When West Hollywood vegan eatery Gracias Madre first introduced CBD cocktails to their beverage program in 2016, it was a risk. A big risk, considering the stigma of cannabis and the many unknowns surrounding the legality, perception, and applications of cannabidiol in Prohibition-era Los Angeles.
More than two years later, after the landmark legalization of recreational marijuana in January 2018, Gracias Madre is no longer the only restaurant offering cocktails that incorporate this non-psychoactive cannabis compound. Trailblazing bartenders up and down the state of California are rushing to embrace CBD as a way of making their cocktails unique, healthy, and hangover-free. CBD cocktails may not be on every bar menu—but according to some of the bartenders working with this cannabis oil, it could be in the future.
High Times spoke to six California bartenders using CBD behind the bar. Here’s what they had to say about venturing into the uncharted territory of cannabis-enhanced cocktails.
Otium (Downtown LA)
CBD cocktails: The Blue Dream, made with CBD oil, rum, curacao, lime, and vanilla, and the Pineapple Express, which pairs CBD oil with gin, pineapple Campari, and coconut.
Chris Amirault is the Bar Director at DTLA’s Otium, located next to The Broad Museum. Amirault’s cocktails first starting earning him recognition after he opened West Hollywood cocktail bar Harlowe in 2014; his work here earned Amirault inclusion on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list and consulting projects with Idle Hour, Clifton’s Cafeteria, and Bar Tribute. At Otium, Amirault works with Chef Tim Hollingsworth to build whimsical, culinary-driven cocktails that use inventive flavors, textures, and ingredients—including CBD oil—to elevate and inspire modern twists on classic drink recipes.
“A lot of us [bar directors] used to be afraid to mess with CBD because of the stigma associated with ‘weed cocktails’ and not fully understanding what it was. Then January first hit and everyone I knew was hitting up the new stores for buds, edibles, pens… basically anything with cannabis in it. I think for me it showed that there wasn’t a lot of fear anymore surrounding cannabis. We’ve had at least two CBD cocktails on the menu since.
Already we are seeing CBD pairing dinners, terpenes, cooking with THC. Most of these chefs, bartenders, and creatives have been working on this stuff for years in secret, and now they’re unleashing their creations onto the population and people love it. I only see the role of cannabis-based products becoming more and more involved in kitchens and bars.”
Madison on Park (San Diego)
CBD cocktail: The Mr. Nice Guy—a tropical cocktail that combines CBD oil with mezcal, matcha, pineapple, coconut milk, and lime.
A San Diego restaurant veteran formerly of Blue Point and Single Fin, Bar Manager Danny Kuehner now helms the cocktail program at Madison on Park—a San Diego restaurant proving that the CBD oil trend goes beyond Los Angeles. Located in the University Heights neighborhood, Madison is known for its cedar wood design, Mediterranean plates, and cocktails—including the Mr. Nice Guy, Keuhner’s signature Tiki-inspired CBD cocktail. In fact, CBD is just another way in which Madison on Park, awarded ‘Best Design‘ and ‘Best Cocktails‘ in both 2017 and 2018 by San Diego Magazine, is helping to reshape the San Diego culinary landscape.
“Guests gravitate towards interesting ingredients; especially ones that are scientifically proven to be good for you. The smell of CBD or cannabis can be intensely nostalgic for some people. That’s the ultimate experience. I think it’s great to be able to offer customers more of the things they want as well as giving us more tools to utilize in creating lasting experiences.
In the future I see really talented people using CBD and cannabis-based products in new, interesting, and creative ways. It’s a very exciting time.”
Bluebird Brasserie (Sherman Oaks)
CBD cocktail: The Gentle Monk, a Citadelle gin-based vegan cocktail inspired by both a vesper and a sour. The drink is made with Italicus, Cocchi Rosa Americano, lemon, orange, St. George absinthe, and CBD oil, and use aquafaba (chickpea brine) instead of egg white foam in order to keep the cocktail vegan.
Assistant General Manager Lisanne Magnus is in charge of the cocktail program at Bluebird Brasserie, a gastropub in Sherman Oaks opened in early 2018. Bluebird Brasserie is the latest project from Artisanal Brewers Collective, the same brand that opened local favorites like Mohawk Bend and The Stalking Horse and took over iconic mainstays like Tony’s Darts Away and Brennan’s Pub. Like every brewpub in the boutique collection, ABC’s Bluebird Brasserie has its own arsenal of secret weapons that help it stand apart—including Magnus’ signature CBD cocktail and go-to crowd-pleaser, The Gentle Monk. She
“The largest challenge [in using CBD for cocktails] is one we overcame quickly. When it comes to CBD, the most common form is via oil or edibles. As you know, oil and liquid don’t mix well together. The challenge we faced was how to use it in a cocktail and make sure the guest gets the full dosage. So, I started working with a company called Pride Wellness and their chemist was able to create an alcohol-based CBD tincture which mixes into liquid perfectly.
The benefit of working with CBD is its ability to enhance the flavor of cocktails and add a mood-enhancing effect to the drink. It decreases stress, anxiety, and depression and helps to prevent hangovers the following day. Not to mention having it in a cocktail at our bar offers a unique feature you can’t get at the next bar.”
Gracias Madre (West Hollywood)
CBD cocktails: Guests can choose from the Sour T-iesel (the tequila and matcha-based original), the Alternative Medicina (a new addition), and the CBD Snowcone (a non-alcoholic option).
Maxwell Reis is the Beverage Director at vegan restaurant Gracias Madre in West Hollywood, one of the first establishments in the country to introduce CBD oil into cocktails; along with mixologist Jason Eisner, Reis helped kick off the CBD cocktail trend both in Los Angeles and nationwide in 2016. Since then, the restaurant has diversified and expanded its CBD oil cocktail selection, as Reis continues to experiment with new spirits, flavor combinations, and accoutrements. Thus, Gracias Madre not only helped start the CBD mixology revolution but continues to redefine what can be done with this non-psychoactive compound.
“Medical benefits aside, prior to marijuana’s recent recreational legalization here in CA, CBD was an important bridge to build between society and Marijuana in its many implementations. We wanted to create a dialogue about something we thought was important AND on the horizon, which I feel was a great success. In the end, it’s also just amazing to be a part of and on the right side of something new and exciting; to be on the forefront of massive positive change.
For now, CBD is new, it’s exciting, and people are adding it into everything they can! As CBD and THC become more popular though, the regulations that surround it will probably change. I know that if we want to continue to be a part of this movement, we have to tread intelligently and with respect. Even with exciting times and new freedoms, there can be no whimsical decisions. We’re making choices for tomorrow, not just today.”
Pattern Bar (Downtown LA)
CBD cocktails: CBD oil can be added to any drink for $5, and is included in one seasonal featured cocktail. Currently, Pattern Bar is spotlighting the McQueen, a gin-based cocktail made with passionfruit and elderflower liqueur.
General Manager Misael Villa has worked in the restaurant and bar industry since he was 17—and although he now spends most of his time on business, the bar has a special place in his heart. Under his leadership, fashion-inspired Pattern Bar became the first DTLA establishment to serve CBD cocktails in 2017. Unlike other bars where CBD is pre-included in a specific cocktail or two, cannabis oil can be added to any drink on the menu—in fact, Villa has even had customers add it to water. In the crowded DTLA bar scene, CBD has become this Fashion District hotspot’s competitive advantage and most recognized menu feature.
“With CBD becoming so readily available, it only made sense to add it to one of our drinks. The benefits of working with CBD is that it creates a new conversation at the bar, both with the bar staff and with customers amongst each other. It excites people to speak about cannabis and CBD.
That being said and even though the legalization of marijuana has taken effect here in Los Angeles, it is still a very sensitive subject and not all laws behind it have been made clear. Once the negative connotations behind cannabis are forgotten I feel that more and more people will welcome products with open arms.”
Prank Bar (Downtown LA)
Terpene cocktails: The Blue Hilaria, made with Johnnie Walker Black, fresh ginger root, honey, citrus, and myrcene terpene, and the Mon Frére, with plymouth gin, cocchi americano, limonene terpenes, and Regan’s orange bitters.
Dave Whitton has been a fixture of the Los Angeles cocktail community for more than 18 years, having bartended, managed, owned or consulted on projects including Seven Grand, Sunset Marquis Hotel, Villains Tavern, and Dodger Stadium before opening Prank Bar in 2017. Located on a corner in the DTLA South Park neighborhood, Prank Bar is LA’s first and only walk-up bar—and is known for serving up elevated bar food, live music, and terpenes. Rather than using CBD, Whitton employs the hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants including cannabis. In addition to being used in two specialty cocktails, terpenes are incorporated into select menu items and housemade kombuchas.
“I chose to start incorporating terpenes into our cocktails at Prank after learning about the wide range of health benefits. The main challenge is that terpenes have an extremely intense flavor profile. It has taken a lot of research and testing to determine each flavor profile, and how to blend it well with our cocktails and dishes.
Our whole goal at Prank is to educate our guests, and fellow industry professionals, on terpenes and cannabis products. There is so much information out there that people don’t know about, and destigmatizing cannabis-based products will allow for a wider use in the hospitality industry nationwide.”