Photos provided by Ninkasi & Craftwell Cocktails

Non-Spirit Based Canned Cocktails Shake up the Industry

by | Oct 18, 2022

When bars closed during the pandemic, cocktail lovers bought their drink provisions at the grocery store. At the same time, alcoholic beverage companies released a flood of ready-to-drink canned cocktails that continue to fill the shelves at neighborhood stores and beverage warehouses. Future Market Insights reports that the market for these quick-and-easy drinks will reach $57.2 billion by 2032, expanding at a rate of 11.6% per year.

Brewers, cider-makers and creators of various alcoholic beverages noticed. They began canning mixed drinks, too. No longer could it be assumed that cocktails were created from a distilled spirit — canned cocktails could be made from a variety of bases like malt beverage, wine, cider and hard kombucha. 

Two Oregon companies added their own take on this trend — Ninkasi Brewing Company in Portland and 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis.  Both are expanding into the canned cocktail marketplace using techniques and ingredients they have already mastered.

Left – Mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Right – Ninkasi Canned Cocktails

Ninkasi Brewing Company

For Jamie Floyd, Co-founder of Ninkasi Brewing Company, canned cocktails seemed a natural next step for his company. Floyd was a bartender earlier in his career. He also has been friends for 25 years with renowned mixologist, Jeffery Morgenthaler who managed the seven-time James Beard Award-nominated bar program at Portland’s Clyde Common.

The duo has created two types of canned cocktails: those made from a traditional spirit (like rum punch and gin rickey), along with malt beverage–based options (like ginger honey press and grapefruit refresher). The malt beverage base is produced on site at Ninkasi Brewing which allows for control over production and shortens the supply chain. 

Floyd and Morgenthaler dreamed up their recipes by thinking about what goes well in an aluminum container as well as how the product will be used. The process allowed for a fun collaboration between old friends as well as an opportunity for Ninkasi Brewing to expand its focus.

“We’re doing what we wanted. We weren’t just chasing a trend,” says Floyd. “We’re having a really good time with this long thought out process.”

Craftwell Cocktails

2 Towns Ciderhouse

Eighty miles south of Portland, in Corvallis, Oregon, Nels Jewell-Larsen and the team at 2 Towns Ciderhouse had a similar idea. However, their canned cocktails would be based on their own expertise: cider. 

Focusing on finding the best quality fruit made sense, but another part of the 2 Towns ethos — no refined sugar — didn’t work for cocktails. After all, cocktails are formulated by balancing flavors that often include sweeteners like simple syrup. Still, the company believed there was a market for this new type of cocktail. “How do we make the most amazing fruit profile with real fruit in the cocktail format? We didn’t see that in the market,” says Jewell-Larsen.

It made sense to create a new company, Craftwell Cocktails, with a new focus. Craftwell shares the 2 Towns ethos of sourcing high quality fruit and emphasizing its fresh flavor. Each Craftwell cocktail has a different cider base that fits with the flavor profile customers associate with cocktails like margaritas, cosmopolitans and palomas. However, the Craftwell twist is adding fresh fruit not necessarily native to the Northwest, like pineapple and grapefruit, to these drinks. Nonetheless, the company employs the same type of careful sourcing for cocktails as it does cider. Grapefruit for their paloma hails from the Rio Tito Valley in Texas; pineapples in the margarita are grown in Costa Rica.

The drinks start with a cider base. Other flavors are created by substitutions – agave is used to mimic the notes of an agave spirit like tequila, orange skins are substituted for an orange liquor like triple sec. “You can build the same profile without the standardized way of using a spirit,” says Jewell-Larsen. 

Jewell-Larsen believes there is room for innovation in the drinks industry, noting that the craft beer evolved in 30 years from pale ale to Sour Patch Kids brewed in fruited beer. “A cocktail is an alcohol drink with various things combined together to create a fun experience,” says Jewell-Larsen. “It’s not just spirit based or wine based. That’s true today as it was when the term was coined.”

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