I thought this was going to be a low key sort of afternoon, then other things happened, one of which brought me to this place of calm, and “highly” introspective buzziness. The change of the seasons offers a change in the flavors that I seek at the cocktail bar and eventually into my glass. I’ve been way down the road of helpful bartenders (generally they are not mixologists, that’s something different) attempting to make, ether successfully or not (well-meaning) suggestions as to seasonality. These might be delightful drinks, such as a Mint Julep in the ice and cold of January, or a lip smacking and body buzzing Sazerac in the blazing sun of the summer. You can have these drinks — and right you should! — but for utter seasonality in these early spring weeks, I seek the depth and sophistication that honest and raw ingredients can bring to the cocktail glass.
And a gorgeous recipe for a Louis Armstrong’s Way cannabis fizzy.
I’ve made my living for the better part of seven years in the liquor space. With that said, I’ve noticed some real changes in that traditional world of intoxicants over the past year or so. After being tolerated for a few years, the large liquor companies are having serious misgivings about being too friendly with the cannabis family. Perhaps this is because the ongoing stigma that hovers just over the periphery in every illicit transaction outside of the “three tier system.” You see, the liquor industry has been permitted to print their own tickets since Prohibition, under the watchful gaze of the government. Taxation is a powerful determinate with broad reaching implications.
4 oz. Clement Rhum Agricole “Canne Bleue”
½ oz. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 oz. Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1 oz. Fruitations Soda and Cocktail Syrup- Tangerine
½ lime cut into chunks
4 oz. Ginger Beer Soda (sugar cane based, never corn syrup based)
To a Boston Shaker: Fill ¾ with ice. Add the Rhum Agricole and the Fresh juices. Add the Fruitations Syrup. Cap and shake hard until frosty. Muddle the lime in a rocks glass or two. Add a couple cubes of ice. Pour over the contents of the Boston Shaker. Finish with about 2 oz. of the Ginger Beer Soda over the top of each glass. Stir. Dot with Angostura. Serve.
Cannabis is a bit like wine: there are different species, dozens of hybrids, and a world of marketing that makes buying the right kind seriously confusing. For the average customer, the differences between Orange Kush or Blueberry Lamsbread are likely no more clear than the nuances that differentiate a Tavel from a Mouvédre Rosé. Fortunately, there’s really only one thing the average pot smokers needs to know to get by — whether they’re an indica or sativa kind of smoker.
Voters in nine states got to make their opinions known on marijuana last November, and they spoke loudly in favor of it. Eight of the nine ballot initiatives to legalize or deregulate pot passed, officially making cannabis legal for medical use in 28 states and legal for recreational use in nine states, including in our own capitol.
This was far from the first time issues on weed have appeared on ballots, but voters managed to pass a symbolic milestone in 2017. California passed Proposition 64, legalizing the ability for individuals over 21 to use (and grow) marijuana for personal use. Recreational marijuana is now allowed for about 20 percent of the U.S. population, and about three-fifths—nearly 200 million people—have access to legal medical marijuana.
Despite still being banned on a federal level, marijuana is on an inevitable march toward wider societal acceptance and availability via edibles and other weed-based products. And who better to talk to about its growing acceptance than with bartenders, the people who specialize in coming up with clever ways to utilize a different illicit, psychoactive substance? We first covered the question of “where are all of the weed cocktails?” in April of last year, and now that recreational use of pot is inevitable, we’re back to wondering where the two substances together are heading.
So what is exactly happening, if anything at all?
The first crucial thing to note about combining marijuana and alcohol is that not unsurprisingly, it’s very illegal to do so commercially. This includes even in states where both substances are legal separately. In Oregon, weed has been fully legalized for a year and a half, but you still absolutely may not consume it in a public place, especially if that place holds a liquor license. “It’s a huge no-no,” says Chris Churilla, lead bartender at popular Portland cocktail joint Bit House Saloon. “We as a bar take a very aggressive stance toward smoking pot anywhere on the premises. I have physically removed people from the premises and threatened to call the police. If I lose my license or furthermore am imprisoned…that is a risk I will never take, nor will I allow someone else to compromise.”
Even those who advocate mixing weed and drinks acknowledge the need to be careful. Warren Bobrow, the longtime drinks writer behind Cannabis Cocktails, perhaps the world’s first book on the topic, advocates what he calls the Thai food principle: “The first time you take someone out for Thai food, you don’t order the five-star spicy dish. You start small and work your way up” he says. “Any idiot can get everyone wasted, but I don’t recommend that.”
That’s the same advice Ry Prichard provides as well. A Denver-based writer, photographer and “cannabusiness” consultant, Prichard has been working in the legal-marijuana industry since 2010 and serves as co-host and resident weed expert for Bong Appetit, a new show on cannabis food and drinks that premiered last month on Viceland. He’s seen folks overdo it, especially if they’ve already been drinking before they consume any marijuana.
The truth is that, like combining any two drugs, mixing alcohol and marijuana can have a synergistic effect and hit drinkers harder than either substance would by itself. But because this is such a new field (and because federal law limits much research on cannabis), there’s not the same level of understanding of how weed affects the body like you have with alcohol. “There’s not an easy answer. It’s just a body chemistry thing,” Prichard says. “There’s not a good test of how impaired someone is by cannabis, and it’s gonna be a big mess trying to figure this out.”
Beyond the legal issues and the Wild West feel of the whole field, a cannabis cocktail culture is starting to come together. And one of the pioneers is Jason Eisner, beverage director for a restaurant group that operates several vegan restaurants in California, including Gracias Madre in Los Angeles. Gracias Madre’s menu includes a trio of cocktails that incorporate cannabidol (CBD), the chemical component of marijuana responsible for many of its anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects, which might make him the first American bartender to ever sell a cannabis cocktail in a licensed bar. “I found a loophole,” Eisner says. He’s currently using a CBD extract called CW Hemp that’s made from hemp—basically the stems but not the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant—and is perfectly legal in all 5o states. No, really: There are many brands available on Amazon.
Eisner’s been a bartender since the late ‘90s, working everywhere from New York to Malibu, and he launched his CBD cocktails about seven months ago. He tried pot as a teenager, but didn’t really like it until a few years ago when he tried some medical-grade stuff a friend had smuggled in from California. Since then, he’s become an evangelist for pot’s beneficial effects. “With CBD, I still have my wits about me. I can go about my day,” he says. “I started putting it in cocktails because I wanted other people like me to get it too. The people hanging blacklight Cypress Hill posters in their bedrooms don’t need me to introduce them to cannabis.”
“The truth is that, like combining any two drugs, mixing alcohol and marijuana can have a synergistic effect and hit drinkers harder than either substance would by itself.”
But it’s not just non-psychoactive CBD that’s the subject of drinks experiments. Plenty of folks are also incorporating THC, the chemical in weed that actually gets you high. “Cannabis and alcohol went into everything back in the apothecary days,” Bobrow says. In a previous book, Apothecary Cocktails, he featured recipes for old-timey medicinal tinctures, bitters and cocktails calling for a variety of botanical ingredients, but his publisher wouldn’t let him include marijuana—that was part of the impetus for Cannabis Cocktails. Bobrow likes to take advantage of the savory and citrusy notes pot can bring to drinks, especially those on the more savory side of the spectrum.
Different strains of weed can contribute different flavors: Bobrow says indicas have a “dank, dark” flavor that goes will with brown spirits, while sativas tend to be “light, aromatic and crisp” and go well with lighter-bodied spirits like gin, tequila or mezcal. (Eisner agrees, saying his favorite spirit with CBD oil are agave spirits, which he says also improve mood: “You can’t be sad drinking a Margarita.”)
“In my personal experience, I really like the mix of marijuana and alcohol—not just the physical effects but also the flavor,” Prichard says. “Cannabis by its nature plays toward aromas that pair well with food and drinks.” He’s a fan of using terpenes to incorporate marijuana flavors in drinks without psychoactive effects. Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in a wide range of fruits, flowers and plants, including in high quantities in marijuana. Several companies sell bottled terpenes extracted from different strains of cannabis—basically essential oils—and Prichard frequently uses them on Bong Appetit. (One of his favorites comes from a strain called Lemon Haze, which has a sweet and tangy note he says works well in tiki drinks.) In theory, the terpenes do not have any physical or psychoactive effect on the human body, but on the other hand, Prichard says, “the whole field of aromatherapy is predicated on the idea that these kinds of chemicals can heal.”
Terpenes helped convert Devon Tarby to the marijuana-cocktail cause as well. A bartender in Southern California for nearly a decade, she’s now a partner in and in charge of menu development for Proprietors LLC, which runs several of the country’s top bars, including Death & Co. in New York and The Walker Inn in L.A. She’s also a self-described “mostly daily” cannabis user, but she’d never combined marijuana and alcohol until she got a call from Bong Appetit’s producers to help create cocktails for an episode. “The coolest thing was being introduced to terpenes,” she says. “As soon as I figure out where to get them, I want to have them on hand at my bars.” On the show, she created an aperitif cocktail using the bitter gentian liqueur Suze, floral St-Germain and sparkling wine with an oil extracted from a pot strain that smells of fresh pine and lemon.
So where is this all headed? As a society, we’ve had centuries to build up all the rituals and norms associated with drinking in bars, but there’s really no equivalent for marijuana. “In just a few years, we’ve gone from Cheech & Chong to cancer patients or a stressed-out mom with a vape pen,” Prichard says. “But it’s still gonna be a while, if ever, until you can have a beer and smoke a joint at the same bar.”
He cites Initiative 300, passed by voters in the city of Denver in November, which establishes licenses that allow public consumption of cannabis in places like coffee shops, yoga studios and cafes—but, thanks to adjustments to the law quickly adopted by the city, absolutely not anywhere with a liquor license. “We may see the first legal cannabis clubs in America in the next six months,” he says. In the future, Prichard envisions “places separate from the bar scene but with a similar feel to a bar.”
“As a society, we’ve had centuries to build up all the rituals and norms associated with drinking in bars, but there’s really no equivalent for marijuana.”
If that sounds similar to the “coffee shops” that sell marijuana in Amsterdam, you’re not wrong. That’s the model Tarby thinks will develop in America as well, but she worries the fledgling industry is on unsteady ground. “Everyone is still just scratching the surface,” she says. “The last thing anybody wants is to have people who don’t know how to properly serve cannabis and ruin it for everybody.”
Eisner, for his part, is totally on board with the marijuana revolution. He’s working on a non-alcoholic canned “cocktail” made with CBD called Dope Cannabis Cocktails that he hopes to have on sale by the end of the year, as well as a cannabis cafe concept modeled on Amsterdam coffee houses in California. “This is just the beginning. We’ll even see full-on cannabis restaurants,” he says. “The next generation has made their voices heard on this issue. The federal government won’t be able to continue suppressing cannabis for very long.”
For now, most experiments in combining pot and cocktails remain hidden underground, but we’re witnessing the birth of something brand-new that’s going to change the way we get our mind-altering chemicals. “It’s already a multi-billion-dollar business,” Prichard says. “And it’s definitely not going away.”
You’d be hard pressed to find an authority figure when it comes to cannabis cocktails. But Warren Bobrow, the author of Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics, doesn’t think that’s because the combination is a bad idea. He should know — he literally wrote the book on the subject. He’s a strong believer in a good cannabis cocktail. It’s just that everyone else (other than a few brave bar owners) is too scared to tackle the subject.
“I don’t think anyone has had the nerve to do it, nor have they found a publisher to take that type of risk,” Bobrow tells me over the phone, chuckling. “This is not a big lucrative project. I wish it was, but there’s so much preconceived stuff about it.”
There’s that, and the fact that making cannabis cocktails the right way — in a safe way that actually tastes good — is a lot harder than just throwing a couple nugs into a cocktail shaker. Luckily, Bobrow has it mastered, and it all started with a dream and a passion for quality cocktails and cannabis.
Bobrow didn’t recently jump on the cannabis trend. He says he’s been enjoying marijuana since he was 13 years old, and has experimented with putting marijuana in food. He was a banker for 20 years, but has since become a notable person in the cocktail world with four books about cocktails. Then in 2012 he read about a cannabis-infused dinner at Robertas in New York City. He noticed something curious in the story: The food had cannabis in it, but no one touched the drinks.
“So I wanted to change the world in my own way and offer something people hadn’t done before,” Bobrow says. “So I made all of my own drinks.”
Today, you don’t know cannabis cocktails if you don’t know Bobrow’s book. But for starters, here are some of the most important things to know before experimenting with cannabis cocktails.
“It’s not just stuffing a bunch of weed into vodka and hoping for the best,” Bobrow says. “That gives you green chlorophyll garbage that doesn’t get you stoned, it just gives you a headache.”
Bobrow’s preferred method of extracting THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is through a process called decarboxylation, or simply decarb. Decarboxylation turns THCA, a non-psychoactive compound found on live marijuana plants, into THC. To decarb, you heat the cannabis at 240 degrees for an hour (Bobrow uses a decarboxylation tool from Ardent that is microprocessor controlled).
THE QUALITY OF LIQUOR MATTERS
“Use the very best liquor you can use, no skimping,” Bobrow says. “It’s the same realm that I use in my craft cocktails. I only use small-producer craft spirits because I know that the quality is high.”
You get out what you put in. So put in the good stuff.
“All of my craft cocktails and mocktails and tonics and things that I use in the book include the use of the highest-quality craft spirits someone can buy,” Bobrow says.
DON’T OVERDO IT
“It’s very important to understand this is a psychoactive drug and too much can render the user impossibly couch-locked like I found myself once or twice,” Bobrow says.
Luckily, Bobrow has done all the experimenting so you don’t have to.
“The best advice I can give is balance,” Bobrow says, because everyone’s body chemistry is different. The results can be unpredictable, as a VinePair writer who drank weed wine found out.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO GET CRAZY FOR A GOOD COCKTAIL
“My drinks are not sweet,” Bobrow says. “They’re really dry, aromatic, savory, with great balance. And they’re cocktails that anyone can make with very limited time: simple, classic, crisp, beautiful.”
Bobrow’s cocktails utilize cannabis-infused bitters, cannabis cherries that he calls “greenish cherries,” and infused liquors. You don’t need 20 ingredients to make a good cannabis cocktail. Stick with the basics and infuse cannabis for the ideal cocktail.
IF YOU TRY ONE CANNABIS COCKTAIL, TRY THIS ONE
Bobrow is inspired by history. One person in particular stuck out to him: Milton Mezzrow, a jazz musician in the 1920s who sold weed to Louis Armstrong. He named a cocktail after him, the Mezzrow Cocktail. The cocktail is a mix of cannabis infused vermouth, 1 ounce of bourbon, aromatic bitters, and greenish cherries in a glass with crushed ice.
Like the word “gay,” the term “edible” has adopted a radically different accepted use than was originally intended. Thanks to mainstream media coverage of medicinal marijuana and the drug’s recreational legalization in seven states, plus Washington, D.C., “edibles” now generally refer to the psychoactive chemical compounds in marijuana … ingestible in the form of food as simple as a jelly bean or as gourmet as fois gras.
Not much product has hit the scene yet but it is slowly becoming, as they say, “a thing.” The category first came to my attention a few years ago with the release of Humboldt Brewing’s Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale. I don’t remember much about it other than it was pretty forgettable.
Last year, a public relations team sent me a bottle of Humboldt Distillery’s Humboldt’s Finest vodka infused with hemp seed (yes, there is a pattern here – Humboldt County, California, can arguably be considered America’s ideological ground zero for pot growing and smoking). As in the hemp ale, the hemp seed produces no high, and distillery founder Abe Stevens tells me he had to send his vodka for tests to ensure it contained no measurable amounts of THC before the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) would approve it.
He also tells me he knows of just two North American distilleries – one in British Columbia and another in Alaska — that started selling hemp vodka before he launched his last spring but since then he’s received numerous phone calls from entrepreneurs looking for advice. In October, the TTB approved a Colorado beer brewed with CBD, which also doesn’t spark a buzz, for national sale.
“It has a relationship to the growing interest in cannabis. That’s our sales angle, as it certainly helps the story,” he says of his own spirit, which retails for $29.99 MSRP. “But the market needs this product because it’s something new and the herbal quality makes nice cocktails.”
The hemp primarily comes through in the vodka’s aroma though it can be hard to discern among the other botanicals. Plus, the smell of the hemp oils can dissipate quickly.
So if it doesn’t get you high, doesn’t taste like dank herb and doesn’t even smell like a freshly lit Rastafarian, is there really a point? Stevens, who sells Humboldt’s Finest in about a dozen states patchworked across the U.S., says he gets that question all the time, especially from the west coast.
“Sometimes with people who’re really into the cannabis culture … we specifically try and even avoid that aspect and focus on the craft cocktail aspect. In Mississippi and Georgia they don’t have a legal marijuana outlet so to them there’s possibly a lot more novelty,” he says.
“I wanted to make it into a wellness book with flavor,” says the 55-year-old conservative dresser. “I wanted to take away some of the stigmas. It’s not a ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ book, it’s thoughtfully written and beautifully photographed to add possibilities to the regiment of taking cannabis for medicinal purposes. And it’s also tongue-in-cheek.”
But its publication hasn’t brought the New Jersey-based writer much wellness himself. He’s lost consulting clients on the east coast and his father literally disowned him before he died. While his dad had his own reasons for shunning his son, Bobrow’s big-liquor friends presumably stopped associating with him because conventional wisdom says that pot cuts into sales of beer and spirits. Bobrow’s actually made this argument himself, as has Cowan and Company, which made news by entering the marijuana investment space and analyzing a Nielsen report that showed beer sales dropping in three states where the drug has become legal.
Regardless of whether legal consumption will harm or help alcoholic beverages in the long term, one aspect does need to be addressed: the effects of mixing alcohol and pot.
“This is a legitimate concern,” says Swartz. “People must be careful to pace themselves when consuming alcohol and cannabis simultaneously. But after more people learn how, I believe mixing cannabis and alcohol will become even more socially acceptable.”
Right now, it’s not necessarily publicly acceptable, even in states where it’s legal. Californians need a card to purchase weed, and a sales guy at an extraordinarily professional dispensary in Bend, Oregon, told me to furtively smoke my legally purchased $9 joint on a dark residential sidewalk instead of lighting up at the bar where my friends were enjoying craft beers, cocktails and cigars. Did I order any fewer drinks than I might have? Yes. But not because I was stoned. Rather, it’s because I had to leave the bar for 20 minutes at a time to light up in secret. Had I been able to ingest my intoxicant as an alcoholic digestible I could have sat there far longer … and I probably would have ordered even more.
OUT OF THIS WORLD: THE 11TH ANNUAL SPIRITED AWARDS
In 2017, we’re taking Tales of the Cocktail beyond the stratosphere at the 11th Annual Spirited Awards. The show might be here on Earth at the Sheraton New Orleans, but the celestial inspired cocktails served will be otherworldly as we hand out awards for the best bars, bartenders, distillers, ambassadors and writers from around the world (and beyond?)
The Spirited Awards Ceremony Saturday, April 22nd The Sheraton New Orleans
If you’re feeling especially festive come in your favorite outer space or futuristic-themed attire as we celebrate the out-of-this-world talent of our industry.
I’m a huge fan of hot-weather beverages. Right now, it’s anything but hot out, but this little mocktail will transport you.
This time of year can be warm and sunny, or it can be thanklessly cold and rainy. It may officially be spring, but we are experiencing the occasional icy wind that goes right through you.
That’s where Vietnamese-style, freshly crushed sugar-cane juice comes in. This scintillating liquid — extracted from the stalk using a machine that resembles a sausage grinder — is refreshing, and come summer, it’ll stave off the heat and humidity with alacrity.
To take my iced sugar-cane juice to a higher level (so to speak), I use condensed milk for the infusion. The condensed milk takes to decarbed cannabis beautifully, and you can use it in a plethora of concoctions — from the obvious caramel, by cooking it very low and slow until it caramelizes, or as the aide-de-camp to a Vietnamese iced sugar-cane juice, which is the topic of this article.
Infused with your desired amount of THC.
For an 8-ounce can of condensed milk, take 3-7g of decarbed cannabis and add it to a hemp teabag or a section of cheesecloth, tied well to prevent leakage.
Add the condensed milk to a small sauce pan or Erlenmeyer flask.
Add the hemp tea bag or cheesecloth pouch to the condensed milk.
Prepare a double boiler.
Heat the bottom filled with water to 165-degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the Erlenmeyer flask into simmering water.
Allow to infuse for at least 2 hours but do not boil — or your condensed milk will become caramel.
Let cool and add 10-15 ml of the condensed milk at a time to your iced Vietnamese sugar cane juice.