I started tending bar when I was in school, back in 1996, at a corner bar called The Tiny Tavern, located in the Whitaker district of Eugene, Oregon. It was (and still is) kind of a rough-and-tumble part of town, full of working class people, families, musicians, artists, you name it. I met a lot of incredible people during my four years behind that bar, and I’m still friends with many of them today.
One of those people is a guy named Jamie Floyd, who (at the time) was a part-time cook and part-time brewer’s assistant at one of the two only breweries in the area. We stayed close over the years, and as I moved up the ranks in the bar business, Jamie would go on to start his own brewery in Eugene, the formidable Ninkasi Brewing Company. They’re now the 38th largest microbewery in the country!
Last year, Jamie and his business partner Nikos invited me down to have lunch with them in Eugene. And it was over that lunch that they pitched me on the idea of collaborating with them on a line of canned cocktails; flavors designed exclusively by me, and harnessing the power of their expertise and facilities to put out something different into the world. I didn’t even have to think about it – my whole career has been built upon the idea of making delicious cocktails accessible to more people, and developing cocktails in a can was the logical evolution of something I’d been helping people do for themselves for over a decade.
I stopped by the store after that meeting, and purchased every single ready-to-drink cocktail they had on the shelves. Without being overly-critical of the products that are currently out there, I did use those initial weeks of taste-testing to set up a framework of criteria for myself, a sort of list of rules that I wanted to follow to make the best canned cocktails available:
Canned Cocktails Should be Fun and Refreshing
I popped open a disturbing number of canned cocktails that were overly complicated, unnecessarily serious, strangely spirit-driven, or otherwise not fun or refreshing in any sense. Drinks in cans, whether they’re a Coca-Cola or a good ol’ can of American pilsner, are meant to be about fun and refreshment. And so I wanted mine to be fun and refreshing as well.
Canned Cocktails Should be Interesting
There are a million products out there that are essentially a variation on a flavored vodka and soda water. I’ve spent half my life making drinks that are interesting, drinks that appeal to grown-ups. And so that’s who I wanted to continue making cocktails for.
Canned Cocktails Should be Carbonated
A good ⅓ of the drinks I tried didn’t have any carbonation whatsoever. I think there’s a sort of expectation, when drinking a beverage (any beverage) from a can, that it should have that appetizing “pffffffftttt” when you crack it open. I think most people expect a canned drink to be bubbly, and when it isn’t, it’s a disappointment.
Canned Cocktails Should be Sessionable and Single-Serving
About half of the drinks I tried were weighing in at a whopping 15%-20% ABV. That’s a lot for a backyard barbecue, a couple of weeknight drinks at home, a beach, pretty much anywhere I could imagine someone wanting to enjoy a delicious cocktail. Some of the cans I tried went so far as to label themselves as “two servings per can” and I just don’t think anyone wants to share a can – of anything – with another person.
Canned Cocktails Should Work No Matter How They’re Served
I tried every single can in two different ways: straight out of the package, and poured over ice. Many that worked straight from the can became flabby and overy diluted tasting over ice. And others were so strong from the can that a glass full of ice was required. I wanted to walk that line where ours would work no matter how they were served.
So I took those self-imposed rules, and spent the majority of last year in my kitchen, designing the perfect canned cocktail from the inside out. And once I developed recipes for a whole line of canned cocktails, I then spent every week down in the lab at the brewery with their brewing operation scientists (thank you, Daniel and Jules!) to bring an initial three flavors to market, with two more launching by the end of this year.
Longtime readers will recognize the Bourbon Renewal, a sparkling version of the modern classic I came up with back in 2001. There’s also a Gin Rickey, a super bracing and effervescent gin classic updated with a touch of fresh mint, and an agave Paloma, in which I reverse-engineered a perfect grapefruit soda and hit it with a tiny bit of fresh jalapeno pepper to make those agave notes sing. They’re all between 8% and 9% ABV, and come in standard 12 oz cans.
The cocktails are rolling out now to the West Coast. Oregonians, you can find them at your local OLCC liquor store, and if they’re not carrying them yet just ask them to order from the state. For our friends in California, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada, ask your local retailer when they’ll be expecting to get them in.
Thank you to the massive crew of talented human beings who worked on this project with me, from every single person at Ninkasi, to our amazing design team at Murmur Creative, our genius PR team at Broussard Communications, and our distributor partners. I firmly believe we’ve got the best, most delicious canned cocktails in the world on our hands and I’m incredibly proud of them, and I think you all should be too.