Warren Bobrow fell in love with cannabis long before he took his first sip of alcohol. But when talent with mixing earned him the moniker, “The Cocktail Whisperer,” alcohol took center stage in his career. As Bobrow puts it, “I was a pretty established drinker—people would come to me and say I made them the best drink they’d ever had.” But swearing off the hard stuff in 2018 has allowed him to bring his true love to the fore without sacrificing his passion for intoxicating concoctions. Now, the only cocktail whispering Bobrow does involves cannabis, his go-to secret weapon for the perfect drink.
Before Bobrow became a world-renowned cocktail connoisseur, his dream was to become a chef. But as he is quick to point out, he started from the bottom up. “I’ve worked plenty of the least glamorous jobs in the industry,” he says, recalling his first job washing dishes in York Harbor, Maine. “Working as a dishwasher teaches you to work hard and be diligent and treat people exceptionally well, because you never know when they’ll come back into your life. Always, always be nice to the dishwasher.”
The grunt work paid off when Bobrow trained as a chef and started his own fresh pasta manufacturing business. He lost the business in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo, and was deep enough in debt to accept the necessity of a twenty-year detour in banking–though he hated every minute of it. In 2009, he took the chance to reinvent himself. “I took some classes with the New School in food writing and became a published food writer,” says Bobrow, referencing his tenure with publications such as Saveur Magazine. “Then that led to six books on cocktail making, and it seemed to work out very, very well for me.”
According to Bobrow, his foray into writing didn’t necessarily turn down the pressure of the service industry. “My publisher only gave me a month for each of my books,” he says, cheekily suggesting that if you can’t write 160,000 words in a month you have no business in publishing. “But I’ve been writing magazine articles all over the world, so that’s easy for me.”
Asked how he comes up with his recipes, he just shakes his head. “I dreamt them up. I sleep on my successes—everything that I come up with is delicious, I just can’t explain it.” Of course, not all of his material was dreamed into existence—in his 2013 book, Apothecary Cocktails, Bobrow drew on the centuries-old history of herbal concoctions for curing ailments. He argued that drinks like the Milk Thistle Spritz or Lemon Balm Gin and Tonic do more than just intoxicate—they heal.
When a promotional tour for one of his books took him to the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, which featured a temporary exhibit on the history of medicinal cannabis, something clicked. He began to see that his beloved potions didn’t need to involve liquor, a substance which no longer felt medicinal to him. “After seeing the exhibit I knew immediately what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” he says. The deal was sealed when he enrolled in the New Jersey medical program and successfully used cannabis to treat a terrible case of glaucoma that had been plaguing him for years. In 2016, Fair Winds Press published Bobrow’s Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics.
Now on its tenth printing, the book contains tasting notes and descriptors that illuminate the medicinal and recreational aspects of the plant. Recipes often combine cannabis with alcohol—though with caution—but are focused on cannabis. In addition to cocktails and mocktails, the primer contains basic recipes for butter, oils, tinctures, and creams, followed by a plethora of fun and healing ways to apply the infusions.
Of course, making a craft cannabis cocktail from scratch is a whole lot of work, and it’s perhaps best left in the hands of the master himself. So it’s no surprise that as cannabis beverages storm the market, Bobrow is throwing his hat in the ring to show us how it’s done. Enter Klaus, a craft cannabis cocktail company named for Bobrow’s Internet-famous traveling “1850s German drinking gnome,” who apparently now agrees that cannabis cocktails are to be preferred.
“It’s not like one of those seltzers that, you know, people are chugging to get stoned,” Bobrow insists. “This is a carefully composed craft cocktail that’s made with love and non-industrialized ingredients.”
The cocktail currently on offer is called the Mezzrole, named for Mezz Mezzrow, a jazz clarinetist who earned his notoriety in the Swinging 20s for being the weed dealer to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and Bix Beiderbeck. The ingredients include Pickett’s Hot N’ Spicy ginger syrup, Les Vergers Boiron Lime, and Fee Brothers Bitters. And Bobrow is careful not to offset the medicinal aspects by overloading the drink with sugar. “I’m very sugar-conscious,” Bobrow says. “Added sugar is a big problem in the liquor industry, so we’ve only added 6/10 of a gram of sugar.”
And of course, as the star of the show, the cannabis is just as lovingly selected. “I’m using an emulsion created by a company called Vertosa in Oakland, California, a cannabis-infused nanotechnology based on coconut oil,” he says. “It’s a beautiful product that gets you really high.”
For the time being, California is the only market that can benefit from his potions, and even then supplies are limited. “This is carefully, carefully crafted with small run, small producer products that are not industrialized—we’re not making 20,000 cans, we’re making 5,000 cans,” he says. Though he hopes to increase his reach eventually, at the moment Bobrow is content to be clamored for. “There’s nothing wrong with saying that you have the best tasting beverage that no one can buy,” Bobrow says. ”But eventually the market is going to demand it.” At least Bobrow hasn’t left us completely without recourse while we await the day we can pop open a can of Klaus. In the meantime, we can flip open Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics to try our own hand at a cannabis concoction—if only to better appreciate the beverage when it arrives.