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Bartenders embrace CBD cocktail trend

With products made from hemp becoming more commonplace, the drinks industry is looking to the likes of compounds such as CBD to add a sense of frisson to cocktails. The Spirits Business spoke to those leading the trend.

Camille Vidal has created cocktails using CBD bitters Oto

*This feature was first published in the July 2019 edition of The Spirits Business magazine. 

“I think the drinks industry will soon transition into a holistic responsible-intoxication industry that incorporates alcohol and cannabis,” says Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager – alcoholic drinks, at market researcher Euromonitor, and co-owner of London bar Behind This Wall.

In recent months, cannabidiol (CBD) and other hemp-derived products have found their way behind the bar thanks to changing legislation and attitudes. From CBD-infused water to alcohol-free cannabis–infused beer, there are myriad ways cannabis and its constituent compounds are working their way into all aspects of hospitality.

After Canada legalised recreational cannabis use in 2018, and waves of legalisation made their way across the US, it looks likely that the legal cannabis market will have significant implications for alcohol industry.

Malandrakis says: “I expect that by October all the big manufacturers, like Molson Coors and Constellation, which are actively creating non-alcoholic THC-infused products, will have these in place in bars. These will, alongside CBD products, be creating one of the biggest disruptions in the alcohol industry.”

It isn’t just in countries where cannabis has been legalised that CBD and other hemp-based products are making waves. In the past year, a host of London bars have listed cocktails made with CBD on their menus, and at Farmacy in Notting Hill guests can even sample its CBD-laced High Tea – featuring CBD-infused tea and truffles.

“CBD is the new trend in the industry,” says Scott Martin, general manager at London bar Dear Alice, which lists a number of CBD serves on its menu. “We don’t play around with it, [we] just keep it in its natural form by adding two drops to our G&T. It can add an earthy undertone and it really plays well with the citrus of the grapefruit.”

CBDis becoming a popular ingredient in cocktails

CBD is a compound found in hemp plants, one of 113 substances that can be extracted from them. Although derived from a psychoactive drug, the compound itself is non-psychoactive, but is highly regarded for its reported effects in aiding those suffering from anxiety, insomnia and certain types of chronic pain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), on the other hand, is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.

“We had a customer who went on holiday to India with two bottles of our CBD syrup,” says Alex Harris, director and operations manager at Behind This Wall. “She met a guy there who smokes weed every day and gave him a taste of our syrups. He loved it so much and said that it gave him real clarity every morning compared with smoking, which would have included the THC.”

Alternative sensation

Aside from its reported medicinal qualities, CBD also provides an alternative sensation for the increasing number of people who are looking to avoid alcohol.

“When I started creating cocktails that were non-alcoholic, I discovered the challenges of making drinks that didn’t just taste like I was ordering from the kids’ menu,” says Camille Vidal, founder of mindful drinking agency La Maison Wellness. “I wanted to create drinks that felt grown up and were made with passion and care and had a purpose. That was when I came across CBD.”

In June, Vidal worked with high-concentration CBD product specialist Oto to create cocktails with its newly launched CBD cocktail bitters, which were created to allow bartenders to easily add a dose of CBD to their creations. Developed by a team that included flavour scientist Dr Ketan Joshi, Oto CBD Cocktail Bitters pairs pure CBD with botanicals including liquorice, cardamom and cacao. The product is targeted at people looking to reduce their alcohol intake and pairs CBD with compounds known to have aromatherapeutic benefit: cacao, for instance, is said to improve mood, calmness and contentment. Three dashes provides the ideal dose of CBD, says Joshi.

He explains: “We had to make sure that we included the optimum CBD quantity that people will need for it to work. There are so many products on the market that have a few milligrams of CBD in them, and they are selling it as a CBD product. We did a lot of research and we found the quantity that your body needs to make sure that you have the relaxing experience that CBD gives.”

While off-the-shelf products such as Oto CBD Bitters may provide a great starting point for bartenders looking to experiment with CBD, Harris and the team at Behind this Wall wanted to bring together their focus on homemade syrups and infusions to uncover their own way of adding CBD to a cocktail.

Bartenders are experimenting more with CBD products in cocktails

“We started using CBD for our 2018 summer menu, and we made a rum Old Fashioned with a homemade honey and ginger CBD syrup,” says Harris. “When we developed the syrups, we had to think of a way that we could deliver a CBD shot that was consistent and worked within the confines of our ratios and formulas for making cocktails. The first discovery was that if you mix it with something fatty it would bind nicely with that, so the obvious thing to aim for was syrups or bitters.”

Harris explains that while syrups and sugars are added to most cocktails, save for classics such as the Martini and Manhattan, bitters may not make the cut in several drink recipes. So he developed a flavoured syrup that could be added to the bar’s drinks, and sold to customers looking to experiment with CBD. He says: “You can pour our syrups on your porridge in the morning, you can have it with cereal or you can just have a shot of it with some hot water before you go to bed. It’s a different process of taking CBD from the classic drip under your tongue, which isn’t a natural thing for people to do.”

The bar now adds its CBD-laced syrup to alcoholic drinks such as the Purple Drank, made with Reyka Vodka, Birds Botanical Spirit, ponzu kombucha, Winter Melon Bitters, juniper, marigold and violet CBD syrup, as well as the non-alcoholic Fosse, which combines Seedlip Garden, ponzu kombucha, violet CBD syrup, cardamom tonic water and lime. “You’re going to feel more of a pure CBD effect if you have it in one of our temperance drinks,” says Harris. “When you have CBD, it’s a very sort of meditative feeling. You feel in a sort of more relaxed state and that is the dragon people are chasing when they go for booze.”

As more bartenders begin experimenting with the CBD, Vidal says increased education for both mixologists and consumers will be key to the eventual explosion in its popularity. “There is a lot of education that needs to be done around CBD for people to understand what they are doing,” she says. “There is a lot of confusion about the difference between CBD, cannabis and THC. ‘Will I get high if I drink this?’ is a question I am often asked. It is really important to talk about CBD, the power of it and why it is interesting to use.”

While CBD may be the first cannabis compound to find mainstream use in bars, Malandrakis says it won’t be the last: “CBD is not psychoactive, so it lends itself much better to mixing in cocktails. But I think that this is only the first step in a long process.”

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