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.
41 Replies to “Introducing: Ninkasi Canned Cocktails”
Hey Jeff. Any chance these will ever make it to Florida? Or maybe I can have someone send them to me?
The Agave Poloma is my new go-to. I love the crisp grapefruit taste! It’s a winner! I am in Swan Valley Idaho and it’s available in our one local Swan Valley General Store!
I’m so happy to hear that! Enjoy!
These cocktails are amazing! I’ve always got them in the fridge. Looking forward to the two new additions. (Fizzy Richmond Gimlet?)
Check out the Gin Rickey if you’re looking for a Fizzy Richmond Gimlet!
I had the chance to enjoy these this past week at the Eugene Riverfront Festival, I live in Los Angeles, has distribution hit Southern CA yet?
Not at the moment but keep checking in on the Ninkasi Product Finder!
These look great-excited to try them! Are any gf? Thanks in advance
These are all naturally gluten-free! We don’t state that on the label since they’re not from a certified gluten-free facility but none of them contain any gluten. Enjoy!
Jeffrey! Found these in Meridian, ID! Gin Rickey going down right now with charcuterie and we love it! The ladies want to know how many calories and we can’t find that info. Thanks for any help and we are soon to try the Paloma! Cheers!
Glad you’re enjoying them, Chris! I don’t have that information on hand but I’ll ask!
Hey Jeff, while sipping a canned bourbon renewal in our kitchen on a Wednesday while the kids fight with each other and bug us for dessert may not be the *ideal* way to enjoy your cocktails, Mike and I agree it does help! I did bring some to the beach last weekend with the ladies, and we all agree, well done! I love that you’re upping the stakes in the canned cocktail market. Can’t wait to try the others!
This makes me so happy, Ally! Thanks for sharing and big hugs to you and Mike!
As soon as I read about these drinks in the Oregonian, I went to our local liquor store to find them. I was really looking for the Gin Rickey because I’m fond of gin, but it wasn’t on the shelf. I “settled” for the Bourbon Renewal. After the first sip, I realized that there was no settling involved. Simply fantastic. It’s an 11 out of 10. Jeff, you and the fine people at Ninkisa have produced a perfect drink. It adheres to your rules brilliantly. I’m looking forward trying the other 2 flavors and I will definitely buy more Bourbon Renewal.
Thank you Bruce! I think you’re really gonna enjoy the other flavors. So glad you liked the cocktail!
Hey Jeff, congratulations on the new canned cocktails! Do you know which stores in Portland are carrying them? We’re anxious to give them a try. The package design is super cool!
Thanks Mary! If you go to the Oregon Liquor Search website, and search for “Ninkasi” you’ll get a list of every store in Oregon that carries them.
I trusted that these would be amazing. Gotta say the color of the Bourbon Renewal threw me off for a moment, but first sip fixed any of that. The Paloma is wonderful as well. Congrats on these Jeffrey! Hope you sell a million cases of them!
Thank you, Tim! And yeah, it was going to be impossible to get the Bourbon Renewal to that deep magenta color you’re used to without the use of artificial colorings, which we didn’t want to do. Really happy that you liked them!
You’re one of the reasons I became passionate about this craft. I got out from behind the bar and started my own business five years ago, Reverie Cocktails, with the emphasis on carbonated cocktails to-go and for businesses to pour on draught. I had a lot of people in the business turn their noses up to me when I started. I was told that it was “a fad”, or “good luck with that (with eyes rolled).” I’m glad to see you making your own line, and I CANNOT WAIT to try these (let’s get ’em in NC)! Congratulations and a huge thank you for always sharing what you’ve learned; without your insight on certain subjects, I know I would not be where I am today. Cheers!
Thank you, Tony! You really made my day with this note!
Very exciting. Can’t wait to try them all and have you on the show again to talk them up!
I’m ready any time you are, my friend!
Looks like a refreshing change from what I typically see on the shelves! Any east coast distribution in the works? Let me know if there are retailers to nudge 🙂
Thanks, Steve! I assure you the team over at Ninkasi is working hard at getting these in as many hands as possible – stay tuned!
Aw, man! You really got my hopes up for a minute! You see, there is also a brewery called Ninkasi in Lyon, France, and there’s not an ocean and a continent separating me from them like there is the one Eugene….
Seriously, though, congrats on the launch. I will be keeping an eye out for these the next time I’m in the States.
Thank you! And sadly we’re only available here int he States for now. But perhaps a “research” trip to France is in order!
You have shared so much and given so much to all of us in the drinks world so I wish you the very best with these Jeffrey. You deserve every success. Your brand is so trustworthy I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase these if they were on a shelf here in Australia. They all read fantastic & I especially love the sound of the spicy Paloma! That would be a whole carton purchase for me & I never purchase RTD’s LOL:) I hope everyone gets behind you & the team for these.
Aw thank you Kori!!
I was able to score the bourbon renewal and agave paloma from The Dalles liquor store. I have to admit I was a little nervous because I have been let down by previous canned cocktails. As a long time fan of yours, however I had a feeling that you if anyone could pull it off… and dude you did not disappoint. My first sip of the bourbon renewal put a big smile on my face along with a sigh of “thank fuck.” The paloma was equally delicious. Congrats on a great product!
Shawn that means the world to me. I knew I liked them but it’s a completely different story when you release them into the wild. So this feedback makes my day! Thank you!
Hi Jeff, I am looking forward to taking the whole bunch on a “glam ping” trip in July. They need to be available in the LA area. I will contact Total Wine to see if they will carry them sooner rather than later. What a treat!
I appreciate you giving them a nudge, Susan!!
I happen to know just how much work a certain person poured into this. Can’t wait to taste the fruits of the labor!
He certainly did! And it shows. I think we’re all really proud of the results.
I think you nailed it with these criteria. I look forward to getting my hands on these!
Thanks, Steve! I felt pretty good about those criteria.
I am looking forward to trying these! I haven’t found a can cocktail that I really like. I’m sure these will be the exception. Congratulations!
Thanks, Rinda! I feel that they are the exception, I hope you like them as much as we do!