David Whitton embraces tradition as one of the top bar maestros in Los Angeles, but he's jumpstarting the future with a cocktail program at the Prank Bar downtown that embraces cannabis terpenes. The terpene menu features several craft cocktails made with spirits like Papalote Mezcal and Johnnie Walker Black as well as non-alcoholic kombuchas and a pineapple- and ginger-based drink called the Anti-Inflammatory. Off menu, Whitton continues to experiment with different terpene cocktails, and Prank Bar will soon introduced terpene-infused dishes. PRØHBTD spoke with the Prank barman to learn more.
Several California restaurants rolled out CBD cocktails, but you opted for terpenes. Why?
First and foremost, CBD is still a Schedule I drug in California. We not only wanted to be legal, but we love the idea behind terpenes and how un-scary it is for people. Inside our menu book, we have a terpene page that lists the five different terpenes we use most frequently and what effects they have on your body. We educate strain line by strain line on terpenes and where they come from. Terpenes, of course, come from basil plants and lavender plants and cannabis plants, so they don't just come from this plant or that plant. They come from all over, but the cannabis plant has a potency that's a little higher.
Can you explain what terpenes are for those who don't know?
Terpenes help determine the strain line, and they are the flavonoid profile, really, inside of the cannabis plant. The easiest way I like to explain it is, terpenes are the stripped-down healthy essential oils inside of the cannabis plant itself. So if you add CBD to those terpenes, you’ve got a nice little superpower on top of it. If you add THC to it, well now you got that “entourage” medicinal profile. So, it's like adding that superpower into the superhero. You've got terpenes, which have all those health benefits, adding a little cannabinol toward a high-content CBD adds a nice little armor, and adding the THC gives you the superpower.
I want to ask about a few specific drinks. Tell me about the Hilaria with mezcal, and how the terpene contributes to the taste.
The Hilaria itself is made with watermelon and sherry, and we use a limonene terpene, which has beautiful citrus notes. It actually softens those harder-edged citruses inside from the watermelon to the lemon and adds a beautiful segue into the nuttiness of the sherry. Watermelon is a hydrator. Limonene is an energy booster along with a mood booster and an anti-inflammatory. That diuretic and the dehydrating elements really work well with the terpene because you're adding other health benefits.
Same question for the Black & Blue.
The Black and Blue is beautiful. We put Johnnie Walker Black together with Johnnie Walker Blue on the top, and we use a myrcene [terpene], which has a wonderful clove aspect. It's a sedative, a relaxer. If you're just gonna sit and have a glass of scotch, you're going to want to sit and relax. You don't sit and shoot scotch. So the idea behind the Black and Blue was really all about that ginger inside combined with a touch of clove from the myrcene, a relaxing element that's gonna kick you back with that scotch, and then honey to soften it so you get a really beautiful sweetener inside.
For the non-alcoholic infused drinks, you have the Anti-Inflammatory. Can you tell me about this?
Definitely one of my favorites because it's so approachable, and you can add tequila. It has cayenne pepper for a metabolism booster, pineapple for that diuretic. We're using agave, not that grain sugar that can actually counteract a lot of stuff, and we're using limonene once again. It's a booster of the diuretic, a booster with the bitters for your stomach, which helps with digestion. It's a nice little skinny version of a spicy margarita once you add tequila.
Ethan Russo, one of the top medical cannabis researchers, pointed to terpenes as the future of therapeutic use. Is that something you looked into?
A hundred percent. We actually work with six to seven different doctors. My brother-in-law has a Ph.D. and works at the original dispensary-slash-cannabis place in Nevada. He works with a bunch of doctors up there, and we were able to work with him and get to know these doctors. Once we got into terpenes, we were all on board.
We believe terpenes are the new way to do everything for health benefits. The cleaner you can get those strain lines, the more you realize that your body naturally feels better, if you're using them on a daily basis. And if you can specify those strain lines, you can really pinpoint where people's deficiencies are. If you're not always in the best mood or in need of a little energy booster, that's where those limonenes come in. You need a little relaxer, that's where those myrcenes come in. The pinene comes in, you get an energy booster along with the bronchodilator, so you get to open up your chest a little bit and breathe better. It's not gonna get you “high” or give you that super head change—it's just gonna elevate those healthy elements from the plant in order to pinpoint and target the health benefit you’re looking for.
Do you consider yourself a cannabis activist?
Absolutely. I couldn't say enough great things once we got into cannabis itself. I'm personally not a big smoker, I'm actually more along the health side, but I do have friends that are heavy smokers that used the medicinal side of cannabis to help elevate blood flow, to help their recovery times. I'm a huge proponent of cannabis.
You make pairing suggestions on the Pranky Meals menu, suggesting which wine, beer or cocktail goes best with a particular drink. I did not see a terpene drink in the pairings, so what do you consider the best food and terpene cocktail pairing on the menu?
I really push our kombuchas a lot because they are literally some of the best things I've ever tasted. Our Fizziotics House Kombucha is mango, ginger, coconut and peach with a limonene terpene, and it goes incredible with our fatflower burgerette. That's a great pairing from the non-alcoholic side.
From the alcohol side, the Black and Blue cocktail is an amazing pairing with the bucatini carbonara. You have that beautiful butter and pork, which goes well with the clove and honey and the scotch roundness. I mean, basically you get that nice little sweet and spicy inside of the Black and Blue, while getting that rich and creamy element that cuts through the bucatini carbonara.
The [online] menu is a little outdated now. We slow-rolled it out so we actually have some salsas and different stuff that will soon be in the food as well. Prank is only about eight months old, so for us, it's just been playing with these terpenes. These flavonoids are really fun, but it's also pretty difficult to make sure these things are getting the proper blend because they can completely take over plates and cocktails.
You're adding terpenes to food as well?
We will be, yeah. We have some bottled salsa that we've already started to play around with, and we'll be unveiling some food items that will have terpenes over the next month. We always have some surprises, especially from the terpene side, because we have been creating constantly with the food and beverages.
Prank is described as the first walk-up bar. What specifically does that mean?
It's not Vegas or New Orleans, so unfortunately you can't walk off with your drink, but we redefined what walk-up bar meant: It's an organic extension of a community. We have two specific openings along with an indoor-outdoor patio so you can walk up directly from the street to our bar.
You're a former musician and the contact for music artists who want to perform at Prank. What do you look for musically?
It just depends. What we found fits best is funk, soul, something that just grooves and doesn't have "watch me" elements. We like ambient stuff that's gonna create a fun, conversational atmosphere. We don't get too loud, AND we don't do any hard rock or heavy hip-hop. We like to create a relaxing environment that you can talk over so the music is more acoustic-driven.
Before Prank, you famously brought whiskey drinks back to the former Whiskey Bar [in LA]. What is your favorite overall whiskey brand and your favorite Japanese brand?
Whiskey-wise, I'm a huge Oban fan. It's single malt, and the distiller's editions are just incredible. Oban's my go-to right in the center of that scotch spectrum. Japanese, I'm all about Nikka. I love Nikka Coffey Grain. Such a beautiful Japanese scotch whiskey. Couldn't say enough great things about both brands.
We're moving into full-blown kombucha, and we're working with the doctors on a whole bunch of different products. We have a product line coming out called Botanavista, [which means] "botanicals as far as the eye can see." We really work in-depth with terpenes on a daily basis with all of our doctors, whether it be cream lines or wine lines or food and beverage lines. We're gonna get into it as much as we can. Prank's our walk-up bar hub where we get to do a lot of research with fun people that want to get creative with terpenes.
Did you say you're gonna have a wine line?
Yep. We're gonna have a wine line as well a tequila line called El Sativo. Being in the booze business, we love the idea behind terpenes and how those anti-inflammatories can actually help you even if they are put in liquor, beer or wine.
How do you add terpenes to wine without throwing off the flavor profile?
It's gonna come down to working with our winemakers on a daily basis. The oils themselves can definitely change flavorprofiles, especially when you get them into the bottle, so it's gonna be an interesting process. We're gonna have to work over the next year or two to get it right.
I've just been working in the liquor business for so long that it speaks to me, and it's something I've wanted to do for a long time. How are we gonna do it? You know, the beer is a lot easier because of the barrelling, but the wine's gonna be more difficult, as it should be. We're just gonna have to be delicate with the way we use everything.
Photo credits: Dennys LLic (interior shots) and White Oak Communications. David Jenison (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.