The effect of the pandemic on bars and restaurants has been sad and frustrating over the past couple of years. Despite efforts to enable cocktails to go or to raise funds and awareness through events like Negroni Week, some our favorite locations have been forced to make tough decisions about their future. One spot in particular was Clyde Common, the first restaurant we ever visited in Portland, Oregon. Clyde’s closure is one of the more visible examples of the challenges faced by many businesses, but more importantly, by the many people who worked hard to make them what they were. Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s influence in the cocktail community is undeniable, and while his home-base will now live only in our memories and our writing, we were excited to see at least a small shred of silver lining.
We have written about bottled cocktails before and continue the DIY practice ourselves, but commercially bottled (or canned) drinks are a growing product category. Conceptually, however, the idea of a pre-mixed cocktail isn’t new at all. Pimm’s No. 1 for example is essentially a gin cocktail flavored with herbs and spices that has been around for over a hundred years, though popular modern traditions often call for this product to be served with a mixer of ginger soda or sparkling lemonade. The B&B is a bottled pre-mix of Benedictine and brandy, though we have never seen the point in constraining the flexibility of a beloved, historic liqueur. And let’s not forget about wine coolers! But the Bourbon Renewal is the first example of a craft cocktail we have sipped in front of its inventor, mixed our own version at home, and can now buy from the local market.
In partnership with Ninkasi Brewing Company out of Eugene, OR, the Bourbon Renewal is one of three canned cocktails released with the Morgenthaler name. We hope to eventually try them all, but decided it would be fun to do a side-by-side comparison with one of our favorite mixed drinks. Shaken and strained over fresh ice in the glass in front of us, we decided to serve a chilled can the same way and garnish it just like the original. When you first open the can, you get that satisfying crack and hiss. This alone is a tell-tale that the experience is going to be a little different, since the original recipe does not call for carbonated ingredients.
In the glass, we have a much lighter colored beverage, but make no mistake—there is plenty of flavor. The first sip confirms the prickly nature of carbonation, and the popping bubbles help to lift some aroma to our nose. The taste is definitely in the same family as the original, but there is a difference that is hard to specify exactly. This is simply not the same as a bespoke combination of our favorite mixing bourbon, French cassis liqueur and fresh lemon juice, but it is delicious! It is also convenient—and this point more than any other is perhaps the most important. We can mix a real Bourbon Renewal any time we like, but we do have to spend our own time doing it. We need to dirty the shaker, squeeze some citrus, measure the ingredients, and we would not write a cocktail blog if we thought doing this is not worth the effort. But, what we have here is a nicely executed, portable version of a house favorite—if not a city favorite that takes no work at all.
It is clear that Morgenthaler and Ninkasi took into account what anyone could predict—that a perfect, shelf-stable reproduction of one of the most popular drinks in Portland would have been impossible, and the inevitable comparison to fresh ingredients would always be a losing battle. Even though that comparison is exactly what we are doing now, we have since come to recognize that the canned Bourbon Renewal is in fact a different drink than the original. One could say it has evolved, and in doing so, it has become even more accessible. We’re not sure yet how widespread the distribution of these products will be, but if you never had the pleasure of sipping one of these at Clyde, you now have two exciting options: make one yourself to reproduce the closest possible rendition to the Clyde Common original, or pickup a 4-pack and enjoy the benefits of portability with a similar drink that is equally delicious.