STORIES

Bar Legend Crafts Epic Infused Cocktails for SF's Flore

By David Jenison on August 7, 2017

The iconic Flore cafe in San Francisco wants to introduce an infused menu, and this pursuit has already begun at the bar. Christopher Longoria, one of the top mixologists in the city, crafted a cocktail program that incorporates cannabidiol (CBD) and strain-specific terpenes. Longoria, who runs the bar at 1760, worked with Level Blends chemist and co-founder Chris Emerson to source the best cannabis oils made with strains like Sour Diesel, Gorilla Grape and Lemon Cookie. The result is one of the best—and most extensive—infused cocktail lists in the country, and you can probably guess what time happy hour starts. 

Aaron Silverman, who co-owns Flore with Terrance Alan, told PRØHBTD, "Flore has been an anchor business in the Castro for more than 40 years and the genesis of some of the most relevant meetings in the cannabis industry. It made perfect sense to introduce CBD-infused cocktails and beer here at Flore. It aligns with our vision to create the very first true consumption and socialization lounge where cannabis, food and spirits can be enjoyed. We still have a way to go for the cannabis, but we are making progress."

Los Angeles restaurant like Gracias Madre feature infused cocktails on the menu, but Flore is the first San Francisco spot to do so, and Longoria helped the cafe accomplish this in grand fashion. PRØHBTD spoke with the bar man to learn more about his popular new creations. 

You created the craft cannabis cocktails for Flore, but you famously run the bar at 1760. How did you connect with Aaron and Terrance to develop the cannabis drinks? 

Terrance and I have a mutual friend named Deanna Sisson, who runs Victory Hall and Parlor and Mestiza in San Francisco. I knew Deanna from working together at Farmer Brown in the past. She told me she had a friend who was interested in creating cannabis cocktails, and she told Terrance she had someone in mind who would be right for the project. So one day I was catching up with Deanna at Victory Hall, and she just went ahead and texted Terrance to come through. That was the first time Terrance and I met. We hit it off so well over the ideas for the project that I invited him to 1760 that same night so I could make him a cocktail. Terrance doesn't drink much, but he had my Basil Mezcal Sour and was convinced we could work together. A couple of months later, the project was a go, and he invited me to Flore to meet his team.  That's when I met Aaron and Denae Silverman. They were both positive and enthusiastic so I thought it would be a fun team to work with! My main interest as a cocktail maker was an opportunity to work with an ingredient that was relatively new for use in cocktails.  

You also worked with Level Blends on the CBD blends. Did you make any special requests in terms of the CBD and terpene formulas? 

Yes, actually. We created the cocktail menu first. The inclusion of the CBD was the last leg of the project. We first wanted to make a solid cocktail menu that could be enjoyed by everyone, and then the kicker would be the option to include CBD.Chris [from Level Blends] and I worked really well together. We spoke a lot of the same language so we could move quickly through the trials and tribulations of tasting. Basically, Chris came over with a variety of different terpene profiles. Some worked well with different cocktails right off the bat and some needed adjustments. Some may have been too citrus forward, some a little vegetal. Some could even change the texture of the cocktail. So once we decided which terpene profiles would work well with the chosen cocktail, we made small minor adjustments. Chris is pretty extraordinary when it comes to what he can do with terpenes, so it was great to meet and be like-minded. It allowed us to really search out the nuances between the CBD and cocktail balance.

Can you give examples of how you paired the notes of specific terpenes with different spirits and ingredients? 

That's quite difficult to put into words, but I'll try my best. Basically, one thing I am really focused on when making cocktails is achieving a balance for whatever I put in the glass. Typically I like to take familiar ingredients and find different combinations of flavor to help give that ingredient a new identity. It wasn't too different when working with CBD. Though typically cannabis is a familiar taste and flavor, the profiles that Chris brought over were new and interesting to me. So immediately my mind went into overdrive considering all the different flavors they could match well with. So say for Peron's Perverted Punch, we tried with the Lemon Cookie profile. Because we felt the citrus element of the Lemon Cookie would work well with a light pineapple and pear taste, that is part of the punch. Also, the aromatics play a big role in my cocktails. Some profiles would be stronger or lighter than others. Aromatics always have an influence on one's palate so that was a part of the process when helping pair the profiles to the cocktail.

Do certain spirits generally pair better with cannabis terpenes, or are the other ingredients more important in terms of creating the best overall flavor profile? 

Balance is and always will be be the goal. So it's difficult for me to see them separately. Usually I see the spirit as a backdrop or vehicle to get the flavors of the cocktail solution across to my guest, but I see them working together to create one flavor. You could probably say gin works well because it's botanical based. I also found that pisco works well with cannabis. Mint-infused rum, cucumber-infused whiskey, hibiscus. I found all these work well with cannabis as well. I found a number of others, but you'll have to come visit Flore to try them yourself!!

You developed 11 cocktails and four mocktails, which is quite a lot. How many formulas did you try out, and were there any cocktails that just narrowly missed making the menu? 

Out of the the list of 15 you mentioned, we probably tried out four or five that didn't make it. If I can recall correctly, we had an idea for one using seasonal jam made from local fruits from the farmer's market that is on the same street as Flore. I think it was seasonal jam, bourbon, lime and nutmeg. Still sounds good to me! I think sourcing different fruits for the jam and scheduling the labor to make it is what detracted us. I think we wanted to do a hibiscus punch bowl that transformed into a hibiscus sangria. Hard to remember the ideas that didn't make it because, well, they didn't make it.  

Can you tell your three favorite cocktails on the list and the ingredients you used? 

The Castro Cup I really enjoy! It's cucumber-infused Irish Whiskey, Pimm's #1, a small touch of salt, lemon and topped with soda. A great cocktail to enjoy on its own or with a light lunch before you go home and get ready for a night out.

Farmer's Vesper is really clean and sleek. We use Żubrówka vodka, which is a vodka infused with bison grass, a.k.a. sweet grass. A little lillet blanc provides some roundness to the cocktail and a touch of dry vermouth for a clean finish. [The drink is] nice at the beginning of the evening or even the beginning of a date you don't know if you can sit through!

Hibiscus Sangria is the perfect summertime cocktail to share with your friends. [It contains] hibiscus-infused vodka, a touch of Pimm's #1, lemon and a light fruity pinot noir. Just fun and refreshing and fruity! I imagine hanging out with some friends on Flore's patio with a pitcher of Hibiscus Sangria, slightly stoned, enjoying fresh fruit and sipping sangria under the San Francisco sun. 

I like to enjoy my cocktails to fit the situation. I don't order the same drink over and over in different situations, and I think the above cocktails are great for three different scenarios at Flore.

What role do you see these cocktails having in promoting conversations about CBD and cannabis in general? 

Well, I think the cocktails themselves become a conversation piece in general, which is what I prefer seeing at bars anyhow—not people glued to a TV or phone screen. Cocktails should inspire being social, and I think CBD has a way of relaxing you and inviting one to be social. In that regard, I think automatically the conversation turns to, "How are you feeling" or "That's an interesting flavor, what is it?" And the night carries on from there. I think the fact that, since CBD is fairly unfamiliar to most people, natural interest will be drawn from the cocktails. And if cannabis can be used in cocktails, then what other ways can cannabis be consumed in an enjoyable way? So in short, I see the CBD cocktails as being the catalyst for a much longer and more in-depth conversation about cannabis in general.

What five songs would you add to a playlist for people drinking cannabis cocktails at Flore? 

Music is my number one love! In addition to consulting for cocktails and running the bar at 1760, I get hired to make playlists for different restaurants and bars. Ironically, I'm currently making one for Deanna Sisson for Mestiza!

Not in any particular order, five amazing songs to vibe out to at Flore would be:

"This Must Be The Place" by The Talking Heads

"Be Alright" by Zapp

"(Fallin' Like) Dominoes" by Donald Byrd

"Love What Happened Here" by James Blake 

"Taxman" by Junior Parker

Speaking as a bar man in general, how do you embrace the culinary side of craft cocktails when making drinks? 

Very fully. I run my bar at 1760 not unlike a kitchen. We pay close attention to every ingredient, how it's treated, how it's used, and we learn and practice the best techniques we know to extract flavor, texture and aromatics. Of course, I think there are a lot of gimmicks out there when using tools behind the bar so we keep it pretty classic: jiggers, knives, spoons and scissors. That's all you need if you are adept at using them. I get most of my cocktail inspirations working closely with chefs so I probably unconsciously pick up a lot of their outlook on ingredients and maintenance of workspace.

About a decade ago, the Bay Guardian called you the best bartender to confess sins to. Without naming names, what was the best sin someone confessed to you? 

Good one. Well, I might have been named that because I don't give away what's told to me! Buuuut if you're dying to know… there were some situations with taxes, a lot of ex-wife, ex-husband stuff, how to cut in line at the DMV. (Laughs.) Nah man, I can't give away people's soul secrets!  

You studied poetry in college. How have your primary writing themes shifted over the years? 

My outlook on the world is informed poetically in a very natural way. I never felt like I was born with a choice in that matter. I studied poetry in undergrad and later graduate school because it was the only way for me to understand the history of those before me who thought and considered things in a way I do. When I was younger, I suppose I used to write a lot about what I think, what evoked passionate reactions from me, what I felt was noble enough to speak up about. I like rhythm so that was used a lot in my writing.  

Now it feels I mostly write and express what I've deduced from what I've experienced: looking back on decisions I've made that have had a long enough time to produce some sort of fruit or consequence. [This includes] passages outlining patterns in my life the younger me would never have enough courage to admit perhaps. Sometimes I just write about simple beautiful things—guess that's my version of paying gratitude and homage to beauty itself. 

Years ago, I took a big spill and broke my ankle and had to rely on a cane later in my healing process. Not that this is a complete poem, it's just a poetic vibe, but I found this in my notebook the other day: "The faces change, the game remains the same, the mind hangs in chains, the more things stay the same, the more they stay the same, guess I'll just lean on my cane, feed the birds my brains, consider the next plane and never feel the need to explain, I'd be too busy with the slippery word."  As much I'd like to think otherwise, I guess not that much has changed since I scribbled that down one hazy day.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Inline photos from Flore Facebook page

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