If you’ve been sipping on your Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas thinking you’re getting a hefty dose of tequila, I’ve got some bad news: It turns out that you’re just drinking beer with fruit flavors. And now Anheuser-Busch is facing a class-action lawsuit for deceiving customers into thinking otherwise, TODAY reports. Referring to a drink without any distilled liquor or wine as a “Rita” is being called out as a case of false advertising.
Last month a judge ruled that buyers of certain Ritas between January 1, 2018 and July 19, 2022 can receive compensation—at least part of the initial cost of the product—by visiting ritassettlement.com. But even once you get your cash back, you may still be wondering: What kind of booze is really in our favorite canned cocktails and seltzers? Let us help you avoid any future confusion.
Yes, you can get tequila in a can. Unlike the Rita, these ready-to-drink margaritas come with the good stuff:
A good rule of thumb is: If it’s coming from a tequila company, you know it will have tequila. If it’s coming from a brewery or a more general canned cocktail company, read that ingredient list before taking a sip.
So, if not tequila, then what’s in all these other canned cocktails and drinks? Some brands, like Buzz Box, Crook & Marker, and Cutwater, build their entire business around featuring actual spirits in their canned cocktails that are meant to emulate actual cocktails—the mojito will have real rum, the mule will have real vodka, and the gin and tonic will have real gin, and so on. Brands like High Noon and NÜTRL, meanwhile, hopped on the hard seltzer bandwagon with flavored hard seltzers that are vodka based. But many of the leading brands don’t contain anything of the sort.
Most popular seltzers (many of which now do come in a “margarita” flavor) are made with malt liquor. Yes, your White Claws, your Trulys, your Topo Chico Hard Seltzers, your Loverboys—all of those are malt beverages. That means that, like the Rita, they are all brewed in the same way beer is brewed; according to Wine Enthusiast, the only ingredients you really need to make a hard seltzer are water, sugar, yeast, and flavoring, and the alcohol comes from the fermentation of the yeast and sugar.
Once the fermented product is filtered to become as neutral tasting as possible, it is then cut with water to achieve a lower ABV (malt liquor can achieve an ABV as high as 20% if left untreated). Then the flavoring comes in to do the heavy lifting. A mix of natural or artificial lime and salt flavoring, for instance, can create something pretty darn close to the taste of a margarita—Takeout staff writer Angela Pagán tells me she was fooled by Cayman Jack’s canned ready-to-drink margarita, which is in fact a malt beverage.
If you’re looking for distilled liquor, read your labels closely, or just keep your own bottle of tequila on hand to add to your favorite seltzers. But if you’re merely looking to get a buzz from a can, then any malt beverage will suit you just fine.