By: Becky Garrison
Terms like “The Wild West” and “Gold Rush 2.0” have been used to describe the rapid shift of cannabis from an underground illicit practice to a legalized market. Global brands like AB InBev and Constellation Brands have invested in cannabis-infused beverages. (For now they appear to be focusing on the Canadian market where cannabis is legalized at the national level.)
Also, after hemp became legalized at the federal level in 2018, CBD-infused drinks for the adult market (21+) began popping up at bars, restaurants, and select grocery stores. In addition, the increasing legalization of cannabis for adult use has led to the rise of non-alcoholic drinks called “mocktails” that contain THC and are available for purchase in those licensed cannabis dispensaries located in states where recreational cannabis is legal.
As one example of the increasing normalization of cannabis, in 2019, Feast Portland, a food and drink festival celebrating the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, included in its educational offerings a panel titled “Cannabis & Cocktails: Best Buds?” During this panel, Jeremy Plumb, Director of Production Science at Prūf Cultivar, lent his 30-years of expertise in the cannabis industry to illuminate this new trend. He describes this current state of cannabis as a “frontier culture” where people are exploring a all the dimensions of over thousand compounds found in the cannabis plant.
The two compounds in cannabis getting the most buss are buzz is CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Both CBD and THC possess analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help with a range of conditions such as relieving pain and reducing stress.
For those unfamiliar with this plant, Plumb breaks down cannabis into three types. Type 1 cannabis is high THC with almost no CBD. THC is that compound that produces a psychoactive high and is the most heavily regulated (in the U.S.). Type 2 cannabis is a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, a combination that produces a balanced high. Finally, Type 3 cannabis contains less than .3% THC and is also called hemp-derived CBD. This is the form of cannabis that’s theoretically legal in all 50 states and the one being used in beers and cocktails available in bars, restaurants, and other public settings.
Rather than focus on just CBD and THC, Plumb encourages people to explore the “entourage effect” that happens when one consumes a cannabis infused product. This term describes the overall sensations a consumer experiences when consuming a particular product. In particular, Plumb homed in on terpenes, which are the organic chemicals present in food and drinks that produce certain effects. Among of the more common terpenes found in cannabis include Pinene (pine), Myrcene (musky, earthy, fruity) fruity), Limonene (citrus), Humulene (hoppy, earthy), Humulene (musky, earthy, spicy), Linalool (spicy, floral), Caryophyllene (peppery, spicy), and Terpinolene (woodsy, smoky).
While cannabis and hops belong to the same Cannabaceae family, Plumb notes that cannabis offers a broader range of flavors and aromatics than what one finds in hops. According to Plumb, cannabis is the most genetically diverse plant on the planet. “Any aroma found in nature can be found in some variety of this plant.” In his work, he explores whole-plant infusions that take advantage of all the plants properties rather than distilling a single compound and adding that to the products.
How Cannabis is Used in Cocktails
Once hemp derived-CBD. became legalized at the Federal level in 2018, CBD drinks became the latest craze. Howeer, until the FDA and USDA formalize the legal guidelines for how to regulate food and beverage products made with hemp-derived CBD, these products will not be available for adult use in all 50 states. Furthermore, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not approved cannabis or CBD as approved ingredients for use by a distillery, brewery, cidery, or winery.
But while one cannot expect to see these cannabis or CBD-infused alcoholic products available in the near future, CBD drops can be added to alcoholic beverages. According to Brandon Holmes, CEO of Danodan Hempworks, the challenge in using their Hemp Flower CBD shots in a drink is the same as using any other ingredient in cocktails. “Mixologists make great drinks because they experiment with ingredient ratios that captivate the senses and amplify each ingredient’s characteristics.”
Joanna Matson, founder and CEO of ZVEDA Botanicals, created her CBD wellness drops using fusions of Ayurvedic herbs, cannabinoid-rich Hemp-CBD oil, and signature essential oil blends as a natural product to help promote health and wellness. Presently, she also partners with the Portland Bitters Project to produce a line of bitters infused with CBD and organic botanicals.
For those looking for a lighter taste, East Fork Cultivar’s CBD drops are not flavored as strongly as other hemp products. Their CBD Drops are a glycerine-based tincture made from their USDA Certified Organic Oregon-grown craft hemp flower to produce an accessible, mild-tasting, broad-spectrum, water-soluble form of CBD to be added into drinks.
While CBD affects everyone at different dosage levels, one can generally expect to feel a light, pleasant feeling of relaxation after taking a 10-50 mg dose. However, some people can experience these feelings with only 2mg of CBD.
Sparkling beverages such as those produced by Ablis CBD Infusions and clēēn:craft can be used as mixers or consumed as stand-alone products for those wanting a non-alcoholic lift courtesy of the CBD present in these product but also desiring products made with organic ingredients. For those desiring products infused with THC, companies such as Magic Number and SōRSE Technology manufacture non-alcoholic THC beverages available in different strengths. These zero-proof cocktails work well for those who want a sophisticated drink in a social setting but do not wish to consume alcohol.
The Future of Cannabis-Infused Cocktails
Lee-Ellen Reed of East Fork Cultivars, speaks to the role of CBD in the bar space. “They offer an alternative to alcohol for those who still want to “take the edge off.” Also, both cannabis and cocktails could produce some new experiences when combined together. In Plumb‘s experience, sipping on a whole plant vaporizing creates a new experience which could be incorporated into a cannabis infused cocktail.
Also, anecdotal evidence suggests that consuming cannabis could help reduce the amount of alcohol consumed and prevent hangovers. However, further research is needed to ascertain the effects of combining alcohol and cannabis
In Plumb’s estimation, blending together cannabis and cocktails makes sense from a craft perspective. He believes cannabis should be seen in the same context of other craft food and beverages that produce nourishment and enjoyment. “There’s a whole community of passionate craftspeople who existed in this underground [cannabis] economy for a very long time, aspiring to simply be at the table with other brilliant crafts people who are producing spirits, ales, wine, and food.”