Jack Link's is making jerky cocktails downtown now, and they're not what you'd expect

The "Boston Cream Protein-i," before it's finished off with jerky and chocolate shavings.

The "Boston Cream Protein-i," before it's finished off with jerky and chocolate shavings. Emily Cassel

Hennepin Theatre Trust is the nonprofit that owns historic downtown Minneapolis sites like the Orpheum, State, and Pantages Theatres. It exists to inspire cultural development and promote the growth of the theatre district.

Jack Link’s is the jerky manufacturer that’s put out dozens of these “messin’ with sasquatch” ads.

The two make an even odder couple than Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

But that hasn’t stopped them from teaming up! Tonight, they'll open Jack Link’s Legend Lounge, a public space with Jack Link's-developed cocktails and small bites that lets theatregoers enjoy a jerky-inspired drink before Hamilton opens at the nearby Orpheum.

“It makes perfect sense for us as an organization, for our customers to have that space before a show," Hennepin Theatre Trust president and CEO Mark Nerenhausen says. “Historical theatres are really wonderful sights, but compared to modern theatres, they just lack that space for people to mingle before an event."

And if the brand mashup maybe doesn't add up on paper, it starts to come together the more you chat with Nerenhausen. He's all about bringing people to the theatre, about maintaining Hennepin's existing energy while revitalizing the area overall. His focus is on hospitality, on creating places people can come together in the district. 

What, I ask you, is more approachable or unifying than dried meat?

Of debuting the lounge—along with several other rentable public event spaces—in the long-empty former Solera building at Ninth Street and Hennepin Avenue, Nerenhausen says:

“It enhances the theatre, but it also enhances the theatre district. To have a blank building in the middle of the theatre district like this, it affects everybody... It allows us to fulfill that mission of making Hennepin a better place.”

Inside the "Legend Lounge"

Inside the "Legend Lounge" Emily Cassel

But we're here to talk about the Legend Lounge, the first-floor bar at 900 Hennepin. The two cocktails Jack Link's has whipped up for the occasion come from the company's executive R&D chef Wes Castelsky, who's been cooking since he was about 13 and has spent his life in kitchens. While Castelsky & Co. thought about making Hamilton-themed drinks—an “I am not throwing away my shot” shot, perhaps—they ended up drawing inspiration from Revolution-era New England overall. 

What I was expecting upon hearing "Jack Links drink" was: over-the-top bloody Mary, massive hunks of meat protruding from it. “It’s funny, everybody we’ve talked to about how we’re going to make a jerky cocktail, they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re just gonna put a beef stick in it,’” Castelsky chuckles. 

Emily Cassel

Emily Cassel

But what they're serving here are two surprisingly subtle cocktails for a company with a sasquatch mascot.

The Boston Cream Protein-i uses Jack Links Pepper-infused vodka and is finished with a dusting of teriyaki jerky chew and chocolate. It's both sweet and peppery, and does not scream CUP FULL OF MEAT.

The Sasquatch Rattle Skull gets its name from a makeshift cocktail developed by maritime shippers, who were bringing in an abundance of caned rum and room-temp porter beers. As they were allotted seven fluid ounces of beer a day, they spread it out by pouring that rum into their porter. It… does not sound great. At least it also left you with a wicked hangover: “The hangover was supposedly so bad that it would rattle your skull.”

But the Jack Link's version—with rum, lime juice, smoked syrup, and simple syrup finished with a pour of Founder’s Porter—is sweet and nutty, a refreshing way to make a dark beer more palatable on a hot summer day.

“We want to show people that dried meat, jerky, what we do at Jack Link's—the quality of flavor you get get from utilizing it in a different way adds something totally different," Castelsky says. "It doesn’t have to be the hero, but it adds something you would never expect.”

After Hamilton's six-week run, the Jack Link's chef isn't sure what comes next. New drinks for every show? Unclear.

“But I had fun with it!”

Emily Cassel

Emily Cassel