Named for the Sumerian goddess of fermentation, Ninkasi Brewing makes beer from the heart. Helmed by the humble Jamie Floyd, who had been brewing up small batches of beer at a local restaurant in the early 2000s, and Nikos Ridge, who returned to his (and the brewery’s) hometown of Eugene, Ore. after a brief NYC finance career, the brewery kicked off in 2006. Its admirable goal: to “perpetuate better living.”
Ninkasi brewed its first beer, Total Domination IPA, in 2006, and hired its first employee in 2007. Since then, the brewery has grown to offer more than nine year-round releases, plus seasonals, special releases, and space beer — more on that later. It also employs 100 people and remains wholly independent. It is distributed in more than 12 states plus two Canadian provinces.
“In 2006 there were still only 1,377 breweries in the country, and the craft segment of the market was just 3.4 percent,” Jeff Alworth, author of the “Beer Bible” and editor of the Beervana blog, says. “It was breweries like Ninkasi, bringing an exciting new version of hoppy ales to the market, that jump-started the current boom in brewing.”
Based in Eugene’s eccentric Whiteaker neighborhood, Ninkasi expresses itself through its beer as well as by supporting musicians, artists, nonprofits, and its beautiful environment.
Here are 11 more things you should know about Ninkasi.
Ninkasi is the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer
The “Hymn to Ninkasi” is a song and beer recipe believed to be among the earliest known examples of written language. The hymn was written by ancient Mesopotamians around 1800 BCE, evidencing their commitment to brewing and reverence for fermented beverages. The brewery is named for this ancient goddess of beer, who is revered as both the creator of the elixir, as well as the liquid itself.
Ninkasi has its own recording studio
With a goddess for its muse, perhaps it is not surprising that Ninkasi is deeply rooted in music. Ninkasi Studios is located in the brewery and was created to foster the talents of young or undiscovered artists.
Ninkasi has also organized music festivals at home and around the world, from the Whiteaker Block Party to the Last Band Standing competition.
Ninkasi makes a space beer, and has a space program
The Ninkasi Space Program (NSP) debuted in 2014. This is a real thing: The company launched brewers yeast on a rocket into space and brewed beer with the space yeast when it returned home. It took two missions (Mission One in July 2014, Mission Two in October 2014) to yield viable yeast. Ninkasi’s space beer, Ground Control, an imperial stout made with Oregon hazelnuts, star anise, and cacao nibs fermented with space yeast strains, was released in April 2015. There have been four versions of Ground Control in total.
In addition to having its own in-house design team, Ninkasi works with local artists
Ninkasi makes a juicy IPA that we love
Prismatic Juicy IPA is both light and crushable, and dank and resinous, all at the same time. It’s bursting with tropical pineapple and passion fruit aromas, due in part to the use of Mosaic and Simcoe CRYO hops. It’s one of our favorite interpretations of the “juicy or hazy” New England-style IPA available regionally in the U.S.
Ninkasi recently refreshed its brand portfolio with three new year-round releases, in cans
Prismatic Juicy IPA, Yours Truly Easy-Drinking Ale, and Pacific Rain Northwest Pale are Ninkasi’s latest. All three will be available year-round and are the company’s first brews in cans.
Ninkasi is the 38th-largest craft brewing company in the country
It’s also among the top 50 brewing companies overall, sliding in at No. 48.
Ninkasi is in Eugene, Ore. for the water
The H2O that goes into every Ninkasi beer comes from the McKenzie River, the municipal water source in Eugene, which Ninkasi says is low in mineral concentrations. This makes it optimal for brewing beer, because there are ideal concentrations of minerals such as gypsum, limestone, magnesium, and salt in different beer styles, and having low concentrations gives the brewer the opportunity to add minerals as needed (as opposed to removing them, which is much more difficult).
Ninkasi says ‘Beer is Love’ — and proves it with nonprofit efforts
Ninkasi’s “Beer is Love” program is devoted to providing noble causes with good beer and good vibes. The program donates beer to registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations throughout its distribution networks, focusing on the core categories of women, equality, recreation, the environment, and arts and music.
Ninkasi’s CEO is — gasp — a woman
Speaking of females, Ninkasi CEO Cheryl Collins moved up the ranks from CPO (“chief people officer”) to COO to CEO in her five-year tenure from 2012 to 2017, when she was hired for her current role.
“I look forward to continuing our commitment to our core purpose — Perpetuate Better Living — and working with our teams to develop innovative approaches to how we do business,” Collins said in an announcement. “The goal is to remain independently owned and to become a very strong organization that creates amazing products and continues the tradition of what Ninkasi is good at,” she told Brewbound in 2017.
Ninkasi wins awards beyond its beers
In addition to three Good Food Awards and a Great American Beer Festival gold medal for its Bohemian Pilsner in 2013, Ninkasi’s accolades include 100 Best Places to Work (Outside magazine), 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon (Oregon Business magazine), and 100 Best Green Companies in Oregon (Oregon Business magazine).