Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd (left) and bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler cheers to their new venture.
Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd (left) and bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler cheers to their new venture. Courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
While folks were nurturing their sourdough starters, baking piles of banana bread, and whipping up dalgona coffee, Jeffrey Morgenthaler was mixing up something else entirely during the past year. True to form, the seven-time James Beard-nominated bartender’s pandemic project involves cocktails—a canned cocktail collaboration with Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing, to be exact.

But this isn’t a case of a personality simply slapping their name on a branded product only to have zero involvement, as so many collaborations of this magnitude often are. Morgenthaler and Ninkasi co-owner Jamie Floyd are decades-long friends, having both tended bar in Eugene. Morgenthaler also designed Ninkasi’s first website.

The line’s three cocktails are carbonated, a characteristic that was important to Morgenthaler after he conducted research of the canned cocktail market (read: a lot of drinking) and found that most of them fell flat (pun intended). “I feel like the expectation when opening a can is it’s got to go ‘chhhkk,’” said Morgenthaler. The mixologist first developed the recipes in small batches before working with Ninkasi director of brewing operations Daniel Sharp in the brewery’s in-house lab to scale up to production volume.

The resulting drinks are deliciously more flavor forward than spirit forward—approachable for casual cocktail drinkers and seasoned imbibers alike. I found them to be a bit on the sweeter side, but highly drinkable straight out of the can or with ice. And with all three varieties falling between 8.4%-9% alcohol by volume, highly drinkable and portable is exactly what their makers were going for.

“That’s one of the good things about [these] you know, everyone has that bottle of whiskey they bring camping, but you have to pack that giant piece of glass in and out and you can’t really just hand bottles [between] your friends in circles anymore,” said Floyd.

Courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company

One sip of the Gin Rickey will have you pining for summer (if you weren’t already). This canned version of the American classic is super refreshing and lime-y with a kiss of cooling mint. To develop his Agave Paloma, Morgenthaler utilized mezcal as the base spirit and reverse engineered a grapefruit soda from scratch, aiming to approximate the flavor of Squirt. Crushed jalapeno flesh, sans the spicy parts, boosts the vegetal qualities of the tequila, making it “taste more like itself.”

The final cocktail needs no introduction to Portlanders who frequented Clyde Common, but with owner Nate Tilden announcing the restaurant’s closure this week, some fanfare is called for here. A taste of the downtown institution will live on in the canned (and lower proof) version of the Bourbon Renewal, a whiskey sour with notes of sweet blackcurrant (via crème de cassis) and zesty lemon. Although Morgenthaler’s creation pre-dated his decade plus tenure at Clyde, the Renewal thrived there. With bartenders shaking up 10,000 of them per year, it was one of the menu’s most popular drinks. “It’s heartbreaking to move out of my bartending home for the past 13 years but I’m so proud of all of the accomplishments that my team and I were able to make together during that time,” said Morgenthaler.

Ninkasi will introduce additional flavors to the line “in the coming months,” including a tiki-style rum punch and a ginger-honey vodka collins. Folks can find the products for purchase at a location near them via Ninkasi’s cocktail finder. Four-packs are priced at $13.95.