I started tending bar when I was in school, in 1996, at a local bar called The Tiny Tavern, located in the Whitaker neighborhood of Eugene, Oregon. It was (and still is) a pretty rough part of town, full of working class people, families, musicians, artists, etc. 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 assistant brewer at one of only two breweries in the area. We remained close over the years and as I moved up the ranks in the bar business, Jamie went on to start his own brewery in Eugene, the formidable Ninkasi Brewery. It is now the 38th largest microbrewery in the country!
Last year, Jamie and his business partner Nikos invited me to lunch with them in Eugene. And it was during this lunch that they proposed to me the idea of collaborating with them on a range of canned cocktails; flavors designed exclusively by me and harnessing the power of their expertise and facilities to deliver something different to the world. I didn’t even need to think about it: my entire career has been built on the idea of making delicious cocktails accessible to as many people as possible, and developing cocktails in cans was the logical evolution of something I’ve been helping people do for themselves for over a decade.
I stopped by the store after that meeting and bought all the ready-to-drink cocktails they had on the shelves. Without being too critical of the products that currently exist, I took advantage of these first weeks of tasting to establish a framework of criteria, a sort of list of rules that I wanted to follow to make the best preserves. cocktails available:
Canned cocktails should be fun and refreshing
I’ve opened a worrying number of canned cocktails that were overly complicated, unnecessarily serious, strangely spirit-driven, or otherwise not fun or refreshing in any sense. Canned drinks, whether it’s a Coca-Cola or a good old can of American pilsner, are supposed to be fun and refreshing. And so I wanted mine to be fun and refreshing as well.
Canned cocktails should be interesting
There are a million products that are essentially a variation of a flavored vodka and sparkling water. I’ve spent half my life making interesting drinks, drinks that grown-ups like. And that’s why I wanted to continue making cocktails.
Canned cocktails must be carbonated
A good ⅓ of the drinks I tried had no carbonation at all. I think there’s a sort of expectation, when drinking a drink (any drink) from a can, that it will have that appetizing “pffffffftttt” when you open it. I think most people expect a canned drink to be fizzy, and when it’s not, it’s a disappointment.
Canned cocktails must be available in session and individual servings
About half of the drinks I tried were between 15 and 20 percent ABV. That’s plenty for a backyard barbecue, a few weekday drinks at home, a beach, just about anywhere I could imagine someone wanting to enjoy a delicious cocktail. Some of the cans I’ve tried have gone 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 each can two different ways: straight out of the package and poured over ice. Many that worked straight from the can became flabby and tasted too diluted on the ice cream. And others were so strong from the can that you needed a glass full of ice. I wanted to toe that line where ours would work no matter how they were served.
So I followed these self-imposed rules and spent the better part of the 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 in the brewery lab with the brewing operations scientists (thanks Daniel and Jules!) to bring three flavors to market initials, including two more launches by the end of this year.
Long-time readers will recognize the Renewal of Bourbona sparkling version of modern classic I invented this in 2001. There is also a Gin Rickeya super invigorating and effervescent gin classic updated with a touch of fresh mint and agave Paloma, in which I reverse-engineered a perfect grapefruit soda and hit it with a tiny bit of fresh jalapeno to make those agave notes sing. They all contain between 8% and 9% ABV and come in standard 12 oz cans.
Cocktails are now expanding to the West Coast. For Oregonians, you can find them at your local OLCC liquor store, and if they don’t carry 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 expect to receive them.
Thank you to the huge team of talented human beings who worked on this project with me, from every single person at Ninkasi to our incredible design team at Creative Whisperour awesome PR team at Broussard Communications, and our distribution partners. I firmly believe that we have the best and most delicious canned cocktails in the world on our hands and I am incredibly proud of it, and I think you all should be too.