Interviews

An Interview with the L.A. Bartender Making CBD Cocktails

By David Jenison

An Interview with the L.A. Bartender Making CBD Cocktails

The West Hollywood restaurant that brought you the Joaquin & Coke cocktail is now trying something a little bit more risqué. Last year, beverage Director Jason Eisner introduced three cannabidiol-based cocktails at Gracias Madre, a plant-based Mexican restaurant beloved by many vegan celebs. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the naturally occurring cannabis compound believed to provide the most medicinal benefits, and even though it does not get people high, the government still prohibits it despite publically acknowledging its cancer-fighting properties. Eisner extracts the CBD from the plant stalks, not the flowers, which the restaurant says makes it legal.

The three CBD cocktails were originally a verbal-only special, but they now appear under the High Vibes section on the beverage menu. The $20 cocktails include the Stoney Negroni (gin, Carpano Antica Vermouth, Contratto Aperitivo, port wine, CBD oil and orange peel), the Sour T-iesel (tequila blanco, lime juice, agave nectar, mint, salt, CBD and aquafaba with matcha tea powder garnish) and the Gracias-only Rolled Fashioned (Benesin Mezcal Anejo, bourbon, housemade sarsaparilla, aromatic bitters, orange, CBD oil with a housemade vegan churro garnish). Sorry, no medicated margaritas just yet. 

Cannabis is a relative to hops, so the addition of CBD helps produce a complex, nuanced and well-balanced beverage. Befitting the restaurant’s reputation, the oil is 100-percent organic grown locally in Southern California. PRØHBTD spoke with Eisner to learn more.

You reportedly got turned onto CBD through a psychotherapist friend who brought medical cannabis to New York. What specifically did you experience from the medical cannabis, and what did your friend say about the plant as a psychotherapist?

Slight correction here. I was introduced to medical cannabis in 2005—not CBD specifically—from a friend of mine who is a psychotherapist. When I was a youngster, I didn't like using cannabis. I wanted to, as all of my friends were smoking and enjoying the recreational use of marijuana, but I didn't fully understand how it worked, and I would unfortunately often get a lot of the unwanted side effects of THC. It wasn't until I was an adult and read Dr Andrew Weil's book The Natural Mind that I understood that people essentially learn how to be high. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, I became a medical marijuana patient, and it completely changed my life. It helps me get present, it encourages my creativity, and it helps me focus. On top of that, I've been a combat athlete for 13 years practicing and competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Medical cannabis has provided a safe way for me to deal with sports-related aches, pains and injuries.

What flavor notes do you detect in the CBD oil, and how did those notes dictate the use of the different ingredients?

From a pure culinary standpoint, CBD tinctures are all super diverse in flavor and aroma. It is incredible. As you may know, a tincture can be alcohol, or oil based. I've been using oil-based tinctures because, for this first cannabis cocktail menu, I wanted people to literally be able to see the tincture floating on their beverage. That way there could be no question that they are getting what we say they are getting. Each one of these oil-based tinctures is so vastly different. The one I am currently in love with is olive oil-based and tastes really floral. In the two aromatic cocktails on the menu—The Rolled Fashioned and The Stoney Negroni—it really rounds out the drinks, giving it a feeling that the CBD actually brings everything together. In my vegan sour—Sour T-iesel—we emulsify the tincture into the aquafaba, or chickpea brine, and it is far more subtle. In the latter, you smell cannabis, but it just tastes like a velvet mojito.

Images (from left to right): Stoney Negroni, Sour T-iesel, Rolled Fashioned and all three cocktails together.

Do you see CBD primarily as a health additive, or does it enhance the flavor of the cocktails in positive ways?

I think of cocktails as food. I simply want to provide an amazing culinary experience for my guests, and the fact that alcohol—with, or without CBD—provides the opportunity to experience an altered state of consciousness is just an added benefit. CBD tincture totally enhances the flavor, and it completely changes the vibe of the whole experience, too. On top of that, it is anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory, so it just makes you feel great. CBD is floral, herbaceous and round. It is literally the main ingredient in these cocktails. The belle of the ball, if you will.

In particular, I see orange in two of the drinks. Does orange complement CBD oil in a particular way?

Classic Old Fashioneds and Negronis typically have orange oil as an ingredient expressed over the top of them. Theoretically, this is done to provide the pith, or bitter quality, and essence of orange. It is an amazing flavor, and although two of my cocktails are twists of these classics, I kept the orange oil because I felt it really brought out the citrus notes of the CBD I was using. In cannabis, there are many naturally occurring citrus notes. These flavors and aromas are the result of terpenes. Terpenes are oils that give whole cannabis plants and flowers their unique smell such as berry, mint, citrus and pine.

Cannabis is apparently a relative to hops. How are they related, and what does this relation mean for cocktail mixology?

I'm a big beer nerd and even own my own modern craft beer garden in Highland Park called Block Party, so I love the relationship between cannabis and hops. Have you ever opened up a can of Imperial IPA and noticed that it smells like chronic? That's because it does. Hops—humulus lupulus—and marijuana—cannabis sativa—have similar organoleptic properties. This affects both taste and smell. They are also two genera in the family Cannabinaceae, but don't think you can smoke hops and get lifted cause you'll just get a headache.

How would you describe the scope and difference between the three cocktails?

The Rolled Fashioned is a smooth yet booze-forward cocktail. This is the cocktail that Don Draper would order if he happened to be at Woodstock in 1969. The Negroni is bitter, herbaceous and strong. This cocktail is known as an Aperitivo, so it stimulates appetite, and gets all of your taste buds primed. The Sour T-iesel is a pillowy, patio pounder. It has a velvet-mouth feel, is easy to drink and perfect for summer.

How long have you been thinking about making a CBD-infused cocktail, and was there a particular situation that finally motivated you to do it?

I have been experimenting with cannabis cocktails on the down low for years. In terms of using CBD, I recently became obsessed with using it in cooking and decided it was time to put it on a menu and bring it to the masses. It was just too fun to keep to myself.

Why is CBD from the stalks of the plant legal while CBD from other parts of plant is not?

We have pretty archaic laws as it relates to cannabis in this country. The stalk—industrial hemp—and all of its byproducts are considered legal to use in a commercial environment. If I want CBD extracted from flowers or buds, then I need to live in a medical marijuana-friendly state, have a prescription from a doctor and purchase it directly from a dispensary, even though they both do exactly the same thing. I do believe we are progressing, though. Science evolves, and I think we are close to the general understanding that the science we had previously been given as it relates to cannabis was flawed. When we get there, it will only make sense to ratify our current laws surrounding the use of cannabis.

You reportedly like to craft concoctions that are in some way educational. What does this cocktail teach people about CBD and cannabis?

I'm all about education. As a beverage director, professional development and continuing education are my favorite part of my job. These cocktails have created a conduit to start a discussion about cannabis, it's health benefits and its legitimate culinary applications with guests. I've loved watching people who in popular culture wouldn't generally be considered "pro cannabis" imbibe on these drinks. And that too has been a cool lesson for all of us. We have all been indoctrinated with the belief that cannabis users are lazy, bearded folks who have no real desire to contribute to our society when in fact that is absurd. Some of the world’s top athletes, scientists, medical professionals, etc. use cannabis. These cocktails teach people that there is more than one way to skin a cat, or more than one way to puff, puff, pass.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.

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