In the Bay Area, you can consume marijuana in just about any form: high-end vape pen! Gummy bears! Cold brew! Now, a few enterprising chefs want to popularize the drug in a new form: cocktails.
The combination of marijuana and alcohol is a common enough occurrence, but you’re not likely to find many people who would recommend it. In small amounts, they’re both relatively safe. But when the two drugs are combined, they can exacerbate the effects of each other, making you drunker or more high than you want to be--a danger that anybody who's gotten “crossfaded” after two many keg stands and bong rips at a college rager can attest to.
But with the popularity of medical marijuana and the ability to know exactly the strain and strength of the weed you’re buying, there’s now room to take a more controlled approach. Bartenders can easily find out what a particular type of marijuana will taste like (“heavy on the blueberry”) if it’s an indica or sativa, and what effect it’s supposed to leave you with (“great to melt away stress and anxiety.”) By incorporating just a few drops of a cannabis tincture into your cocktail shaker, proponents say that you can enjoy some of the advantages of cannabis while sipping on your next cocktail.
That’s what Payton Curry wants to offer. He’s a chef that left the world of fine dining to focus on promoting the positive, medicinal aspects of cannabis via what he does best: cooking. At a series of August dinners, Curry, who now runs the edibles company Flourish, offered diners a menu of his cannabis cuisine, featuring dishes like beet tartare and maitake steaks with red wine reduction--and cocktails like a rosemary blueberry smash. (The drinks will also be available at Folsom Street Fair, and he’s planning a monthly brunch featuring similar recipes.) Curry is evangelical about cannabis’ potential, and he wants people to start thinking of it as just another exciting ingredient.
But just how much cannabis can you get from a cannabis cocktail? Does the toxicity of alcohol cancel out any positive effects you might get from your Bloody Mary Jane (another one of Curry’s specialties)? And most importantly, do the drinks taste like bong water?
“Oh, god no. Oh man,” Curry said with a laugh. He uses distilled forms of cannabis, which lack the distinctive dankness you experience if you’re smoking the plant. However, they do maintain some of their smelly characteristics, so Curry can decide how to take advantage of the citrus notes of, say, a Lemon Kush.
As for health claims, he thinks that the benefits of the CBD strains he incorporates into his low alcohol cocktails (marijuana high in the cannabinoid CBD doesn’t give a “high” effect, and people use it to treat issues like depression and insomnia) can help offset some of alcohol's deleterious effects. He’s had people write him thank you notes describing the amazing sleep and vivid dreams they had after one of his dinners: “When do you dream when you’ve had alcohol?” he asked. “You don't. You just go to bed and you conk out.”
Terrance Alan and Aaron Silverman, co-owners of the Castro’s Flore, are also experimenting with cannabis cocktails. About a month ago, they added a menu of CBD infused cocktails, mocktails and beer.
“We’re working at the Flore to create the first cannabis restaurant in San Francisco, where cannabis is integrated into the dining experience in any way that will be appropriate,” Alan said. They can’t make any medical claims about their drinks, but he said that the customer response has been positive. “Some people have said, ‘I had that bunch of beers and usually I would get up in the morning and not feel very good, and I woke up and felt great.’ During the experience of drinking the cocktails or the CBD beer, what we found was that the mental change that happens when you drink alcohol is moderated and affected by the CBD.”
Alan also pointed out that the drinks have a special significance for the neighborhood-- their drinks wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Dennis Peron, who started the long fight for legal medical marijuana in the nineties by providing it to AIDs patients at his “Castro Castle.”
For Curry, his cannabis cocktails are a Trojan horse. In his opinion, drinking can be a more dangerous social activity than consuming marijuana. He wants to do his part to show that weed can provide the same social function as alcohol, and even offer some added health benefits. But to do that, he has to meet people where they are, with a cocktail in hand.
“The biggest thing that [drinkers] are getting is the opportunity to socialize [with] cannabis,” he said. “And they’re talking and they’re laughing and they’re still doing the same things that they would be doing if they were holding a $47 glass of Chenin blanc.”
“People weren't getting weird,” he added. “No one smoked. Because it’s about dinner--it’s cocktails and dinner.”