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Ask A Bartender: How Will Marijuana Affect My Cocktail

Saturday, October 03, 2015


Legal cannabis can mean a lot of things. What will it mean for your drinking experience? Photo taken at Cannabliss on West Burnside St.

Marijuana dispensaries officially opened their doors to Portlanders on the first of October. The well-meaning attendants at Canabliss just up the street from my house had their work cut out for them with long lines of patrons ready to sample various strains of sativa and indica. They patiently answered questions, worked their way through a computer difficulty and diligently carded every costumer three times (per OLCC in the event that the buyer magically loses years during the transaction, evidently). It is clear that the legalization of recreational marijuana will have a profound effect on our city both economically and culturally. But what does this mean for your cocktail? Probably nothing. Yet. The OLCC regulates both the marijuana dispensaries and the bars. Measure 91 does not allow the use of marijuana in public places. Bars are public places. Not only is it still illegal to smoke a joint on the patio of your favorite bar (as well as slightly uncouth) it is also illegal to use marijuana in public. That means no infusions sold at bars. Yet. 

It is still possible – and probably legal - to make an infusion or to drink an infusion not in a public place. The concept of marrying alcohol and marijuana is certainly not new - botanists have been doing it for years with tinctures - but making a drinkable infusion that actually will work in getting the consumer two types of inebriated has not been done publicly and, frankly, I don’t know if a high potency liquor would be such a good idea. I’m all for people doing what they want to do but you lack control with this sort of system. Every person reacts differently to marijuana, both in intensity of high and type of high. The same thing that relaxes one person will send another person on a cleaning frenzy, one person will shut down socially and withdraw into a dark hole of self-analysis while his neighbor on the barstool incessantly paraphrases a documentary they saw on the Discovery Channel the other night about wormholes. It is not the bartender’s business nor her responsibility to chaperone the guests any more than is already necessary after selling alcohol. If you want to make a concoction for yourself, it’s another story. All you need is a high proof spirit, marijuana, heat and time. It certainly can be done. It doesn’t mean it should be available to the public. 

However, it is also possible to make use of the flavor of marijuana without activating the THC or keeping it to minimal levels. Marijuana is a very fragrant, floral plant and I’m sure that it would make an excellent bittering agent. With all of the flavors of bitters on the market currently, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a marijuana one on the market very soon. Credit to Portland Bitters Project for thinking of it first. Whether or not Cindy Capparelli does it remains to be seen, but I would be excited to make a Manhattan with cannabis-infused bitters.  

If the idea of selling alcohol infused with drugs seems extreme or hedonistic, consider the fact that there is already stuff like this on the market. Agwa, a sweet, herbal liqueur made from a mash primarily of coca leaves, is perfectly legal. We can buy it in stores and we can serve it in bars. It is made from a controlled substance that is directly attributed to a lot more deaths and hardship than marijuana is. It won’t produce the effects found in the other coca leaf derivative save for a gradual emptying of the wallet if you imbibe in it too much. An old boss informs me it produces a slight numbing of the lips after a while too and it doesn’t surprise me, but if you’re looking to stay up until eight in the morning talking to strangers about your childhood there are far more efficient ways to get to that point. In short, Agwa is legal and there is not a lot of fuss about it, part of the reason maybe owing to the fact that it’s rarely ordered (it’s good in some cocktails but unexceptional on its own), but also to the simple fact that it doesn’t get you high. 

Are we starting to see the possibilities? Given the stoner's proclivity for puns (matched only by every Thai restaurant in Portland) I'm sure we will be hearing some pretty interestingish cocktails in our not-too-distant future: The Last Herb, Gin and Chronic (those two are on the house. You're welcome). People talk about edibles and drinkables and all that, but we’ll partake in those currently because, basically, a lot of people like the way marijuana makes them feel. That is a perfectly valid reason to partake in it on your own but not enough to serve it in a bar where you are responsible for the flow of the evening, the safety of your guests and the mood of the place. Getting guests stoned is just another wrench to throw in your operation and another way to be held accountable for another person's poor decisions. 

I’m excited about the culinary possibilities of cannabis but I think in order to explore them in bars, we’re going to have to deemphasize the psychotropic effects the plant has and emphasize instead the bouquet and the taste of the liqueur or the bitters or whatever it is. Then, after the city builds its collective tolerance, we go from there. 


Related Slideshow: A Bar in every Quadrant: Top 5 Bars to Visit This Week

For this week, I chose cheaper bars. Christmas has come and gone and this is the time to sit on your duckits until tax returns come. So, in February we’ll roll out the fancy bars, but this week’s theme is frugality.  

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SW Portland.

Santeria and Mary’s club. Tucked away in the alley of Ankeny off Broadway, Santeria is the last bastion of old school Portland. The service is efficient, food is excellent, and they have a decent, if limited, booze selection. The most important thing though, and what I mean by old school: Santeria is still cheap. The owners are about the two sweetest people you’ll ever meet and all the tips are split evenly amongst the kitchen and bar. It’s like some sort of utopia ideal, which works in theory, but…well definitely check it out quick. 

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NW Portland.

Paymaster Lounge.
This is one of the few places where one can still smoke and play pool simultaneously. They have a large heated patio with outdoor pool table. The pool table is crooked but that just makes for a longer game and more Paul Newmanesque photo-ops.  

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SE Portland.

Lovecraft Bar. This is the kind of bar you daydreamed about whilst sitting all the way in the back of the classroom, popping zits and trying to hide the fact that you’re blaring NIN on your headphones. This is an actual place to have a good time and not a place to be seen. If you are the type that only lets loose once every two months, Lovecraft is the place to do it. If you bring a book with you to the bar every night of the week, you might be annoyed at the high level of energy. 

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NE Portland.

Beulahland. If an indicator of a good bar is minimal staff turnover, Beulahland gets the prize. This bar may no longer be the lynchpin that keeps inner NE 28th Avenue together, but it has played a vital role in making the street a fun place to hang out. With coffee and minors on the South side bar and alcohol and photobooth on the North side, reasonably priced drinks, good food and staff, it’s a great place to begin or end your 28th Avenue crawl. 

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St. Johns.

Fixin’ To. St. johns is a wonderful place to observe small town life. If you make it down the long and formidable Lombard Street, you’ll discover there are a lot of people just like you who simply never left. They will be at one of the two heated mega patios, talking banal minutia over cheap beer.  


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