Not so long ago, Californians could enjoy a CBD-laced cocktail at some of their favorite bars and restaurants; at the front of the wave was L.A., emerging as a hub for experimental cannabidiol-laced beverage programs.
California State Assembly Bill 2914 put a halt to cannabis in alcoholic beverages at the start of 2019, bringing that experimentation to a halt — at least for now. While chef Chris Sayegh and the rest of his pro-cannabis team at the Herbal Chef await its return beyond application in their private, members-only supper club, Sayegh’s new Santa Monica restaurant, Nostalgia Bar & Lounge, has found a loophole of sorts.
Nostalgia’s cocktail program is available to the public and doesn’t use CBD — although guests can notably add CBD to any no-ABV (alcohol by volume) drink for $5 apiece — but many of its alcoholic tipples do contain terpenes. Those scent-forward chemical compounds occur naturally in a range of plants including, of course, cannabis, and can add a canna-like, earthy or fruity bouquet to your drink with each lift of the glass.
There’s no drink on the menu that uses terpenes more entertainingly than Nostalgia’s bestseller, the show-stopping Apples to Oranges, a fruit-forward take on an old-fashioned that gets shrouded in a billowy, hypnotizing cloud of smoke generated by a gravity bong. The second that $600 Stündenglass bong hits the bar, the phones come out. This is high drama in cocktail form.
“I know the price [$26] can be a little off-putting when people first look at it, but the second one’s sold, usually the entire restaurant’s looking,” says bar manager Chris Serrano. “Everyone’s kind of holding their breath, waiting to see if the drink is good or tastes as good as it looks, and it’s always a yes. Then you usually get like 20 more [orders] coming in right after it.”
Serrano says the sales vary by night but he’s sure they’ve made at least 40 Apples to Oranges in an evening on at least one occasion. The team builds the cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey, apple brandy, Solerno blood orange liqueur and a house-made apple cinnamon syrup whose scent sometimes fills the restaurant as the peeled green apples and crushed cinnamon sticks reduce behind the bar during service.
This cocktail uses a few drops of OG Sweet Backwoods terpene, which imparts the slightest scent of what could be likened to a blunt wrap — to stay on theme. The drink gets placed under a glass cloche while the bartender lights a small tinder pile of applewood chips. The bong spins and the smoke travels through a pipe and cloaks the cocktail in smoke.
The gravity bong isn’t limited to the Apples to Oranges; while it’s currently the only cocktail on the menu that uses the equipment, the bar team is happy to experiment with any other smoked cocktails guests might dream up, Serrano says.
The experience is eye-opening and fun for guests, but they aren’t the only ones. Working with a gravity bong and especially the terpenes has changed the way he makes cocktails, and he’s guessing other restaurants and bars will catch on soon.
“It kind of opened up a new world,” Serrano says. “A lot of what you taste comes from your sense of smell, so when you can very easily put something into the drink that might really make it pop and make it stand out, I believe a lot of places might be using this for food and drinks in the future.”