Cannabis Drinks on the Rise

Local companies are brewing up tasty alternatives to booze — and to the ‘chunky’ weed drinks of yesteryear.

In the past two years, cannabis drinks have gone through “a huge evolution,” according to WUNDER, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in weed-infused beverages. Nano-emulsification, a process that breaks down the plant into a water-soluble form, changed the game for the burgeoning legal recreational market.

This development dovetailed neatly with the pandemic. According to some studies, Americans are drinking a lot more these days; but according to other anecdotal observations (see our story on Christian Suzuki-Orellana on page 8), people seem to be seeking out ways to dial back their booze intake, while not entirely eschewing mind-altering substances (see our recent cover story on the rise of the booze-abstaining “California Sober” lifestyle).

“A lot of people are really tired of alcohol. The pandemic has really helped to accelerate certain trends that were already in place,” says Alexi Chialtas, the CEO and cofounder of WUNDER. He points to the draining effects of alcohol-induced hangovers as just one reason people are on the hunt for a new drug.

The effects of cannabis, of course, are different from those of alcohol, as Tiffany Yarde, founder and owner of Tribe SHOKi, acknowledges.

“People calling it a ‘true alternative’ — I can never say that as a business owner,” Yarde says. Still, she says, her San Rafael- and New York-based cannabis-infused beverage company does give consumers another option that shares certain commonalities beer, wine, and spirits. Both WUNDER and Tribe SHOKi make sessionable beverages with milder levels of THC or CBD. The idea is that even those with a low cannabis tolerance can enjoy such a drink at a relaxed pace, get a top-up, and continue hanging out with friends without finding themselves couch locked or paranoid.

A few years ago, cannabis drinks were still struggling with the science behind brands like WUNDER and Tribe SHOKi. Pre-emulsification, you might have gotten a “chunky” beverage, with bits of plant material floating in the liquid. Weed reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis lambasted such “bong water” in 2019 for its “delayed intensity,” pitiful flavor, and perhaps most crucially, marijuana’s “variable tolerance levels.” Now, WUNDER claims that, while onset times still vary, you might be able to feel the effects of their seltzers in as little as 15 minutes. Tribe SHOKi incorporates real fruit juices from pineapples and passionfruit in to make their drinks tastier.

“We make beverages designed for zero-proof living. That’s our phrase: ‘Zero-proof living can be very sexy,’” Yarde says. “That’s our stance, and we infuse that with our heritage and the flavors we grew up on — the Afro-Caribbean lens of who we are.” Yarde’s parents immigrated from Barbados in the 1970s and her co-founder is Ghanian, she adds. Tribe SHOKi’s flavors hail from the African diaspora, and incorporate “spice, flavor, [and] kick” that’s “bold and fun.”

Of course, in addition to taste, moderation is key, as it is with any substance. Even water can kill you if you drink too much of it too quickly. So if you’re starting out with cannabis drinks for the first time, Yarde recommends doing a little bit of research about onset, offset, and dosage levels ahead of time to know more about what you’re putting into your body. “Go low and go slow,”  she says. Similar to alcohol, it’ll require some level of experimenting before you figure out how your body and mind react to these increasingly popular drinks. 

Even the industry itself is still wide-eyed and relatively new. “Cannabis-based beverages are really in their early, early stages,” Chialtas says. “There’s been a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of interest, but there’s still so much more room for this trend to continue to build excitement. It’s going to be an area that has a lot of innovation.”

In the meantime, to get consumers started, SF Weekly has rounded up a few alcohol-free, cannabis cocktail recipes for your enjoyment — courtesy of the cannabis drink companies mentioned below. 

The WUNDER Paloma

Drinking the WUNDER Paloma is like chomping into grapefruit, according to Chialtas. WUNDER drinks come with a carefully measured combination of THC, Delta-8 (Delta-9 THC’s less intense sister molecule), and CBD for smooth onsets and offsets. 

Ingredients:
– 1 can of WUNDER Grapefruit Hibiscus (2mg THC, 2mg Delta-8, 4 mg CBD)
– ½ oz of fresh lime juice
– soda water to fill
– (optional) a grapefruit wedge or lime garnish

Instructions: In 16 oz glass of ice, add all ingredients, stir gently, garnish and serve.

‘Something New.’ Photo courtesy of Tribe SHOKi

Tribe SHOKi: ‘Something New’

Made by the popular Instagram mixologist Cocktails by Hawk, “Something New” is meant to be a “great getaway.” “It’s a fantastic taste of paradise,” says Yarde, who loves this drink for its THC buzz and flavors. “The flavor is what transports you to somewhere warm, and sunny, and beautiful.”

Ingredients:
– 2 oz of Pineapple SHOKi (5 mg THC)
– 1 oz of mango juice
– 1 oz of vanilla syrup
– .75 oz of lemon juice
– 3 muddled strawberries
– (optional) garnish with pineapple leaves

Instructions: Shake the ingredients together and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. 

Artet’s ‘Kiss From a Rose’

Much like Seal’s notorious “Kiss from a Rose,” “romantic” would be an understatement for Artet’s rose water and pomegranate cocktail.

Ingredients:
– 50 ml Artet (2.5 mg of THC)
– 50 ml pomegranate juice
– 1/2 tsp rose water (optional)
– grapefruit sparkling water
– pomegranate seeds (garnish)

Instructions: In a tumbler filled with ice, pour in the Artet, pomegranate juice, and rose water. Stir until incorporated and chilled. Top with grapefruit water to your liking and garnish with pomegranate seeds.

‘Kiss from a Rose.’ Photo courtesy of Artet

Kikoko’s ‘The Goldie’

Kikoko uses cannabis teas in their non-alcoholic cocktail recipes instead of pre-made cannabis infused beverages. This recipe, “The Goldie,” is meant for relaxation. “You can sip on this on a long, lazy afternoon and not worry about getting too high. Just kick back, bathe your spirit in CBDs.”

Ingredients:
– 1 tea bag of Kikoko Sympa-tea (20 mg CBD, 3 mg THC)
– 6 oz water
– 1 tsp fresh and finely grated ginger
– 5 fresh sage leaves
– 2 tsps honey

Instructions: Combine water, fresh ginger, sage and honey in a saucepan and bring to a steady simmer. Pour into a glass with one tea bag of KIKOKO Sympa-Tea and steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag and sage and chill or serve warm. For a cold drink, pour over ice and garnish with a slice of lemon and fresh sage sprigs.

Related Stories