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Can cocktails de-throne beer?

Beer is the undisputed king of alcohol, making up nearly half of the alcoholic beverage market. But one company is trying to help the cocktail make a comeback. And not just cocktails – which would be a somewhat easy feat, given that spirit sales are on the rise – but pre-made cocktails, which have traditionally been a sector of the alcoholic beverage market about as popular as non-alcoholic beer.

The company is Austin Cocktails, and over the past three years they have developed four vodka based, pre-mixed cocktails using all-natural ingredients like mint, coconut water and agave. Several more, including a few tequila-based varieties, are currently in the approval process.

According to Edward Jones beverage industry analyst Jack Russo, the company is playing into a handful of trends that currently exist: natural ingredients, the move to 'craft,' and the fact that no one has time to handmix their own cocktails anymore. The only impediment to these factors, he warns, is that they often become cost-prohibitive. Austin Cocktails, though, range from $15-$18 per bottle.

“We are really disrupting a space that’s filled with neon colors and high fructose corn syrup,” said Jill Burns, who founded the brand with her sister Kelly Gasink. “We are obsessed with all-natural ingredients, we spent our summers growing up on a farm.” It was that obsession with natural ingredients that Burns said allowed them to “shatter the value stigma that’s associated with this brand and come up with something that would be attractive to premium buyers and venues that had never been interested in something like that before.”

Austin Cocktails are now being served on Virgin America flights.
Austin Cocktails are now being served on Virgin America flights.

Contrary to the brand's craft-like image, the key to its expansion will likely be with big those corporations. The Kroenke Group has brought them in to Colorado’s Pepsi Center to serve at NBA and NHL games as well as concerts. They serve at University of Texas games and work with Spec’s to serve at Dallas Cowboy’s tailgates. They’re also in conversations to expand their stadium reach out East. It’s not just sports, either. They've even signed a contract with Virgin America (VA) to serve their beverages in flight.

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And lest you think the all-natural, low-calorie trend is meant to appeal to women, think again. “For us, we think that we’re solving a problem for consumers who really enjoy craft cocktails but don’t make them or don’t enjoy them as much because of the headache of making them,” said Gasink. “Instead of giving them one piece of the puzzle the way you do with spirits, and in a way that beer and wine don’t, we’ve given them beautiful natural ingredients already made instead of just one piece of the puzzle.”

Even though it was female-centric brand “Skinny Girl,” made by former Real Housewife of New York Bethenny Frankel that really put pre-mixed drinks back on the map, the sisters are trying to establish that pre-made cocktails aren't just a phenomenon for bachelorette parties or girls' nights. In fact, Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey recently served the cocktails at a party he hosted at SXSW. They’ve also been tapped by Jack Dorsey to serve at Square, the company he founded after Twitter (TWTR).

Considering pre-mixed drinks are just about 2.7% of the alcoholic beverage market, there's nowhere to go but up. The main competition is craft beer, which has surged in popularity even as more traditional big-brand beer sales have slipped. Darker spirits like whiskey and bourbon have also seen sales sky rocket recently, as has wine. Russo says wine’s growth has been “due to the perceived health benefits of wine and Baby Boomers’ preference to that.”

Related: Can you tell the difference between $25 and $100 Bourbon?

But who knows, maybe by combining some of the same qualities of those drinks like four-times distilled vodka, exotic ingredients (their tea is grown in Kenya) and a low-calorie label, Austin Cocktails can start winning people away from their go-to drink of choice. “Given that [craft beer] has really taken off in the beer industry, you could paint a scenario that that could [also] take place in the spirit sector, as well. It kind of already has,” said Russo.

While Austin Cocktails and ready-made cocktails may be a long way from dethroning beer, at the very least, there may soon be a cocktail option at your next concert, sporting event or flight thanks to their push.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article referred to Jack Russo's firm as Edmund Jones rather than Edward Jones. Matthew McConaughey's name was also misspelled. Yahoo Finance regrets the errors.

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