A conversation with Warren Bobrow, Author of “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzzworthy Libations.”
Andre BourqueBenzinga September 16, 2019 for Yahoo News
Ask anyone in cannabis what the future of the industry is and they’ll tell you it lies in the wide world of products beyond buds and joints: from the potential of CBD to revolutionize the beauty and healthcare industry to the gummies and chocolates expanding the popularity of marijuana, cannabis consumption is poised to explode.
One way to consume cannabis remains controversial even within the industry, even if it is also seen as loaded with potential: Beverages.
The beverage industry, fueled by large alcohol-producing corporations like Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP) and Anheuser Busch Inbev NV (NYSE: BUD), is dumping billions of dollars into joint ventures with cannabis producers, hedging their bets in case legal marijuana cuts too deep into their market share. As The Verge reports, cannabis-infused beverages “make up a mere 2 to 3 percent of total sales” in legal adult-use markets, but that hasn’t stopped Anheuser-Busch InBev from putting down $50 million on Tilray Inc (NASDAQ: TLRY), and Constellation Brands (NYSE: STZ) from dropping $4 billion into Canopy Growth Corp (NYSE: CGC).
You’ll find today’s crop of cannabis-infused beverages labeled as wines, beers, teas, and sodas infused with THC, CDB and other terpenes. Despite the names, most of these drinks don’t actually contain alcohol. They’re being positioned as the “health and wellness” versions of some of our nation’s favorite vices.
Mixing alcohol and marijuana—commonly known as a “crossfade”—produces a unique sensation that science has yet to definitively say is safe or dangerous. While big corporations aren’t willing to bottle beer and buds together, the two are not uncommon to consume together, albeit separately. Mixing the two in a single concoction takes a deft palate.
There’s a select few who have committed to perfecting the cannabis-infused cocktail. One of them is Warren Bobrow, author of Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzzworthy Libations, among other books. Shaker in hand, Bobrow is looking to mix up the way we think about cannabis-infused beverages.
For Bobrow, that comes down to reprogramming American palates. “Consumers are frightened by change,” he said. “They are served sweet cocktails, sweet soda, sweet food, well- sweet everything. I don’t make sweet drinks, nor do I ask others to create cannabis infused beverages that are one dimensional, out of balance… and sweet! Drinkables are not like edibles. They hit nearly immediately, whereas edibles take some time to pass through the liver. I’m not a doctor, but edibles are unpredictable. Drinkables are marvelous!”
Despite the optimism of beverage producers that sweeter cannabis-infused drinks without alcohol will open up a new avenue for cannabis consumption, there are some serious obstacles to that return-on-investment.
The first is the fact that lawmakers are especially wary of cannabis-infused beverages. Even before California legalized cannabis in 2018, Los Angeles was awash with CBD-infused cocktails. Within months, the California’s Department of Health, the State, and county health departments cracked down on non-dispensary businesses featuring cannabis-infused cocktails—even when there’s no THC involved. Similarly, in Canada, where the government legalized edible and drinkable cannabis effective October 2019, provincial regulations may be too cumbersome for the market to develop.
While it may seem like a new fad to many, cannabis-infused drinks are nothing new. “Regulators should look back into history,” said Bobrow, “so they can discover that cannabis was mixed with alcoholic beverages as far back as the 1850’s. I learned this at the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans. Cannabis was added to distilled alcohol for both preservation and efficacy reasons.”
The legal barriers to cannabis-infused beverages are unfortunate because drinks offer an important alternative method of consumption for consumers. Drinking and eating cannabis are demonstrably safer for users lungs than smoking.
Regulations are almost a secondary, moot point with a bigger problem confronting cannabis-infused beverages: taste. Bobrow will be the first to tell you that cannabis drinks suck. In fact, he did a whole presentation on the subject at the Cannabis Drinks Expo in San Francisco this past July.
Cannabis writer Amanda Chicago Lewis concurs, noting in The Verge, drinks are, “the worst kind of marijuana edible,” and most “taste like bong water.”
Still, for Bobrow, craft cannabis cocktails and mocktails represent the best showcase for liquid THC and CBD consumption. In his book, you’ll find 75 recipes for everything from bitters and tonics to digestives and nightcaps. But mixing cannabis in a liquid form is not simply a recipe for getting high, rather another ingredient in a well-balanced drink.
The problem with many alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, according to Bobrow, comes down to quality and quantity. On the one hand, many mixologists are trying to cover up the cannabis flavor with too much sugar. But it’s tough to make sugary cannabis drinks taste good. The result is often a one-dimensional drink. If it’s going to be sweet, he recommends using high-quality sugars like Turbinado and agave.
“Craft cannabis-infused cocktails taste better than the drinks you are getting served now,” Bobrow assured me, “I want to ruin you for your bartender. They are stuck on lousy ice, bad sugar and are still using bottled juices. My cocktails have hand cut ice, complex sugars such as raw honey, craft spirits that are not caramel colored or artificially flavored and overly sugared. I always fresh squeeze my juices. What’s so hard about doing everything from scratch?”
If you happen to get a drink for Bobrow, you may be wondering how much you can handle as a newcomer to cannabis-infused drinks. Though he’s a huge fan of them, he recommends people take it easy.
“You would never go to a Thai restaurant— for the first or the tenth time— and order Thai spicy. Your stomach would be violated!,” Bobrow told me. “Cannabis beverages, with or without alcohol, must be micro dosed, lest you destroy your guests. Start with 5-10mg per drink and never drink more than one per hour. Don’t try to be a hero.”
Whether you’re interested in CBD or THC, Bobrow is a daring mixologist willing to create exquisite experiences using low-alcohol spirits and small-doses of cannabis—where its legal. Oftentimes, this means taking his skills to private in-home gatherings. There, he experiments with different strains and cultivars. Compared to most mass-produced drinks, Bobrow’s concoctions highlight their delicious potential and the high level of care required.
His preferred method of extraction is decarboxylation (or decarb), which heats the cannabis to a precise temperature to extract the THC, without any of the off-putting chemicals that would affect the taste and color of the drink. This allows him to achieve the simple, balanced drinks that make all of the ingredients sing. High-quality ingredients also allow drinkers to start with small doses to see how they react to the interaction of cannabis and alcohol, helping ensure a safe experience. “If you want to feel anything you must decarb,” Bobrow said, “Decarbing activates the THCa-THC. Different forms of THC are revealed with different temperatures.”
With his attention to detail and passion for quality ingredients, Bobrow belongs to a small, but growing crowd of mixologists who are redefining the cannabis-infused beverage industry, one craft cocktail at a time.
“There is a long learning curve in the skill-set needed to create a cannabis beverage that doesn’t suck,” Bobrow asserted. “Right now they do. People interested in making them should work with mixologists from the liquor industry. They are dying to do something different and cannabis represents that quotient.”
Lead image credit: depositphotos.com. Other images provided by Warren Bobrow. Slides part of a presentation he delivered in July.