Work with extracts & canning issues

I know most of us here make base spirits, but do any of you work with extracts for RTD or NA canning projects? My concerns are for product safety and stability. Any experience/advice would be appreciated. We do bottled cocktails. I keep them 30% ABV or above so I'm not concerned with the safety aspect as much. But RTD and NA projects are a different beast as I can't rely on the alcohol to provide preservative qualities. I can't seem to get around using extracts for stability either. With our bottled cocktails they usually change in appearance after a few weeks - mostly clarification and/or sedimentation via flocculation.

Also, I've read some anecdotal stuff on acidity and sugar stability issues long term (2-3 months). I can't seem to find any articles on the subject that goes into enough detail to understand the issue well enough.

I'm working through understanding safety issues like pasteurization vs preservatives, and consumer acceptance for either one.

Fun fun fun.


  • edited January 2

    I don't think it's coincidence that so many sprits-RTDs are based on citrus-based cocktails that are naturally high acidity, it's far easier to rely on acidification for stability, especially in the case of a typical sour/sweet cocktail that you can add additional citric to push acidity even further.

    I wouldn't want to go the route of pasteurization, it's going to be detrimental to flavor/quality. However, sugar syrups or even granulated sugar are incredibly 'dirty', and third-party syrups should be pasteurized unless you are making it yourself.

    The other factor which is a tough one for many distillers, using an aseptic packaging process - tanks, lines, machinery, containers, etc. We're all operating in a sanitary fashion, no doubt, but in the RTD space this is far, far, far more critical, probably more stringent than even brewers need to maintain, especially if products are above the low-3 pH range (think non-citrus cocktails like the old fashioned, rock & rye, Sazerac, Negroni, Manhattan, etc).

    Sterile filtration (sub 0.5 micron) is another easy option, and should be applied in-line at packaging time if possible, and will help immensely with maintaining clarity.

  • @grim has nailed the pH and sterile filtration perfectly. Having produced RTDs in the past the antimicrobial and antiyeast additions also need to be considered. Sulphur dioxide and sodium erythrobate have traditionally be the additives. The rate of addition is dependent on pH and food standard requirements.

  • edited January 3

    We've done north of 15-20k to-go cocktails since covid (I need to tally the numbers again). I'm impressed with the number, but realistically, it's nothing in terms of volume.

    This is, very very different from an RTD. We store refrigerated, we recommend refrigeration to customers. We make this on the tasting room side of the house, not the distillery. This is not sold via distribution, but tasting room only.

    One thing that I personally think helped a lot, and this is a technique I would use going forward with an RTD model if we go there, and that's to pack smaller containers at a overall higher concentration.

    Nearly all of our to-go cocktails are 'shake with ice'. Yes, this is a pain in the ass for customers, and you can not consume from the can. However, we like this, as it creates a bit more cocktail experience in the preparation and consumption. You need to drink from glassware (we like it this way). You do need some way to shake or at least stir on ice.

    BUT, delaying the dilution like this keeps the alcohol concentration high and the acidity high, which helps with overall stability. From an appearance perspective, it also keeps the coloration more intense, so it's more appealing when you pour and shake. These are sold in glass, so you can see the product.

    I'm starting to see more tiny cans on shelves. I'm not even talking about the smaller 8oz sleek cans, these suckers are like 150ml or smaller. To me, these are perfect, and have me starting to think about the RTD route again.

  • very interesting

  • edited January 4

    These are the little guys: 100mL Can @ Very Good Mfg

  • edited January 5

    One wonders from a cost perspective, for viability of canning a 100ml can size.

    I saw this can filler (didn't include seaming) that looked quite interesting at Euro 10,950.-

    Compact table model 4 heads canner @ Rigters Fillers

  • So we messed around a bit with the extracts. Some notes:

    • The biggest issue I had was that everything had a waxy note to it. Nothing we did changed that. No idea how to fix it but until we do I will not release a waxy product.
    • The lemon and orange extracts had no acidity to them so we had to add it with citric acid. Once we did the flavor was much more normal.
    • The mouthfeel was poor. We added sugar and it helped. I didn't add much. I was told to try adding some salt. I'll try that next time.
    • Extracts vary WILDLY in strength. We started by adding the same amount of each item and wow some were way too strong, some were fairly weak.

    We got to a point were we had a good start of something. For RTDs we can make our own extracts and that should cover us. For the NA stuff I'm not sure how to handle doing something like that.

  • Check out some of the folded/deterpinated citrus oils in lieu of straight extracts (or just rotovap your own). They are largely colorless and much more stable.

    Short of it is, they are lower in limonene and other monoterpenes than traditional extracts, this allows more of the citrus varietal character to shine. Straight extracts are really hard to discriminate (citrus, citrus, citrus, citrus). With the 5x-10x, one quick smell and you can tell exactly.

    This doesn't replace the 'juice' consideration in a cocktail (some of the terpenes are required), but they can be used in conjunction to add some amazing aroma and top-note that really feel lighter, fresher, natural, and higher quality. Also worth noting that folded oils are more stable and more soluble, as it's usually the terpenes that cause solubility issues (but concentrations are significantly higher, so you can not use folded oils as a 1:1 substitute).

    There are also significant regional considerations for the flavor and aroma quality (lime is famous for this).

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