Morristown businessman Matthew Rosenhaus grew rich selling Geritol in the 1950s and 60s, marketing it as a curative tonic for people with “iron-poor tired blood.”
“It was snake oil,” his grandson, Warren Bobrow, recalls today. Yet Bobrow still embraces the family’s entrepreneurial spirit. He’s trying to forge his own legacy by manufacturing a cannabis-infused beverage that, unlike Geritol, delivers precisely what it advertises: good flavor and a good buzz.
Sold in bottles and served by the spoonful, Geritol was hawked shamelessly from coast to coast with a relentless ad campaign that sponsored “The Lawrence Welk Show,” among other 20th-century TV hits.
“It was ethyl alcohol, caramel colorings and flavorings,” said Bobrow, 61, who grew up in Morris Township. “All it was was whiskey. It didn’t even have vitamins in the early days. And it was sold in every pharmacy in the United States, if not the world.”
In 1972, a Geritol TV ad campaign also coined the cringe-worthy tagline, “My wife, I think I’ll keep her,” which was mocked by the growing feminist movement of the time.
“It made my grandfather a pretty successful guy until the government sued them,” Bobrow said. Rosenhaus at one point was the largest individual shareholder of filmmaker Columbia Pictures Industries and also served on the board of Nabisco Inc.
Geritol is now manufactured as a vitamin supplement by Meda Consumer Healthcare of Georgia, but it’s no longer a staple of U.S. medicine cabinets as it was for decades.
The formula worked for years until the Federal Trade Commission derailed the gravy train. In 1973, the agency imposed what was then the largest fine in its history, accusing Geritol of “false and misleading claims” and leading to the company’s decline.
Can Klaus Mezzrole ‘transform’ cannabis drinks?
Bobrow, a graduate of the Morristown-Beard School, would eventually grow estranged from his family. So he carved his own niche in the spirits industry as a brand ambassador known as “The Cocktail Whisperer.” He has authored six mixology books including “Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today.”
A subsequent book, “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics,” put him on a new professional path: formulating, manufacturing and distributing his own concoctions to ride the wave of marijuana legalization across the U.S. Last year, he introduced Mezzrole, the first in a planned line of “Klaus”-brand beverages. They’re sold exclusively in California’s legal cannabis market.
The drink is a variation on a rum-based cocktail known as a ti’punch. But the “punch” of the rum has been replaced by 10 milligrams of infused cannabis resin in each 8-ounce can, from an “Indica-leaning hybrid” strain of marijuana known as “Hippie Crasher.”
The Mezzrole formula, like a ti’punch, is non-carbonated and flavored with French lime puree, rice vinegar and a ginger beer syrup Boborow substitutes for rum: “When you leave out the rum, you need something to give it a little spice and backbone, because it’s extra hot and spicy,” he said.
A July review on the “Good Spirits” blog described the drink as “tropical and vibrant,” noting it contains only 16 calories per can and is “alcohol-free, so no need to worry about mixing booze with your buzz.”
A ” first-of-its-kind product,” Klaus is likely to “transform the way you think about cannabis-infused beverages,” it said.
Indica strains of cannabis are known for increasing relaxation and reducing insomnia, often referred to as a “body high.” A Sativa “head high” is said to increase creativity and focus while reducing stress and anxiety. Hybrids contain elements of both.
“It’s not overwhelming. It’s a nice calm, no stronger than having a craft cocktail,” said Bobrow, who writes for three cannabis-industry magazines and recently attended the annual MJBizCon convention in Las Vegas with 35,000 other industry insiders. “What it does is offer a little deeper depth and balance to the experience of a craft cocktail, without the alcohol.”
That’s important to Bobrow. While he’s a recognized mixology expert, he quit drinking distilled spirits in 2018 “because it was killing me.” Addiction was not the issue, he said, but rather his need to drink frequently while working as a brand ambassador.
“I’ve lost two shoe sizes and 100 pounds since then,” he said.
Raised on Geritol Jr.
Bobrow smoked his first joint at age 12 and his taste for weed led to his wealthy family disowning him.
“My mom gave me Geritol Jr. every morning before school,” he recalled with a touch of irony. “It was 20% alcohol.”
Now 61, Bobrow said cannabis has helped him find balance. He acknowledges others may disagree with his preference for pot over alcohol.
“They would be wrong,” he said.
Medical experts may disagree, but Bobrow, who recently moved to Mendham, asserts cannabis “is not intoxicating, is not habit-forming, is not incapacitating and you don’t have a hangover the next day.”
He’s hoping for national distribution, but so far, only California has cleared Mezzrole for sale. New Jersey laws on recreational cannabis prohibit products in edible or drinking form. There’s talk of liberalizing the state’s rules, “but it will take a while,” Bobrow said.
Initial sales of Mezzrole were strong, but they’ve slowed as Bobrow moves to a new distributor and makes plans to expand the product line.
In California, his business model includes retail sales, but Bobrow expects the bulk of his future distribution will be “direct to consumer” through his website. A can of Mezzrole currently sells for $12 retail, or $40 for a four-pack. The website teases future varieties of Klaus cannabis cocktails, including “Bosphorus” and “1851 Zombie.”
Each has a flavor as colorful as its name. Bosphorus promises a “trip to sunny, sultry Istanbul, not Constantinople” with traces of bergamot (a citrus fruit), apricot and a touch of mirin (Japanese rice vinegar). Meanwhile, 1851 Zombie is “a lovable combination of sour leading into sweet becoming everything naughty” with three cannabis strains in place of rum.
Bobrow chose the name Mezzrole as a homage to Mezz Mezzrow, a musician and the notorious pot “connection” for jazz legend Louis Armstrong, who was well-known for his love of weed.
“He brought tons of Mexican cannabis up from south of the border during the Jazz Era and was very much a favored individual in Detroit and Chicago and New York,” Bobrow said. “A well-rolled cannabis cigarette was known as a ‘mezzrole.'”
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.