Acclaimed mixologist Warren Bobrow isn't boastful by nature. Although he's published 6 books - including the 2016 hit 'Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics' - Bobrow is more prone to smiling and laughing than bragging. But when it comes to discussing his craft, he has no qualms with saying that his concoctions will leave you dissatisfied with mediocre mixed drinks.
"I'll ruin you for all your cocktail lounges - even without the THC," he told Civilized with a smile. "You won't want to go out and get a drink because you shall know you're being taken advantage of."
But it's those cannabis-infused cocktails that he's really passionate about.
"I love the flowers. The flowers are why I stay in the business and why I'm inspired by it," he explained. "I take those flowers and I decarb them and I retain their their natural flavors and also their natural effects. And I infuse those decarbed flowers into craft spirits and then build the most beautiful craft cocktails you've ever seen."
Hoochie Coochie Man (a rum based-cocktail)
But mixing infused cocktails wasn't his original career path. Bobrow entered the cannabis industry after a series of unfortunate events left him with little more than dreams to get by on.
"I had just lost my corporate job. I worked in private banking for 20 years and hated my life every single day. It was a drag. And then on my 50th birthday, I got fired. The long and the short of it is they automated and I lost my job. It was the best day of my life. It gave me a chance to finally be what I always wanted to be after I declared bankruptcy and lost everything: I lost my wife, I lost my house, I lost my bank account, I lost everything. And I rebuilt myself as what I am now, and I'm a lot happier."
That's really inspiring since a lot of people are losing their jobs to automation right now. It's good to know it's not the end.
No, not at all. You have to follow your dreams and be passionate about something - whatever it is. I don't make a lot of money, but it doesn't matter. It's what I love to do. And I see myself as the luckiest guy in the room. I was in the corporate world for 20 years and I was totally destroyed. Every workday was a drag. I worked mostly for people who were on their way up. Making Warren cry was a bloodsport. I was bullied growing up - by my parents and by everyone in life - and then suddenly I'm in the corporate world and I'm being bullied by bosses who were foaming at the mouth to be noticed by their bosses.
Having learned all that, if you could go back and talk to you on day one of working in the banking industry, what would you say to your younger self?
Quit [laughs]. Follow your dreams. I've slept on couches until just recently. I may be doing it again at the end of [June]. I'll be at a charity event and someone offered me their couch and I gladly accepted it because I think it's really, really important in this point of my career to sleep on a couch or sleep in my sleeping bag. Because that's how I push myself forward. And I know that that contributes to my success.
And if you wake up with any aches and pains, you've got some cannabis for that.
Or fleas. You know, I did an event up in Boston and I got fleas on my arm [laughs]. You can't make this shit up. I mean, I looked at myself and I said, 'Oh my god, I'm 55 years old and I've got fleas.' But I'm always smiling. As I said I'm the luckiest guy in the room. Absolutely the luckiest.
Your Mind, Your Inner Dream (a bourbon-based cocktail)
So what inspired you to write 'Cannabis Cocktails'?
You know, some people are upset by the smell of cannabis. It's like smoking cigarettes. They don't want to smell cigarettes, and they don't want to smell weed. And that's why I wrote 'Cannabis Cocktails.' Because when you smoke a joint in the street, everyone knows your business and everyone knows what you're doing and everyone has a preconceived notion of who you are and what you represent in society - whether it's illegal or legal. Perception is nine-tenths of the rule. So if you're smoking a joint out in the street - even if you have a medical license like I do in New Jersey - they still think of you as a stoner. And that notion is just horrifying to me.
The cocktails let you take your medicine and nobody but you has to know about it - or how much you're taking, or what you're taking it for.
So they're a way to get around all those stigmas.
That's exactly why I wrote the book, and that's exactly how I pitched it to the owner of the publishing house. It was vetted through multiple panels at the publishing house. They really, really vetted it very, very deeply with their legal team and everything just to make sure it was understood that this was an alternative means of taking your medicine, not necessarily to go out on a Friday night with your fraternity. It's not about going out and getting ripped with your friends.
It's for a cocktail setting where it might not be appropriate to to pass that joint around. But maybe it's okay to have a Caesar with some THC in the Clamato juice. And no one has to know.
It's just as social as smoking a joint, but more discreet.
Right. It's social. It brings people together. And that's what I built my career on. I'm known as the 'Cocktail Whisperer' and I create marvelous craft cocktails all over the world. I taught a master class in rum at the Moscow Bar Show in Russia, which led to making cocktails all over town.
But, you know, alcohol was a means to an end for me. And I decided that it was healthier to be around cannabis people because that is truly my passion and has been since I was 12 years old.
You had your first cannabis experience when you were 12?
Yeah, and I remember exactly where I was. I grew up on my family's farm here in Morristown, New Jersey. My grandfather was a tycoon. Massive. And his son - my uncle - was a hippie. He went to Harvard Business School for his MBA, but he was still a hippie in the 60s. So we smoked pot together. I think it was like 1972.
What would you say has changed the most about cannabis from 1972 when you first tried it, to today?
People are into such wild things nowadays and I don't get it. I mean, what's this whole dabbing thing? I don't understand the concentrates. If anything, they give me a headache.
Some people think dabbing is like chugging a bottle of gin as opposed to having a G&T.
Well, I can infuse that gin with enough THC to knock down a family of elephants [laughs]. But I think there's a difference. I'm using mine for a medicinal standpoint. I think these kids are mostly doing it to get as wasted as they can. And I'm happy for them and I certainly wasn't any better or any worse when I was their age. I ate my hash brownies, you know. But the flowers are what I'm interested in.
You've put a cannabis twist on a lot of traditional cocktails. Which is your favorite?
The Bloody Mary. It was in 'High Times.' It was a full page in 'High Times' and they called it the 'Bloody Mary Jane.' I had the page framed. I'm looking at it on my wall right now. One of the great thrills of my life. I love that cocktail. I've always been interested in the classics and twists on the classics, and that was one drink that really spoke to me.
What was the hardest cocktail to make, either because the infusion was difficult or some other ingredient wasn't quite working with cannabis?
For some of the cocktails, I created the science all new. And it didn't always work. And the reason why they didn't always work is because of the decarb times. Decarbing is the most important issue that goes on in a cannabis cocktail. That is what people screw up nine times out of ten because they use their toaster oven or they use their regular oven.
One of the drinks that became the most passionate for me is based on a Vietnamese iced coffee. I took the condensed milk, which is a wonderfully unctuous liquid - very thick. You put it in double boiler and just let it simmer. And I put completely decarbed cannabis that I decarbed in the Ardent Lift, which is a microprocessor-controlled decarboxylater made by Ardent up in Boston. They taught me how to decarb to 100 percent bioavailability.
So you take this decarbed cannabis and you put it right into the condensed milk and simmer it for an hour, and the condensed milk becomes infused with cannabis. It's unbelievable. And you strain out the cannabis - wring it out and get all the little droplets out of it and then drizzle this cannabis infused condensed milk over the Vietnamese iced coffee. And it's just incredible.
That sounds delicious.
Yeah, you want to have more than one. So I made sure to keep it...not quite microdosed. I kept it at about 10mg, so it's not very much. You could have maybe two an hour without getting too plastered.
Some of them were completely overboard. I did a take on a Sazerac, and it had something like 120 milligrams of THC in it [laughs].
And you're nervous about dabbing? That's jet fuel.
Or like the Benny Goodman Fizz. Absinthe is one of my favorite things to do. My friend Ted Breaux does a product called Jade. It's a re-creation of absinthe from the 1800s - Esprit Edouard absinthe, and I infused it with THC and I put it in an atomizer and then proofed it with cannabis-infused gin, a little bit of rose simple syrup, some seltzer water, grapefruit bitters and a grapefruit zest twist. So you squeeze the absinthe over the top and it's quite delicious.
Cannabis adds a different level of flavor and a different layer of flavor that makes it an intriguing ingredient - and not just for the effect, but also for what cannabis adds to the dimension of taste
For people who have never had a cannabis cocktail, what is the effect?
The buzz is really unique. It hits you in five minutes. The most incredible buzz you've ever had in your life. The cannabis is a hundred percent bio-soluble, sone once the alcohol runs through your bloodstream - which is in about three or five minutes - it's all over you. And you just feel happy and good.
To make your own marijuana-infused drinks, check out Warren Bobrow's 'Cannabis, Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics'.