Saturday, December 16th I will be doing a tasting at Joe Canal in Lawrenceville NJ from 12:00 – 2:00 pm
- Laird’s Applejack86
- Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye Whiskey
- Crop Vodka
- Farmers Gin
3375 US Route 1 South Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
First published in bostonmagazine.com
In our rundown of the best hot chocolate in Boston, a few notable spiked examples made the cut. But should you seek something a little stronger, you’re going to want to head to our favorite bar-ware store, Boston Shaker.
Warren Bobrow and his trusty sidekick, Klaus the Soused Gnome show us how to conjure a mighty strong batch of hot chocolate made with Austrian-made Stroh 160. That’s right, that’s 160-proof rum. Hey, if anyone knows how ward off a winter chill, it’s the Austrians.
Hot Toddy Time!
Frosty weather is coming quickly and in keeping with his German heritage, Klaus has a fire burning in the fireplace to take the chill off the morning. Mornings in the old house are usually punctuated by the sound of crackling fires in the dining room fireplace. Comforting and warming, a nice fire is taking the chill off the air out in the garden.
Although it’s still warm during the day, the mornings can be rather chilly!
The age of cannabis cocktails has arrived—and if you ask writer and spirit brand ambassador Warren Bobrow, author of Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, & Tonics, it’s been a long time coming. The “Cocktail Whisperer,” as he has come to be known, has been experimenting with cannabis tinctures and infusions for decades, and is one of the first to publish a book detailing his recipes. And while many still view marijuana as an incorrigible vice, Bobrow’s is a much more academic and, at times, spiritual fascination.
Like most people in the cocktail industry, Warren Bobrow’s story is a bit of a meandering one. Originally trained as a saucier, his career began with a dish washing job at a restaurant in the seaside town of York Harbor, Maine. He eventually worked his way up to an executive chef position before turning south, starting his own fresh pasta business in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1980s.
“Then we had Hurricane Hugo, and I lost everything,” he explained, rather matter-of-factly. “I moved back to New Jersey, where I was born and raised, and got a job that paid the bills and allowed me to save and have all the nice perks that go with that.”
They told me that America wasn’t ready for it yet, and I think in many ways they still aren’t.
What followed was a 20-year stint as an executive assistant in the banking industry, a job he mostly couldn’t stand. “I didn’t belong in the corporate world—everyone told me so, but I wasn’t listening,” he said. “I made good money and it was tough to leave. But eventually, I lost my job, and I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do.”
Bobrow had always been interested in writing, but by his own admission he didn’t know the first thing about it. Thanks to a connection through his previous employer, though, he got his first chance to prove himself in 2009.
“So I started writing about food and wine, which were the things I was comfortable with. I came across a magazine out in San Francisco called Served Raw, and they gave me a chance to write for them—but they couldn’t afford to pay me anything. They were founders of Amazon or something and they still convinced me they couldn’t afford it,” he laughed. “But it didn’t matter because I started creating things, making drinks.”
He ingratiated himself with the magazine’s editors, and eventually earned himself the moniker of Cocktail Whisperer. “When the magazine went out of business—you know how publications come and go—they gifted me the domain cocktailwhisperer.com, and I still use it today. I think it’s a fitting name, because I try to speak to ingredients from a melodic and nostalgic point of view.”
The craft cocktail movement was well underway by the time the Cocktail Whisperer came to be, but Bobrow found himself drawn to a relatively unexplored corner of the industry’s history: the apothecary shop. Not always the most reputable businesspeople (hence the archetypal “snake oil salesman”), these early pharmacists nevertheless played an important role in the development of many ingredients and recipes we take for granted today.
“My grandfather was in the patent pharmaceutical business. He made drugs that were sold in pharmacies all over the world. The colognes and aftershaves made him a wealthy man, but the over-the-counter pharmaceuticals made him a real fortune.”
Perhaps his most famous product was Geritol, an iron supplement that was cited for false advertising that “amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness,” according to the FTC. “He always referred to it as selling ice to eskimos,” Bobrow recounted wryly.
It was, at least in part, this family connection that first piqued his curiosity about history of apothecaries. Rather than attempting to validate what was a pretty clearly unethical business, though, Bobrow has always viewed patent medicines as a manifestation of a much more ancient practice: traditional folk medicine.
His first book, Apothecary Cocktails, explores a number of turn-of-the-century recipes and ingredients that have left a mark on popular drinking culture, as well as the contemporary bars that have sought to revive them. But even back then, cannabis as a cocktail ingredient was squarely on Bobrow’s radar.
“When I wrote my first book, Apothecary Cocktails, I wanted to include cannabis in it, because it has such a long and storied history as a pharmaceutical. But my publisher wouldn’t let me. They told me that America wasn’t ready for it yet, and I think in many ways they still aren’t.
These substances were used for years, and it was only because of the ‘drugs are bad’ movement that they’ve been erased from history.
As public opinion and the political landscape shifted over the last half-decade, though, he began to feel that the time was ripe for an in-depth exploration of the intersection between cannabis and alcohol—long-time bedfellows in the form of tinctures and infusions in the medicine cabinets of yesteryear.
“I was doing a book signing for my third book, Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails, at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum a while back. At the same time, they were doing a presentation on cannabis in the early pharmacy. I had my entire book written for me, right there!” he said, laughing. “The trick, though, was getting my publisher to even consider it.”
Bobrow got in touch with his editor, who informed him that the publishing house was actually considering a cannabis project for future release. He scrambled to put together a book proposal in three days, and to his delight, they accepted it.
One of the things Bobrow wanted to develop was a guide to the flavor profiles of different strains of cannabis—after all, the research that goes into drink development these days is far from trivial.
“I wanted to make drinks that were approachable from a flavor standpoint. You have things like Fernet-Brancawhich is so popular these days, you have all these amari and herbal digestifs on the market, and even vermouth is hot again. Those are all great for introducing people to cannabis as a cocktail ingredient, because they’ve paved the way for strong, herbal flavors in drinks.”
But unlike alcoholic ingredients, he also had to consider the different psychoactive properties of each. “For example, I tried infusing Absinthe Edouard with a high-quality indica strain. It created this wonderfully lucid, translucent feeling. It also makes a great Absinthe Frappé,” he said, chuckling.
“In the book, I describe a series of strains and give tasting notes, like someone would taste whiskey. The idea was to make a guide that would be useful for a cocktail bar, and talk about the interplay between different flavors and psychoactive effects.”
One of the biggest challenges when it came to writing Cannabis Cocktails, though, was figuring out how to make it accessible to a wider audience than the typical stoner crowd. “What I wanted to present was a different take on healing, like the early apothecary,” he explained. “These substances were used for years and years, and it was only because of the ‘drugs are bad’ movement that they’ve been erased from history.”
While the book has faced some backlash from anti-drug activists (and even a few cannabis proponents), it seems that Bobrow is sincerely concerned with ensuring that people enjoy his recipes responsibly. It seems like every other page of his book includes a warning about not overdoing it, and it’s one of the first subjects he brought up in our interview.
“This book is not for beginners,” he stressed, “and I try to make that very clear throughout. They’re strong drinks, even though we did our best to minimize their strength. I don’t recommend them to people who are just looking to party—ideally, they’ll introduce medical and recreational users to the rich history of cannabis in the healing arts.
“What affects me might not affect you the same way, and it might just completely destroy that guy over there,” he continued, pointing to an oblivious patron in the corner. “That’s why I stress: never more than one drink per hour. I take the Thai food principle. You can always get Thai food mild, and add more spice later. Once the spice is there, it’s not coming out. Same thing with a cannabis cocktail.”
Despite the fact that recreational marijuana remains illegal throughout most of the United States, Cannabis Cocktails has been a hit nationwide. And based on its reception at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, the bartending industry is itching for more opportunities to put his recipes to the test.
We don’t know what the future will hold, but if current trends continue, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a handful of other states joining Colorado and Washington in cannabis legalization this November. But it’s clear that no matter what, Warren Bobrow will be at the forefront, an apothecary for the modern day.
“What’s in the bottle is not what’s on the label,” says Warren Bobrow, handing me a small apothecary jar of amber-colored fluid. Inside is a top-shelf rum, he says, infused with high-grade marijuana — specifically, a strong indica-dominant hybrid known as Granddaddy Purple. Yet, despite containing such a notoriously aromatic additive, the liquor does not reek of dank weed. There is, however, a noticeable difference in taste: a pleasantly herbal, almost minty, flavor on the tongue.“Isn’t that delicious?” he says.
Bobrow, 55, is the author of several cocktail books, including the highly regarded Apothecary Cocktails. His latest is titled Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzz-Worthy Libations. It’s the first of its kind — a collection of 75 recipes devoted exclusively to marijuana–spiked drinks. And to hear him tell it, the effort brings together two disparate cultural groups.
“You have the drinking people who look down on pot, and you have the pot people that look down on drinking,” says Bobrow. “What I wanted to do was get them both to play nicely in the sandbox, and they actually do. And the real fun of it is, not any one thing becomes overpowering. I’m all about balance in my cocktails. They have depth of flavor, they have character.”
We’re sitting outside in the courtyard at Roberta’s, the wildly popular restaurant in the artsy Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. Bobrow has just finished up an on-air appearance for Heritage Radio inside the restaurant’s tiny in-house studio. But the setting is more than merely convenient, it’s apropos. Roberta’s famously hosted a “three-course, two-cocktail weed-heavy tasting menu” chronicled by GQ in 2012. “I really should fire one up just out of basic pretense,” says Bobrow. But we refrain, at least until leaving the premises.
Though America is becoming more tolerant toward marijuana use, with laws in many places changing to reflect that, the issue is much trickier with regards to licensed establishments like bars and restaurants. Bobrow notes that the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau considers it illegal to infuse alcohol with cannabis, which makes the subject a nonstarter in a commercial setting like this.
“You should not do this in any bar,” says Bobrow. “If you do it in a bar, you’re taking a great risk to the liquor license that belongs to someone else. Do it at home. Hang out with people who have cancer, who need medicine. Make them a cannabis cocktail and see the healing that it offers and the pleasure that it offers to someone who’s really sick. That’s why I wrote the book — not for the college student who wants to get his fraternity as blasted as they possibly can on spiced rum punch mixed with cannabis tincture. I know they’re going to do it. This book tells everything. But that’s not the intent.”
Any halfwit can dump a bag of dope into a bottle of hooch and create a very potent potable if he waits long enough. Bobrow’s handsome how-to manual instructs you on ways to treat cannabis like a true cocktail craftsman regards any other valuable ingredient. “I love getting stoned, like anyone else, but I don’t want to drink something that looks and tastes like mold,” he says.
The book suggests ways to infuse cannabis into everything from absinthe and condensed milk to maple syrup and cocktail cherries. It even offers tasting profiles of several popular marijuana strains and recommendations on which strains pair best with which spirits.
Like many culinary-cannabis enthusiasts, Bobrow is a stickler for decarboxylation, a technique to essentially pre-cook the cannabis in order to properly activate its psychoactive and otherwise therapeutic chemicals. The book details two methods to this end: the very fragrant approach of using a basic oven and a less odorous sous-vide option of boiling the stuff in a bag. One trick not mentioned in the book: Bobrow says you can even use a microwave. All you need is a microwave-safe container and an oven bag.
The book also explains how to use lecithin powder, a common supplement found at most health-food stores, for an additional boost in any cannabis-enhanced concoction. “Lecithin is an emulsifier,” Bobrow explains. “It’s also brain food. It’s what your brain is built on.” One tablespoon of lecithin per cup in an infusion “supercharges” the cannabis, according to Bobrow. “It goes from 0 to 60 to 0 to 1,000,” he says.
That said, responsible use is a big emphasis of the book, which repeatedly warns against over consumption and driving under the influence, as well as avoiding the infamously disabling stoner condition known as “couch-lock.”
“I want to see this as a source of healing for everyone,” says Bobrow. “I don’t want to see it just for people who are really, really sick. I want to see everyone find relaxation and comfort in it, and to know that they don’t have to drink 10 drinks to have a good time. They can have one cannabis cocktail and be totally satisfied.”
Warren Bobrow likens his fascination with cannabis cocktails to that of a bitters aficionado: in his eyes, adding the herb to his cocktails is just another way of experimenting with depth, balance, and flavor, not unlike the effects bitters can have on a drink. “It adds very green tasting notes and aromas, and I find that to be quite beguiling,” he says. (Of course, there’s one thing THC can do to a cocktail that even the finest bitters can’t, which is adding a certain extra psychoactive je nai sais quoi to a beverage.) Bobrow, who will release“Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics” through Quarto Publishing this summer, has spent years experimenting with various drinks, tinctures and modifiers that give a little more buzz than your average alcoholic concoction.
Whether you’re on-board with the idea of marijuana mixology, or you think the whole idea is a misguided liability straight out of the pages of a bad frat party, these methods and ideas are at least worth discussing—particularly as recreational pot legalization slowly grows throughout the U.S. So, we decided to invite Warren to do a live-streamed Shake Up to talk through his ideas and explain his approach.
First, a few obvious but necessary points we must acknowledge: if marijuana has been outlawed in your state, don’t try this at home. It’s illegal. And don’t try this at your bar, period. Warren makes it clear that his recipes are intended for non-commercial, home use only, and only in states where recreational cannabis is legal. Finally, while Warren does sing the curative praises of cannabis and its alleged healing properties, he is not a physician, so not a word of this should be construed as medical advice.
That being said, if you’re curious about the whole phenomenon, read on for the highlights and check out the full video recap below.
1. They actually do have some historical relevance
Think a pot-spiked cocktail sounds like something a bong-ripping college bro would think up? Warren begs to differ. He sites the herbs used in early apothecaries (including, yes, the herb) as a precursor to cannabis-infused elixirs, similar to the way bitters and digestifs were developed for their medicinal properties. “I wanted to unleash the power of the early apothecary,” Warren says of his book. While the exact medicinal qualities of cannabis are still up for debate, history and folk remedies do uphold cannabis’s potentially curative properties. For centuries, Warren says, it’s been used for healing purposes and relaxation purposes. “I can’t tell you that cannabis is going to cure all of your ills, but I can tell you that it certainly is going to make someone feel better.”
2. Decarbing is a crucial first step
In layman’s terms, the process of decarbing uses heat to release the specific molecules in THC that, as Warren phrases it, “give you the feeling you’re looking for.” It’s a necessary first step for any mixology-related experimentation with cannabis, assuming you’re after the psychosomatic effects and not just the flavor. Warren’s go-to method involves wrapping your product in a heat-safe turkey roasting bag (to preserve aroma and flavor), and giving it three 1.5-minute nukes in the microwave, though other methods include running it through a toaster oven at 240 degrees for about an hour. Either way, be sure to open your windows and expect your home to reek for a bit.
3. Infusion is best with whiskey, rum and mezcal, but the world is your oyster
Warren has infused cannabis into everything from mezcal to bitters to coconut water. His go-to method was inspired by the David Arnold rapid infusion technique of using a nitrous oxide-charged whipping siphon. Be forewarned, though, that the aesthetic effects of infusing cannabis into liquor can be less than ideal: clear spirits like gin or vodka will likely result in a muddy-looking, greenish-brown end product. (Warren cites a recent experiment with absinthe as deliciously vegetal in flavor, but not so easy on the eyes.) He recommends tinkering with dark spirits like whiskey and rum first, and has also found that “the mysterious nature of mezcal lends itself extremely well to the use of cannabis in cocktails.”
4. These aren’t meant for partying — so take it easy, tiger
Warren made it very clear that he strongly advises against partying too hard with these elixirs. Rather than slamming pot cocktails to kill two vices with one stone, he recommends taking it easy with no more than one drink per hour. He sees them more as a health tonic than a pre-game power hour fuel. “The terminology for the book is healing, not ‘obliteration’,” he says. Plus, he says, pounding a few of these just to send your brain to Jupiter sends the wrong message to people less familiar with cannabis culture. You wouldn’t want to send perception of potheads back to Reefer Madness times, would you?
5. But, if you do have too much, there’s an antidote
If you have a little too much fun with these tinctures, Warren swears by this one weird trick: chug a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade, and chew three or four black peppercorns. “I don’t know how it works,” Warren admits, “but I will tell you: it works.”
6. Different strains offer different, nuanced tasting notes and pairing possibilities — just like spirits
You wouldn’t treat a bottle of classic London Dry the same way you would a juniper-forward, botanical-driven craft gin, would you? The same could be said for individual strains of cannabis, according to Warren, who read from the section of tasting notes in his book. Pineapple Kush, he says, has notes of pineapple, mint, and burnt sugar, and makes a great addition to homemade orgeat in a classic Zombie, while Thin Mint Cookie’s sweet peppermint notes make a great additive to hot chocolate in the form of canna-butter. Overall, though, Warren recommends sticking to sativa strains for daytime use and indica strains for night.