The Cocktail Whisperer: One Man’s Quest to Combine Craft Cannabis and Premium Alcohol
Warren Bobrow is a world-renowned mixologist and is known to many as The Cocktail Whisperer.
He’s written five books about mixology and is published in numerous periodicals. Bobrow completed his bachelor’s degree at Emerson College and from there, went on to work as a pot scrubber at York Harbor and worked as a television engineer, cameraman and editor at two New York television stations. Not quite feeling like he was the Warren he aspired to be, Bobrow studied culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University, then moved to Charleston South Carolina where he opened his own restaurant Olde Charleston Pasta. The company prospered until being devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Because the area wasn’t known to be hit by hurricanes, Bobrow’s insurance agent hadn’t taken out hurricane insurance on his property and it was a complete loss. With nothing to keep him in South Carolina, Bobrow returned to New York and went into private banking for the next twenty years.
While the money was good, he still never felt as though he’d found his purpose in life. Having an extensive background in mixology, he decided to quit his job and started writing books on the subject that had been his passion for many years.
He’s been very successful and recently wrote a book entitled Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzz-Worthy Libations.
Warren recently sat down with Viride to discuss his incredibly fascinating journey.
Viride: Why did you get into cannabis?
Warren Bobrow: I smoked cannabis since I was twelve. I’m not surprised I made the transition into cannabis. I’ll be fifty-seven in May, so I’m not a youngster. I do have a natural affinity for flavors and am a food chef. I lost my business down in Charleston, South Carolina in 1989, due to Hugo. I’d spent my time training to become a chef and it was really my passion. Because I lost my business and was out of work for a period, I couldn’t find the type of work that allowed me to have the lifestyle that I grew up in, so I had to get a job at a bank. Honestly, it wasn’t me. Everyone I ever worked for in the banking business told me the same thing, What are you doing here? You have a creative mind and don’t have a financial bone in your body.
V: What did you do after banking?
WB: I was a brand ambassador for a rum company. It was a Russian company that created a lot of great products and I bonded with those products. Once I wrote the book on cannabis, they got rid of me quickly because it outshone the product they were trying to sell. I sold twenty-thousand copies of my book. It got their attention and it wasn’t a good thing. The book has been out since June of 2016 and we’ve done well with it, but it's caused me great financial alarm. I live on the east coast and there is still a massive stigma surrounding cannabis. You can have an opioid addiction and that’s okay but smoke a joint and you are a drug addict. I’ve had a lot of difficulty both emotionally and professionally. It’s illegal here, so there is that stigma. I have a medical reason to use cannabis here in New Jersey. Due to glaucoma, I was able to get a cannabis card. It’s nice because I don’t have to worry about being out and about in New Jersey and get arrested for having cannabis in my car. For anyone who doesn’t have a medical reason, it’s crazy. They will arrest you and there is no reason for that.
V: What made you think of combining cannabis and alcohol?
WB: The infusion of the finest craft spirit that money can buy with the finest sensimilla that money can buy was developed out of desperation. When you walk down the streets in New York City and you smell someone smoking weed, everyone knows your business. With my technique, no one knows your business. You are having an experience which, quite frankly in my opinion, is a wonderful and marvelous way to consume. It hits you in five minutes and isn’t overwhelming. At first, it was. However, once I figured out the correct ratios I was okay. I had to have an open mind and had to be unafraid of science and sort of unlocking the early apothecary.
V: What inspired you to write this book?
WB: I have a vast family history. My grandfather was in the pharmaceutical business and he manufactured a product with the FTC and the FDA told him he could not manufacture any longer in the original format because it didn’t do anything. It was a vitamin tonic and was originally invented for something called “iron poor blood,” which no one has. They devised a way to sell things and the ingredients of this thing was ethanol alcohol and caramel colored flavoring. What they tried to say is that it was a vitamin product for iron poor blood and the product name was Geritol. It had a pretty long run, at least 40 years. The movie Quiz Show talks about the twenty-one television show scandal and my grandfather was a sponsor. Martin Scorsese played my grandfather in the movie. It was snake oil and was meant to cure something that no one had. The FTC and the FDA said you can’t say that anyone had iron poor blood. It kind of invokes the feeling of the early apothecary. I was down in New Orleans for an event and at the museum. They were showing a display of the early apothecary and one of the products was no more than snake oil, but cannabis was in the ingredient and it was the only ingredient that did anything. That was my inspiration for writing Cannabis Cocktails. It kind of came from my family, but what it really came from was unlocking the ingredients from the early apothecary.
V: You are known as the cocktail whisperer, but have mentioned you don’t consume alcohol often, except perhaps in a cannabis cocktail. Why is that?
WB: I am the Cocktail Whisperer. It’s what I do. I may not necessarily drink, but I work with liquor and I love flavor. And I love getting people wasted. It’s probably co-dependent of me, but I am a nice guy and I don’t want to hurt anyone. I always say that you should help, never hurt. I’ve worked in enough liquor stores and people think nothing of going to the store, buying a 24 pack of Bud Light Lime and drinking it on a Saturday night. Eventually, they throw up all over their neighbor’s lawn and that’s supposed to be okay. I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s a bad idea. I hate the way being drunk makes me feel and I don’t like being hungover. It’s been a very long time since that’s happened. I just don’t have the time for it. I think that I use cannabis in a way that has given me a certain amount of credibility, yes, but the fact remains that I like the way it makes me feel and that is what is important about it for me. That is why I’m such a proponent because if I don’t feel out of control like when I’d go out and drink a bottle of whiskey, which would kill just about anyone, I couldn’t imagine doing that. When I go to New Orleans, that type of excessive drinking is everywhere. What do you do? I don’t drink, but I must make a living and do so by doing tasting notes for people. I don’t like the feeling. I don’t like the feeling of being hungover. I like to be crisp and myself and that is the Warren I want to be known for. The one who uses cannabis, not the one who is a drunk. It’s a horrible way of putting it, but it’s true.
V: Can you speak to your trial and errors while trying to find the correct ratio of cannabis to alcohol?
WB: That’s why I made French 75 with cannabis or Sazeracs with cannabis infused absinthe. It’s about being creative and working with flavor. It’s about a feeling you want to achieve. If it’s something that alleviates some sort of negativity, then it’s a success. I may not be a doctor, but I will say that I do believe in feeling and if someone can be healed by a means that is not pharmacological in matter, all the better. I decarboxylate with a machine from Boston called the Nova and it carboxylates the cannabis which makes it active. It gives you the feeling you want, not just taking something that’s green then I infuse it using a MagicalButter machine and infuse it in craft spirits. There is a little bit of mad scientist in there, but that’s just me. I’m interested in pushing the limit and experimenting with flavor and texture and feeling and emotions. Different strains go better with distinct types of liquor and it’s not for everybody. I didn’t write the book as a rec book, I wrote it as a medicinal book and a way to heal rather than a way of getting wasted. There is nothing wrong with getting wasted, but that’s not why I wrote the book. I think it is important to state that because you can take these recipes and blast your entire fraternity ten ways to the moon, but that’s not why I wrote it. I wanted to give people an experience without anyone else having to know that their drink is infused with cannabis. You are having your medicine and drinking it, too.
V: Were there any negative experiences?
WB: I didn’t use any of the machines when I wrote Cannabis Cocktails. I did it all from scratch, because I’m a scratch trained chef. I did things with double boilers and I didn’t use gas stoves, I used electric hot plates and a toaster oven. I figured out how to use microwaves as well. I also discovered that gas ovens vary in temperature as much as forty degrees. I bought weed from my bartender friends because I didn’t have my cannabis card then. It was dicey and probably dangerous, too. I didn’t test my concoctions out on anyone else. I overdosed myself constantly. I would sit on the couch about to throw up because the room was starting to spin, and my wife was asking if I was okay. I evoked the spirit of Neil Young and cured my overdose with lemon juice and peppercorn. This method is chewing some peppercorns and drinking lemon juice. I was down at the Epcot Wine and Food festival and at ten in the morning, about an hour before I was supposed to speak, I took a ten-milligram coconut oil cannabis tablet. Nothing happened. With an empty stomach, I was expecting a nice buzz. Just before the event started, I took another one because I knew I would have at least forty-five minutes to do my presentation and after that, it would be the Magic Kingdom and A Small World After All. It hit me in about three minutes and the world started to spin. I took the Neil Young remedy and I was able to get through my presentation and they asked me back the next year. It was really a testament to the fact that the terpenes in cannabis, the lemon, pinine, peppercorn, all exist in cannabis. When you drink them in lemonade, it counteracts the THC. I’m not a scientist, but it worked for me.
V: Do you choose certain strains and their flavored terpenes to pair with the notes in alcohol?
WB: I wish I was such a nerd that I could do that. I was talking about that and have before. People just don’t get it. I do know that there are some places that have discovered how to spray the cannabis with cheap, lab-created terpenes. They were able to isolate the aromas and the flavors and that is a real problem for me. So, if you have mid-range cannabis and they are adding in all these spicy aromas, it has me wondering what it is. If this is something someone chooses to try, always use the highest quality cannabis that money can buy. Make sure that you get it from a source that testing is up to date and if you are in the position where you have a medical reason to have it. Get yourself to a dispensary because they test it and know its safe. They know that if you are going to be doing an infusion, it will concentrate any of the negative ingredients they are using like herbicides and pesticides.
V: Are you working on any other books now?
WB: I wish I was working on another book. I’d like to write one on rum, but I’ve not pitched my publisher yet. I’m doing South by Southwest and some book signings in New York at the beginning of March. I have companies that I write for every single month. I write for Forbes.com. I cover the high end of the cannabis industry for them and its led to some good things.
V: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
WB: I would love it if you would share my inspiration for the heartfelt choices I’ve made in my life. My inspiration is my grandmother. On February 14, Valentine’s Day, my grandmother would have been one-hundred and seven. She lived to be one-hundred and five. She drank an ounce whiskey every single day. Two weeks before she passed, she and I had a shot of Maker’s Mark, which was her favorite whiskey. All three of her doctors told her she needed to quit drinking whiskey because it wasn’t good for her. She outlived them all. The takeaway is find something you like to do and do it for the remainder of your life. It is what you wish to do in your heart. And if you can find a person to identify with that act, no matter how mundane, it’ll live with you for the remainder of your life. I dedicated one of my books to her, Sophia Bobrow, for listening to me. She inspired me and the Warren that you hear today and the authenticity of my voice and the inspiration that I must help others and inspire them is from my grandmother.