum punch, and piña colada. And to round out the roster of cocktails, Cutwater makes a canned gin and tonic, whiskey mule, and Long Island iced tea, so there are plenty of options to pack in your cooler. 

Some of the cocktails mask a lot of liquor

Even though you don't have to open up the liquor cabinet to enjoy a Cutwater cocktail, that doesn't mean that you don't have to keep an eye on how many cans you down. A few of the brand's offerings, like its Long Island iced tea and White Russian, contain 13.2% and 14% ABV (alcohol by volume), respectively. Even some of the margaritas, like the lime and mango flavors, mask a hefty 12.5% ABV. That means a can or two can sneak up on you quickly, leaving you with a headache the next day if you aren't careful. 

However, not every can of Cutwater is loaded with booze. The brand offers a few lighter options, like its gin and tonic with 6.2% ABV, as well as the vodka soda lineup, which all contain 5% ABV. The company also sells booze-free mixers – including bloody mary mix and canned ginger beer — if you prefer to make your own drinks and keep a closer eye on the alcohol content. 

Cutwater also makes its own line of spirits

Even if ready-to-drink cocktails aren't for you, Cutwater is a distillery, after all, and also sells its own line of spirits to enjoy. The brand covers the basics, including vodka, rum, gin, tequila, and whiskey — but it doesn't just stop at the classics. 

Cutwater also sells flavored spirits, including vodka infused with horchata, habanero, or hibiscus. There's also a line of rums in several different flavors. Cutwater gets in on the mezcal game with reposado and joven varieties, to accompany its line of blanco, reposado, and añejo tequilas. And for those looking for something even more unique, the Opah herbal liquor is a small-batch dark spirit with flavors of licorice and cinnamon that will warm you up from the inside out. 

Many of Cutwater's bottled spirits have received rave reviews and even won awards, much like its canned products. So they are definitely worth exploring if you're a fan of the brand's RTD cocktails. 

They don't cut corners at Cutwater

Tequila experts may be quick to wonder how a San Diego distillery makes its own line of the traditionally Mexican spirit. Tequila, by definition, has to be distilled from the blue agave plant, which is native to the Jalisco region of Mexico. The folks at Cutwater are well aware of the customs behind their spirits, so they didn't cut corners to come up with a strong line of tequila. The brand has a partnership with the Orendain family in Jalisco, who have been making tequila for nearly a century, to produce the Cutwater line (via Pacific San Diego). 

Depending on whether the tequila is aged or not, Cutwater even ships its own whiskey barrels to Jalisco, making the brand a part of the process while still sticking with tradition. Cutwater uses 100% blue agave that's cooked in traditional brick ovens, and bottles the finished tequila right in Mexico before shipping it to San Diego and beyond (via Cutwater). 

It's one of the best selling canned cocktail brands

In the past couple of years, Cutwater has really expanded its category of tequila-based offerings, as evidenced by its large array of canned margaritas and ranch waters. The move was based on data showing that people could not get enough of Cutwater's original tequila product. In 2020, sales for the brand's classic tequila margarita grew 190%. And last year, the drink had the third highest rate of sale across the entire canned cocktail market (via Bar Business Magazine).

Drizly also reported that Cutwater was the online alcohol retailer's second best-selling RTD cocktail brand in 2021, just behind High Noon. And Cutwater's original margarita rose from No. 9 to No. 4 on Drizly's best-sellers list in 2021 (via BevAlc Insights). With that in mind, it only makes sense that Cutwater would build on the momentum with new flavors and recipes for its margaritas and more.

Cutwater also offers seasonal drinks

Cutwater will seemingly never stop dreaming up new ways to make drinking cocktails more interesting and fool-proof. For the summer season, the brand sells frozen cocktail popsicles that are as tasty as they sound. In the original pack, you get a mix of flavors like tequila margarita, vodka mule, rum and cola, and gin melon. The company also sells a margarita pack for the tequila lovers, with flavors like lime, pineapple, mango, and strawberry. The popsicles sneak in a whopping 7% ABV apiece, so they're the perfect adult treat for a hot day. 

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, if you're looking for a fun pairing for a ski trip, or even just a snow day in the backyard, Cutwater might have exactly what you're looking for. The brand also sells "Heaters" to warm you up on cold days. They're labeled as a "high proof mixer" containing 40% ABV, and are meant to be mixed with hot water to create the perfect warming cocktail. The choices include a whiskey hot toddy, vodka apple pie, and hot buttered rum. And it's worth noting that one bottle can make up to eight drinks.  

Not every flavor has been a hit

Cutwater is clearly not afraid to experiment with imaginative ways to shake up the liquor business, but taking risks naturally leads to failures sometimes. In a 2020 Forbes interview, Cutwater founder Yuseff Cherney was specifically asked if there were any recipes he's tried that were absolute duds. "Plum schnapps made from local plums may have been the worst thing we have ever tried to do," Cherney said, adding that plums don't produce a lot of juice, so it was a tough task. He also noted that a lot of effort went into yielding just one bottle of Cutwater plum schnapps, so it never made it past the testing phase. 

Cherney says he doesn't mind the mistakes because it reminds him and his team that quality control is the most important factor. Any brand can have the craziest RTD flavors of all time, but if they're poorly executed, they're not worth the effort. On the other hand, Cherney also told Forbes that Cutwater's line of Bali Hai rums was one of the trials that ended up being a pleasant surprise for the brand. 

The founder brings a unique approach to distilling

Considering that Cutwater's founder made the transition from brewer to distiller, he tends to incorporate the same mindset when crafting canned cocktails. For him, making spirits was a natural transition from making craft beer. "This was the next step in the alchemy of turning water into something with alcohol in it," Yuseff Cherney told The San Diego Union-Tribune. He takes the same approach in both businesses when sourcing quality ingredients and carefully creating the end result. 

And because Cherney is so knowledgable about both the beer and canned cocktail industries, he was able to turn that wisdom into business success. Before Cutwater hit the market, "most canned cocktails were a mixture of some mystery alcohol derived from beer (just like the modern day seltzers) or some bizarre mix of ingredients you would never want to drink more than a sip of," Cherney told Forbes. Cutwater, however, took a different approach. "We decided to make real, spirit-based cocktails that contained the very liquor we made in our distillery." Clearly, the approach worked, as Cutwater led has a revolution in the canned cocktail industry. 

Cutwater has won thousands of awards

Not only does Cutwater have the product line and customer reviews to boost its credibility, but the brand also has quite a list of accolades. As of June 2022, Cutwater has received more than 2,000 awards for its various RTD cocktails, mixers, and spirits. The wins come from events and organizations like the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the Denver International Spirits Competition, the ASCOT Awards, the International Wine & Spirits Challenge, and more (via PR Newswire). 

Some offerings in Cutwater's portfolio have been awarded more than others. Cans like the lime margarita, vodka mule, mild bloody mary, and tiki rum mai tai have received more than 30 awards apiece. The Bali Hai gold rum has received more than 40 awards, while the brand's Devil's Share small-batch whiskey and bourbon have garnered more than 70 awards each. And Cutwater's standard vodka and gin have each racked up more than 60 awards. Yet somehow, it feels like the brand only has more success coming. 

The company has a large team that keeps growing

The Cutwater brand has grown from a side hustle to a nationally recognized company, and with that has come a lot of jobs for a whole lot of people. According to the company website, Cutwater counts more than 100 employees as part of its crew. This large team of workers spans a range sectors, including administration, operations, distilling, quality control, retail, sales, marketing, and more. Nearly every employee, from the head of sales to the floor staff at the Cutwater Tasting Room, has a smiling photo listed on the site, which is pretty impressive for such a big operation with so many moving parts. 

And the Cutwater team will only keep growing along with the brand. Cutwater has quite a few job listings on its website, from an events coordinator to an assistant distiller. If making a career switch to the exciting world of RTD cocktails sounds like a dream, there seems to be plenty of opportunities at one of the biggest brands in the business. 

The Cutwater tasting room is worth a visit

If you're in the vicinity of San Diego, Cutwater has a tasting room where you can sample the brand's extensive offerings. The menu includes Cutwater's widely available canned products and more. You can get a range of classic cocktails made with Cutwater's bottled spirits, such as an espresso martini, old fashioned, or negroni. The cocktail list also includes signature, specialty drinks you can only get in the tasting room, like seasonal mules and frozen treats. And if you're overwhelmed by the options, the tasting room has quite the to-go menu, so you to take the experience home with you. 

To entice you even more, Cutwater Tasting Room's food menu features dishes infused with some of the company's most popular drinks. For example, the appetizer menu includes loaded fries with pork marinated in Cutwater's bloody mary, and sourdough bread with Cutwater Bali Hai dark rum nutmeg butter. Other items include a mezcal-spiced caesar salad, chicken in a gin sauce, and Cutwater bourbon caramel crème brûlée. 

Cutwater embraces its customers' laziness

If you tuned into the 2022 Super Bowl, you may remember Cutwater's hilarious ad that markets the RTD cocktails by embracing the power of laziness. It was the first Super Bowl commercial for the brand and paid homage to Apple's "Here's to the crazy ones" ad (via PR Newswire). It features people showing off comically innovative life hacks to work smarter and not harder, like walking the dog on the treadmill or using a massage gun to tenderize meat. 

The idea behind the ad is that Cutwater RTD cocktails give you the same great results with way less effort. Instead of wasting time shaking up drinks, fumbling with ice trays, and making a mess, just pick up a pack of Cutwater canned cocktails and spend the extra time doing things you actually love — like sitting on the couch and watching the Big Game. It was certainly a fitting commercial for a day that celebrates snacking in front of the TV, an experience that would likely be even better with a Cutwater drink in hand. 

The brand is always evolving

If you've made it this far, and ended up thinking of a cocktail Cutwater has yet to can, just be patient. The brand is always evolving and expanding its offerings to appease every kind of drinker.  

For example, to kick off summer 2022, Cutwater launched a bunch of new products, including 12-ounce slim cans and variety packs. Two notable additions were the ranch water mixed pack and the rum mojito mixed pack, each with eight cans in three flavors. Cutwater also added slim versions of some of its classic cans, like the vodka sodas in various flavors, to mix it up for summer — and to fit in all of those 12-ounce koozies you might have lying around for seltzers and beer. 

Considering how many products Cutwater has developed, there's sure to be something to hold you over while you wait for the brand to make your next favorite flavor.