For hospitality professionals, wine and spirits are a lifelong education. You can spend a lifetime learning about grape varietals, terroir, fermentation, and so much more. And in the world of cannabis, we’re just scratching the surface in many ways.
You might ask yourself, what does the future of the culinary and hospitality cannabis industries look like? And what are the best ways to teach professionals and customers alike?
To answer these questions, we’re talking to Rachel Burkons. She’s the co-owner of Altered Plates, a cannabis hospitality group focused on onsite consumption. She specializes in CBD/cannabis-related culinary education, events, content creation, brand and product development, and culinary brand activations. She’s also the Executive Director for Crop to Kitchen, a trade organization serving the industry.
In this episode, Rachel shares her insight into how this fast-moving industry is rapidly developing, the challenges and innovations that are facing cannabis businesses as the industry continues to grow, and how the “Cali sober” movement is poised to transform substance use in the years to come.
- The similarities between wine and spirits education and learning about cannabis–and why both are lifelong journeys.
- Why a lack of legal, on-premise consumption creates a huge difference between beverage categories and cannabis.
- How Altered Plates introduces cannabis to customers through meals with cannabis pairings–and why cannabis-infused food is not the company’s focus.
- Why it’s not yet possible to legally take advantage of the possibilities in pairing cannabis with wine or beer.
- What on-site business operators will need to be aware of in order to keep their consumers safe.
- Recent developments in the nascent cannabis beverage segment–and why you’re unlikely to see these products at your local bodega anytime soon.
- The unique challenges of getting cannabis-infused fresh foods approved for sale.
- “The BYOB model is great but I’m focused on where this business is really going long term, and to me, that’s all about licensing.” – Rachel Burkons
- “Cannabis is so exciting because the innovation is happening in such rapid, real-time. The cannabis beverage category did not exist two to three years ago. There were so few products on the market and the technology has come such a long way in such a short period of time to really improve not only the quality but the efficacy of those products.” – Rachel Burkons
- Connect with Rachel through Email and Instagram
- Altered Plates
- The Clever Root
- Crop to Kitchen
- The Tasting Panel
- The Somm Journal
- Cann Social Tonics
- The Herb Somm
- Cannabis Beverage Association
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. I am here. I am Rick Kiley. I’m with my business partner, Jeff Boedges. We are actually both in New York City today.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yep, where it’s 90 degrees and sunny.
Rick Kiley: Nope. Nope. Nope. I think that’s where our guest is. I think she’s got the good weather.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, no kidding.
Rick Kiley: We’re here on the East Coast and we are just dreaming of spring, dreaming of it coming.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, baseball season.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. If baseball happens. Come on, guys.
Jeffrey Boedges: Beer outside.
Rick Kiley: MLB, get it together. I want to see some baseball. But we have more important things planned. Today, we are welcoming Rachel Burkons, a cannabis educator and activist with a mission to normalize cannabis by using food and beverage as an educational vehicle. Those are two of my favorite educational vehicles, just so you know.
Jeffrey Boedges: Those are your only educational vehicles.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, they’re good, better than the bus. After more than a decade in the wine and spirits business, Rachel and her brother, Chef Holden Jagger, cool name, co-founded Altered Plates, a hospitality group specializing in CBD, cannabis-related culinary education, events, culinary brand activations, and more. Together, they’ve collaborated with some of the top cannabis brands in the industry and have become experts in the onsite consumption of cannabis. She is also the Executive Director for Crop to Kitchen, a trade organization serving the culinary cannabis industry where she’s helping to develop new compliant business operations for the industry. Always important. We’re extremely excited to speak to her today.
Rick Kiley: Rachel, welcome to The Green Repeal.
Rachel Burkons: Thank you, guys, for having me. I’m very excited to be here today.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We are excited too. Can you first start off give us the background about who you are and how you got connected to the cannabis industry? Let’s just start there. Lay that groundwork.
Rachel Burkons: Absolutely. As I mentioned or as you mentioned, I come from the wine and spirits world originally. I spent 12 years working for a magazine publishing company that printed two trade publications in the wine and spirits space, one called The Tasting Panel and one called The Somm Journal. And while I was there, I think I was like employee number three, I really had the opportunity to touch every level of the wine and spirits industry and really learn from the experts from that space. So, from somms and bar managers and the people really working in the on-premise side of things to really understanding how brands were going out and speaking not only to the trade but to consumers. So, I had the opportunity to do a little bit of everything there. And then in 2015, the magazine publishing company launched a third magazine that was called The Clever Root, and it was designed to bring cannabis into that food, beverage, wine, hospitality conversation. And in 2015, it was very ahead of its time. This was not something that was really even on very many people’s radar.
So, my brother, Holden, who at the time was the executive pastry chef at Soho House here in Los Angeles and a longtime cultivator and cannabis lover and appreciator, he joined me on this trip up to Humboldt to launch the Clever Root magazine. And it was there that we saw that there was a nascent cannabis industry being born and there were people talking about terroir, and these were cultivators up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties who were taking the same approach that I was hearing about from all the winemakers that I’d been working with. So, it was really eye-opening for both of us. And even though I had at the time been a long-time cannabis consumer, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know a single thing, so I spent that entire drive back from Humboldt talking to Holden. We were not only trying to explore what cannabis hospitality could look like but I was also like, “So, what is Sativa?” I just start at that very, very basic level and Altered Plates, our company, was born on that road trip, really.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s like fake satin, Sativa. It’s like, “I can’t really afford satin. I got the Sativa pants.”
Rachel Burkons: The Sativa pants.
Rick Kiley: It’s the first time I’ve heard that joke. Well done.
Jeffrey Boedges: Hey, I’d like to throw a new one in once in a while.
Rick Kiley: Nice. So, it’s funny because we obviously come from the alcohol beverage business ourselves and often making comparisons to terroir and wine and cognac production and so on and so forth and what’s going on in the cannabis industry. And it’s interesting to hear you coming from that super knowledgeable area about alcohol beverage and then I think like Jeff and I when we started this podcast was like we really don’t know anything. We know so much about distillation and blending and everything.
Jeffrey Boedges: I know how to make a pipe out of an apple.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: At like concert, if you had to.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And I was like, I know what stems are. So, that’s…
Rachel Burkons: Well, I think that that’s the thing about wine in particular as wine is a lifelong education for wine professionals and for hospitality professionals, and so is spirits. You know, the best bartenders in the world really do everything that they can to fully understand these categories well beyond my awareness or knowledge. I always just defer to the experts. But what is really exciting is to take that same understanding of these agricultural products and the way that they can be turned from one thing into another and how these are social and inebriative substances like let’s be realistic. You know, that’s the truth.
Jeffrey Boedges: Inebriative. Wow. I never heard that one before. We’ll put that one on Wordle.
Rick Kiley: Inebriative. Wordle has to be six letters.
Jeffrey Boedges: Is that more than six?
Rick Kiley: Yeah, I think so.
Rachel Burkons: It sounds like a lot of letters. Well, I’m not even sure that’s a real word but…
Rick Kiley: It is now.
Rachel Burkons: It’s that connection that is really exciting to explore and figure out what that lifelong education in cannabis looks like. So, few people have gone outside of just being cultivators. And so, what is a full, rounded cannabis hospitality profession look like? We don’t know yet.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think it’s a good way to describe it, the lifelong education, because to me it seems very daunting. Just every time I think I understand something, I realize there’s something else. It’s like if I understood that there were protons and electrons in the atom and then, “Oh God, what are quarks now?” And you can keep going deeper and deeper.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, I think there’s a huge innovation factor that goes into spirits. It’s really how the industry reinvents itself on a regular basis. I mean, some of the innovations you and I find rather alarming like I still can’t really get over bubblegum vodka, right? I mean that’s just f*cking nuts. But then in wine, it’s because it’s such a natural product, both from the terroir and the grapes from which it grows but then also the aging process and what are the cellar process. What was the atmosphere like in those days? What was the temperature like on those days? And all of that impact on the wine. You know, it’s going to be different every time. And that’s what really I think in both categories, I think they have some crossover but they’re both kind of driven by their own sort of mania, but it makes it enjoyable. I think it’s really just people who are a fan or people who would like this kind of thing, they’re kind of compulsive about it. They probably wouldn’t even like it if it was static or if it was like, “Oh, I’ve learned everything. I’m done. I’m full. Moving on.” So, I think cannabis is great that way.
Rachel Burkons: Well, cannabis is so exciting because the innovation is happening in such rapid, real-time. The cannabis beverage category, for example, did not exist two to three years ago. I mean, there were so few products on the market and the technology has come such a far way in such a short period of time to really drastically improve not only the quality but the efficacy of those products. So, we’re really seeing the potential for this category unfold in front of us. And it’s changing day-by-day and that is really exciting. And even the way that pharmaceutical companies are going to be having their impact on the way cannabinoids are processed and presented. Every category of the industry will impact the way we consume cannabis once they have the ability to understand its role in their businesses.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Because I think you bring up a great point. I mean, the innovation has been breakneck in speed, right? But that’s even without really, I think, dedicated resources of some of these massive companies that haven’t really gotten into it completely yet. And I can’t even imagine if you had a Coca-Cola or somebody like that like, “Oh, what can we do?”
Rachel Burkons: Well, they’re doing it behind closed doors. Let’s be realistic about that. That is just certainly happening with all of these major businesses. But you’re right, once the federal legal…
Jeffrey Boedges: Coca-Cola, don’t sue us, please.
Rachel Burkons: Please, don’t sue us. Allegedly. Excuse me, I’m sorry. Allegedly behind closed doors.
Rick Kiley: Next episode, we name names. What’s going on here?
Jeffrey Boedges: Luckily for us, I can’t remember them.
Rick Kiley: Okay. All right. So, everybody’s got plans. Everybody’s got it going on behind closed doors. I get it. I’m curious about something. I think you made this connection on sort of what the similarities are between wine and spirits and cannabis. And you’ve been working, you’ve worked in both areas. I’m curious as you have an opinion on what’s the most distinct difference between the world of alcohol, beverage, and cannabis? We liken them a lot but we also know there are some stark differences. I was just curious your thoughts on that?
Rachel Burkons: I mean, there are many differences between these industries and these consumers and the way that these products are presented. The biggest one, I think, is something that we will see change in the next few years and certainly it’s happening slowly. But currently, cannabis is entirely an off-premise industry. There is really no on-premise space for cannabis hospitality to have licensed consumption lounges in a fashion that resembles restaurants. So, West Hollywood is allowing for these businesses, and there was one that was open pre-COVID and they will be continuing to open. And this is something that I am very excited about and working very closely on because this is super important. Imagine a world where if you wanted to try a wine or spirit or a beer, all you could do was go to the corner liquor store. Or even maybe like a BevMo or what do you have, Total Wine, a Binny’s, something that’s maybe higher-end or even a bottle shop where you can talk to somebody. But like until you can sit and taste in front of somebody and feel like you can ask questions in front of somebody and try multiple things back-to-back so that way you can really understand what it is you’re tasting, until you can have that guided on-premise experience, the consumer is not going to be able to take that next step in terms of normalizing cannabis, in my opinion.
And brands are really in this unfortunate retail environment where it’s very driven by the politics of it all as many businesses are. It’s all about money and shelf space and how you’re going to get that shelf space. But when you have a tastemaker like a sommelier or a bartender who can say, “No, I like this product. I’m going to put it on the menu because I want to feature it in this way or as this pairing,” I think that that’s going to really change the overall tone of the cannabis industry as the on-premise piece is able to be developed and really give consumers a place to understand cannabis in their life in a more tangible way than what they think they knew from their youth or whatever stereotypes there are about cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, we were just talking about the need for on-premise development as really a key to unlocking growth in the industry overall.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think it’s really about normalizing it because people, you know.
Rick Kiley: Because you can create a positive image.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a social thing.
Rick Kiley: Yes, social currency and social connection around it. Absolutely.
Jeffrey Boedges: And because the way that people and you kind of nailed it already, Rachel, was saying that there is like the social process of becoming slightly inebriated is something that’s well-established and it isn’t at all established in cannabis. And it’s one of those things for me that I find most exciting and most daunting at the same time because people choose a wine primarily for taste. Right? I mean, people who know better. But you may not choose your cannabis for taste, right? I think I’m frozen.
Rachel Burkons: You know, I think that… oh.
Jeffrey Boedges: No, go ahead. Sorry.
Rachel Burkons: Sorry. I thought I lost you guys for a second. You froze.
Rick Kiley: Jeff’s screen is frozen but his microphone still works.
Rachel Burkons: But it’s real-life happening. Okay.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. You know, I think that the consumer for cannabis doesn’t know anything. It’s way past a consumer who might be overwhelmed by being presented with the hefty wine list. I think that for the average consumer, it’s like they still do really think Indica and Sativa is the end all, be all. It’s not. I mean, it’s nothing. It’s all meaningless. So, we have so far to go as an industry to educate the consumer and also make people feel safe. The reality is that people, by the time they’re in their mid-20s, generally have figured out their alcohol preferences and tolerances.
Jeffrey Boedges: In my teens.
Rachel Burkons: The endocannabinoid system is highly, highly individuated. Everyone has their own reaction really to cannabis, and until you know what your dose is, it can be very overwhelming. People don’t even know what does 5 milligrams mean. People don’t know. You know what a glass of wine is but you don’t know what 5 milligrams is.
Rick Kiley: It’s slightly more than four. That’s what I’ve decided. There’s a cord there if you want. So, I wanted to talk about the experience you’ve been producing. So, you’ve been producing some culinary experiences and you’ve been introducing cannabis to people through food. So, let’s talk about your approach because I’m excited about this. So, we’ve talked about this education gap. How do you bring people into their understanding? And I think one question I’m going to throw out there as part of your answer is like what level of understanding are people walking in with because that’s very key. We’ve developed programs for Scotch whiskey, where someone may be new but someone may also be an expert and it’s a very different experience. So, I’m just curious as to who you’re drawing in and what the approach is.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. You know, that’s a really good question. When we started off doing private in-home dinners through Altered Plates, really mostly those were very novice consumers. Occasionally, it would be somebody who really loves cannabis but usually, they’d be bringing in several of their non-cannabis consuming friends. So, part of developing our systems of service was really figuring out how do we speak to those people who don’t know their dosage, don’t know where to start with cannabis, and get them to understand, and as I was saying before, I feel comfortable, feel safe. And getting to see that light bulb go off on their head has been very rewarding and helped us figure out how we can present cannabis to people. So, we have not done private and home dinners in a very long time. And after we stopped doing that, we positioned ourselves more to working directly with brands to help them activate. So, one of the ways that we really like to work with cannabis is with whatever category of products it is, you can find a way to incorporate that into a dining experience. Bringing people to cannabis through food is such an important and easy way to normalize because people go to the table three times a day. They know what happens at a dinner table. They know what it feels like to have a few glasses of wine and get tipsy and share a meal with their friends.
So, basically, you just swap the alcohol for cannabis. Of course, there have been moments where those things have lived in the same tablescape but from a regulatory perspective, that will not happen in any licensed cannabis lounge. But really, what is so beautiful is that whether it’s an edible or a tincture or a beverage, we’ve even featured sublingual strips, there are ways to incorporate these products into a dining experience. What we actually really specialize in with Altered Plates is pairings. We are very flower-focused and flavor-focused, and Holden is a cultivator. So, what we like to do is actually pair each course with a specific strain. And what we’ll do at the beginning of that meal is walk people through our three-step tasting method so they understand how to taste cannabis so they can actually try to pick up the flavors. People understand the flavors in food, so it’s really very similar to a wine tasting. So, our first step in the three-step tasting method is to have people nose the tube if it’s in a pre-roll or nose the jar if we’re talking about full flower.
Second step is to do what’s called a dry pull or a terpene pull. So, if it’s a joint without lighting it, you inhale through the joint and this brings the flavor of the flower directly onto your palate. So, it’s sort of like that first taste in a wine tasting where you can really start to develop a little more nuance on the profile of the wine. And then the third step is to light it, and from there you can feel out things like texture and mouthfeel and the weight of the smoke on your palate, as well as some of the flavors that will come through with combustion. So, we teach people how to do that in the beginning of the meal and then sometimes we will have suggestions as to how we want them to enjoy the pairing. So, we’ll say, “Okay. Here’s the dish. Please just do the first two steps so you can contextually understand the flavors and then use the joint kind of as a little digestive after you’ve had your entree and then you can finish that.” So, yeah, it’s all about just finding ways to connect people to what’s in front of them. And using an experience like a wine pairing dinner where they already generally understand the concepts is a great way to bring people in.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think somewhere Roald Dahl is like smiling down on us because I think this is what he had in mind. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was just a giant cannabis food pairing. I’m going out there. I’m saying it.
Rachel Burkons: That’s a hot take. That’s a hot take.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I wasn’t going to make that leap but that was cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m already being sued by Coke. I figured I might as well get sued by Penguin too. Let’s make it a trial but see if I can offend somebody else before them.
Rick Kiley: No, but it’s interesting because, of course, I’ve gone through hundreds of wine tastings, whiskey tastings, etcetera, and there’s always that same approach to nosing and a first sip, a second sip, and it’s interesting that approach. And I think the only thing that’s surprising me and this is what I didn’t expect is I walked in thinking cannabis in cuisine, you would be cooking with it. It would be in the oils or somehow infused into the actual meals that we were doing and you’re nodding like you’ve done some of that.
Rachel Burkons: Of course, I mean, it’s funny because that is what people think when they think culinary cannabis. They’re like, “Oh, infused foods.” And that is absolutely possible. It has not been our approach because as I said, we are flower forward and flavor-forward. When you’re talking about infused food, you’re not adding flavor to a dish. You’re adding in an inebriating substance. And that’s great. That’s fine. And there is absolutely a time and place for that. But there are also high-quality edibles that you can already go out and purchase. I think for the average home person who wants to explore cooking with cannabis, please do. It’s a very cost-effective way to get your medicine or get your product and feel good. So, yeah, but it’s just not what we specialize in.
Jeffrey Boedges: I feel like it’s harder to control the dosing in an edible format like that, like in a meal because you would really be like, “Don’t have a second serving or you’re going to be in trouble,” even though you might just like, “Well, I’m just hungry.” “Yeah, but you don’t want to be like that.”
Rick Kiley: Well, that’s why every meal comes with a giant bowl of Doritos. You can always come back to the Doritos, everybody.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right. There’s our third lawsuit.
Rick Kiley: PepsiCo too. No. But the other reason I’m surprised is I’m surprised to hear about smoking, actually inhaling smoke, and having smoke around food. And I think this is a question that we started talking about in our last episode and I think is going to be some that has to be ironed out with on-premise consumption is how does the desire to have a smoke-free environment in a lot of these places, restaurants, bars, et cetera, going to impact the advent of on-premise consumption? So, to hear that you are doing it in this way is surprising to me. And I’m curious if there’s been any kind of discomfort, pushback, or do people go to another room? Is it right at the table? Talk to me about that a little bit.
Rachel Burkons: Sure. So, first of all, of course, it’s always highly individuated. You know, smoking is something that many people are sensitive to. And I think we grow up in a time where very few people remember walking into a restaurant and being asked whether you want smoking or non. I remember that.
Jeffrey Boedges: I remember having it on an airplane.
Rick Kiley: We’re all dating ourselves.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: We’re on the pre-Ewok line of the Return of the Jedi. Like, if you were of a certain age, you think the Ewoks were lame and if you’re born after a certain date, you think that they were cute. So, we’re dating ourselves there. Okay. Hi, everyone. I think we have a little technical blip there for a second. Either that or I made a joke so bad that it just killed the recording. Sorry.
Jeffrey Boedges: Crash the internet.
Rick Kiley: It crashed the internet. Anyway, we are back with Rachel and we were talking about people’s comfort with smoke in the event environment.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. And I was saying that that’s really such a personal, individuated preference issue. So, one of the ways that we’re going to have to obviously mitigate this and handle this in the on-premise consumption space is with really high-tech air filtration systems, the type of systems that are put in place in casinos. So, this technology…
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s what I said last week. Sorry. I’m patting myself on the back, Rachel. It happens so infrequently that I’m right.
Rick Kiley: Jeff’s like, “Survey says…”
Rachel Burkons: Congratulations.
Jeffrey Boedges: Thank you, Rachel. I appreciate it.
Rick Kiley: You got the number one answer on the board.
Jeffrey Boedges: You know, that never happens to me. Sorry, Rachel. I interrupted you. Please go ahead.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. No, I think that that’s a really important thing to know is that this technology is already out there. So, let’s just utilize it in these new spaces as they come up. So, obviously, there will be techniques to mitigate that experience for guests and make sure that everyone is comfortable. But I do anticipate that we will also see some of these on-site consumption spaces coming out that will not have smoking be a part of their business model. You know, there will be places that are really just like bars where there are cannabis beverages and maybe some edibles. But you know, it’s really going to be about finding the right opportunities for everyone because there are so many different types of cannabis consumers. There are people who want high potency concentrates. There are people who only want to smoke. There are people who will only have a beverage or a micro-dose mint or a tiny little amount of THC every once in a while. And that’s okay. We just need to be able to give every single one of those potential consumers a place and time to enjoy that.
Jeffrey Boedges: Can I add a third type of location? Because I think there’s going to be those places that are like cigar bars where you go in and it’s like, “Oh my God, I’m at a Grateful Dead concert wrapped in a…”
Rick Kiley: Bong?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, bong. Thank you. Exactly. But I do feel like that’s going to be a thing too, you know?
Rachel Burkons: I mean, honestly, I think that any type of model we see currently for the on-premise consumption of alcohol ranging from bowling alleys to movie theaters, there will be an option for cannabis maybe many years from now in the same place as these businesses already exist. Or maybe there will be for a while just here’s the cannabis mini-golf course. Here’s the cannabis beer bong.
Jeffrey Boedges: Cannibowl, that just writes itself. For a place that serves food, Cannibowl.
Rick Kiley: I think the movie theater, though, is a tremendous idea. That has to be in the works.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We only show Harold and Kumar though.
Rick Kiley: Right. Or we only show like stuff set to the – it’s different movies set to the Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh yeah, Dark Side of the Moon.
Rick Kiley: Right? It’s just all that.
Jeffrey Boedges: What’s horrible is that I would totally go.
Rick Kiley: Sure. I don’t know why you said horrible. It’s a decent business idea. Here’s something that I think you mentioned a minute ago though, Rachel, and where I go, because I’m one of the people that is like, I don’t like to get into a place where I can’t really function, and I don’t like to freak out. So, generally, it’s a smaller dose but I love the idea of sometimes having a beer or having a whiskey after or part of. So, I’m curious about your events. You mentioned I think maybe that some alcohol was sometimes involved but it’s not usual and probably won’t ever really happen in a legal way. Am I capturing that thought?
Rachel Burkons: You are. We have certainly done wine pairings. We’ve done dinners where we’ve paired wines and cannabis varieties alongside food to really draw that connection full circle for people. We’ve definitely explored all sorts of infused beverage options where we featured both CBD tinctures and THC tinctures. And you know, the reason is that there is so much ripe stuff to work with there. I mean beers and cannabis are cousins, wine and cannabis go beautifully together, and you really can actually tease these flavors out in a way where you can do some of that cool storytelling. But from a compliance operational perspective, as these businesses roll out, they will not be able to sell both cannabis and alcohol. And I think that because these businesses don’t exist yet, it’s going to be left up to individual operators to develop safe systems of service and monitor their guests to ensure that they’re consuming cannabis safely. And if they’re going somewhere else, they’re coming after having consumed alcohol that we have staff on hand trained to understand how to work with those guests. Because we’re talking about a bunch of adult substances. These things are all the same to many people, and it’s about personal preference, and it’s about making sure guests understand how to be safe.
And because we have so many people who are going to be new to cannabis, I will always encourage people to err on the side of caution. And if you don’t know your dose and if you’re trying infused foods and edibles, in particular, the rule of thumb is to always start low, go slow, wait at least 45 minutes to an hour before consuming any other cannabis, and definitely do not consume any alcohol.
Rick Kiley: Do you hear that everybody? Up to an hour.
Jeffrey Boedges: Just slow swimming after lunch.
Rick Kiley: Don’t start saying in 30 minutes, “Yeah. I don’t feel it yet.”
Rachel Burkons: Famous last words, “I don’t feel it.”
Rick Kiley: I don’t feel it. I need another.
Jeffrey Boedges: Everybody has that story. One of our earliest ones was our friend who talked to light switches for an hour or two.
Rick Kiley: Gosh. So, this is one thing we know that there’s a ton of dealcoholized spirits and now dealcoholized wine, and we know there’s nonalcoholic beer everywhere right now. I think maybe this is the environment.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a whole new use education.
Rick Kiley: Now, it makes sense. Buy a $60 bottle of nonalcoholic whiskey, which exists, but this is the environment to do it in. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t understand what $40 non-alcoholic gin is.
Jeffrey Boedges: I can probably get behind like the Michelob zero or one of those things with this but I don’t see myself dropping $60 on that.
Rick Kiley: I don’t know, man. Or maybe in the on-premise lounge, you would spend $20 for a fancy nonalcoholic cocktail along with an artisanally sun-grown Sativa blend.
Rachel Burkons: Yes, you will. You absolutely will. And you’re right, that is where, first of all, the no and low movement is huge. The growth in that category that we’re seeing is not going anywhere but up. And those same dealcoholized wines and spirits are the base products for the cannabis-infused wines and spirits that are coming to market. So, it is a very complicated process to dealcoholize a wine or spirit, and you really are removing a lot of its flavor when you go through that process because you’re not just removing alcohol.
Jeffrey Boedges: Character, mouthfeel, everything. Yeah. That’s why I don’t get, like I said, I have a hard time getting my head around.
Rick Kiley: I think you just need to be really dedicated to no calories.
Jeffrey Boedges: That I can probably.
Rick Kiley: But I don’t know that having the sun-grown joint along with it isn’t going to lead you to a bowl of Doritos.
Jeffrey Boedges: Here’s another thought.
Rachel Burkons: The calorie argument goes out the window as soon as you introduce cannabis, really. But you know, I think that there has been a very vast improvement in the quality of those products. And we are seeing some of those THC-infused beverages that are being made from dealcoholized wines and spirits. And you know what, like, that’s amazing. So yeah, not only can we have a nonalcoholic experience and, of course, that taps into this whole Cali sober movement that is huge where people don’t drink but they consume cannabis. That is also growing just alongside the no and low consumer generally.
Rick Kiley: So, that’s an official term, just so I know. Cali sober means I don’t drink but do weed.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. Welcome to California, buddy.
Rick Kiley: I’m an East Coaster here.
Jeffrey Boedges: We just want to know what to tell our wives. Cali sober.
Rachel Burkons: Tell them you’re sober-ish.
Rick Kiley: Nice.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Here’s another thought, though. What about BYO places? So, where I live, there’s a lot of BYO joints and I don’t mean the joint piece. So, you could bring your own weed or bring your own booze.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. You know, the real issue from a compliance perspective here in California, if you want to sell cannabis for on-site consumption, you have to have a license for that. If you want to sell cannabis in any legal capacity, you have to have a license for it. So, a lot of these kind of supper club things have been able to skirt the rules in various markets with that kind of BYOB model or something where the cannabis product is gifted and people are purchasing a ticket to the food so there’s definitely a lot of ways around that. I am really focused right now on playing within the regulatory sandbox because we are at a place where federal legalization really means federal regulation. So, how are we going to be able to operate businesses that are compliant and that are safe and that meet the health and safety standards of not only whatever SOPs are put in place at a national or federal level but then also at a local level because individual municipalities and their health departments will have the ability to kind of oversee these businesses as they see fit. So, the BYOB thing is great but I’m focused on where this business is really going long term and, to me, that’s all about licensing.
Rick Kiley: Right. Okay. Fair enough. So, we were talking about beverages, which we think are going to be a category in THC, CBD, cannabis that explodes, especially because it will mimic people’s current social consumption habits. And you’ve talked about them. I’m curious if you’ve seen any out there in the market that you like, that you think are good, that people should look at. You want to give some love to anybody?
Rachel Burkons: I have so many. I work really closely in the cannabis beverage space and work closely with the Cannabis Beverage Association, which is a trade group designed to represent this piece of the industry at a national level. And some of the stuff that the cannabis beverage I’m just going to quickly tell you because I do think it’s important. You didn’t ask for this part, but.
Rick Kiley: No. It’s on my list of questions but it would have been the follow-up. You’re just so good.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yep. You’re an apt student.
Rachel Burkons: I’m such a proficient interview that I’m psychic slightly.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Rachel Burkons: Well, what I was going to say is that I think it’s really important to understand where the cannabis beverage industry and that segment is right now because there are some regulatory issues and some logistical issues. Manufacturing is extremely limited. Distribution is really challenging because these are large, bulky products that are not like little, tiny pre-rolls or little capsules or mints or things like that. So, cannabis distributors are still sort of lacking the infrastructure to correctly distribute these products, many of which require refrigeration. And then, of course, getting them sold at retail, where most of these accounts will not have a refrigerator. So, if you want somebody to be able to walk in and purchase your product and immediately go home and enjoy it, you want it to be cold. So, getting the retail level to understand not only how to position these products, how to sell them, and how to explain them to customers is huge. So that said, there are so many brands right now that are coming out and totally crushing it. Cann has become a true category leader and is just doing great work, I think, to bring visibility to the category as a whole and its micro-dose movement.
Herbacée is a recently launched sparkling rosé, rosier I think. I don’t know how she’s pronouncing it from my friend, Jamie Evans, of the Herb Somm, and that is a dealcoholized rosé that she formulated with an amazing team of winemakers at a company called BevZero out of Santa Rosa. And I was lucky enough to sit in on some of the formulation for that, and it’s amazing. Like, she has created a product that tastes a lot like a rosé, and it’s infused with those THC and CBD. So, that’s a really interesting product and it’s in a can so it’s again speaking to that RTD consumer who’s already reaching for products in a can. There’s another product called Klaus that just came out from a gentleman named Warren Bobrow, who’s been a long-time spirit and cocktail industry writer and veteran and bartender, and Klaus is phenomenal. It is very gingery and it’s like a little cocktail in a can and it’s 10 milligrams and it’s wonderful.
Rick Kiley: That was a big whistle for the 10 milligram.
Jeffrey Boedges: Ten milligram. Yes.
Rachel Burkons: Well, I’m actually a high dosage person myself, so I love that it’s 10 milligrams in a little tiny can.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s like a malt liquor of THC.
Rick Kiley: Well, that’s the thing. Everyone is so different for their dosage. So, we really, as an industry, do need to have products that are 2.5 milligrams and we need to have products that are 10 milligrams or 15 even, 20, 25. I mean, there are beverage products that are going up to their legal limit.
Rick Kiley: Let’s do it, Rachel. Let’s get to 100. Come on.
Rachel Burkons: No problem. Let’s do it.
Rick Kiley: No, this is great. The only thing I’m curious about and I understand you’re talking about the distribution and things that need to be refrigerated. When I walk around New York right now and I walk into either a grocer, a bodega, they have a seemingly infinite number of craft beers, all by the can. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds just stacked. And then there’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kombuchas. I mean, there are just so many cold boxes out there. And then occasionally you’ll see other seltzers and hard seltzers and all that sort of stuff, too. So, I’m surprised that we’re running into that but I’m guessing you’re just at the current locations where people can buy this stuff, there’s not big refrigeration systems. Is that…?
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. This is just as I was saying, the cannabis beverage segment truly is brand new. So, it’s not only understanding how to work with retail accounts to get them the infrastructure they need to sell these but it’s also really understanding the technology of these beverages because due to the nano emulsion infusion that is powering these drinks, they have a more rapid onset and a shorter duration. So, getting people to even know that, that requires a budtender telling them that. So, there’s just a ton of work that needs to be done at the account level to support that growing piece of the industry.
Rick Kiley: High in 5, drive in 100. What’s wrong? I just wrote the tagline. Let’s go. High in 5, drive in 100. You have to know their minutes. I don’t know if that works.
Rachel Burkons: The CBA is hiring.
Jeffrey Boedges: That sounds more like a music lyric.
Rick Kiley: Okay.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, I think you need to…
Rick Kiley: Sorry. We’ll workshop it a little bit more. But it’s funny because when Red Bull was doing its distribution and trying to get into the on-premise and there was no room for refrigeration, they just dropped refrigerators. They made little refrigerators and they dropped them off at every bar.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah, that’s becoming the solution.
Rick Kiley: That’s going to be the solution. Yeah. All right.
Rachel Burkons: That’s becoming the solution. And also really, I mean, as you’re saying, there are hundreds and hundreds of beverage brands out there but we’re going to see, I think, a huge explosion. Currently, in California, beverages are only 2% of retail sales. I think that within two years, they’ll be 10 easily. So, as we get more brands to market and as we have more manufacturing in market because that’s another problem. If you can’t make them, you can’t sell them. So, brands are certainly working out their own manufacturing and distribution, and cannabis licensing allows for verticals that will enable brands to be able to successfully do that. But you got to scale up and that takes time and money.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, what I’m hearing is…
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ve got an easier idea, though. We just launch in Europe.
Rick Kiley: Let’s just launch in Europe?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. They don’t like cold beverages.
Rick Kiley: Everything’s warm. It’s like, “I love the Coca-Cola warm.”
Jeffrey Boedges: I brought you a box. This is a cardboard box but it holds the beverages. It’s a lot cheaper.
Rick Kiley: Man, bagging on Europe.
Jeffrey Boedges: Bagging. I’ve given them props.
Rick Kiley: Oh yeah, because they don’t need ice.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Exactly.
Rick Kiley: All right. They’re tougher.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, tougher but they’re probably more environmentally friendly. How much energy do we waste making ice every year?
Rick Kiley: I don’t know.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m sure it’s a lot.
Rachel Burkons: Good question.
Rick Kiley: I’m 5 milligrams.
Jeffrey Boedges: 100, I believe actually.
Rick Kiley: Okay. Cool. Well, listen, I want to be able to talk about one more thing before we end our time together. And you mentioned the very, very beginning, Crop to Kitchen. No. You mentioned Clever Root but I wanted to ask about Crop to Kitchen. So, you’re using something called Crop to Kitchen, what I was told, to make culinary cannabis a broader category, more than candy, sweets, et cetera. That was a phrase that Katie, who works for us, she’s like, “Ask please about Crop to Kitchen. I want to hear about it.” So, I kind of butchered the elegance of that question but can you please tell us about Crop to Kitchen?
Rachel Burkons: I would be happy to. So, Crop to Kitchen is a grassroots advocacy group that is really in support of the culinary cannabis industry broadly. So, there are a few things that we’re looking to do. One is educate and advocate. Pre-COVID, we were doing a bunch of events to do that sort of work here in California. We have not returned to in-person events but maybe this year is our year. So, stay tuned for that.
Rick Kiley: It’s your year. It’s happening.
Rachel Burkons: Yes, it’s a big year. In addition to sort of just broadly educating about the fact that culinary cannabis exists and what professionals in this space are doing, one of the things we’d really like to do is expand the regulatory framework. So, from a manufacturing perspective and an edibles and drinkables perspective that means working with regulators to allow for more fresh foods rather than… Part of the reason the cannabis edibles landscape is populated with gummies and chocolates and candies is that it’s really difficult to manufacture and test within the state compliance more fresh ingredients. And there are also limitations as to what types of ingredients like you can’t have like a cannabis-infused cheese, things like that, or ice creams, things that used to exist in the pre-regulatory market here.
Rick Kiley: Wait. Why can’t you have cannabis-infused cheese?
Rachel Burkons: Dairy.
Rick Kiley: Dairy and cannabis aren’t allowed to mix?
Jeffrey Boedges: No bueno?
Rick Kiley: Like compliance-wise, there’s a regulation written?
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. And I believe there’s also issues with refrigeration products and testing. The testing is the real thing. There’s very long delays in testing, so products they need to sit for like a week and then they need to be tested. And cheeses are sort of problematic for that. So, we would like to see expansion of the edibles category through changes to what some of those regulatory standards look like. And then also advocating for a path to compliance for these operators. When we started doing private in-home dinners, we were sort of among a first wave of cannabis chefs but now there are a ton of operators all over the country who are doing private in-home dinners. Sometimes they’re little cottage industries in themselves where they’re making small edibles. But without a path to compliance, those are just going to always be sort of fringe operators. So, for example, in California, the event license that exists at the state level is really not applicable to somebody who would like to pull a one-day event license to do a private small event. You have to be doing an event on a state fairground, according to the state of California, so that obviously really limits it to large operators.
Rick Kiley: You couldn’t host an event in your own home?
Rachel Burkons: If you wanted to have a licensed event where you would be able to work with the distribution company and sell cannabis and sample cannabis outside…
Rick Kiley: Charged admission, presumably. Yeah.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah, exactly. You need to be doing those events at a state fairground. So, that’s why you see the High Times Cups and these large-scale events happening in those places. But there should also be something that’s like a cannabis shelf license where a shelf can pull a one-day license to do a small event. Because without a license, you’re opening yourself up to huge liability because you can’t have insurance. Traditional food and beverage insurance policies will be negated because of cannabis, and cannabis insurance policies are only available to licensed businesses.
Rick Kiley: Okay. But if I wanted to call you up and have Chef Holden come and create a dinner in my lovely West Hollywood home, which I don’t have…
Jeffrey Boedges: He does. Don’t listen to him. He’s got a mansion.
Rick Kiley: But like that could happen. But if something happened, it would be on your homeowner’s insurance, which most likely wouldn’t cover you because…
Jeffrey Boedges: And you’re not selling tickets and stuff.
Rick Kiley: No, no, no. Right. You are not charging money. But if anything, if it’s a commercial enterprise of any kind, you are limited to state fairgrounds?
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. Basically, the event license keeps you to the state fairgrounds but there are many ways to work around and be compliant and safe from that private in-home dining perspective. There’s lots of ways to do it.
Jeffrey Boedges: How difficult is it for me to get Rick’s West Hollywood mansion registered as a state fairground? I mean, seriously, I’m sure people are wondering.
Rachel Burkons: I think we have to start lobbying now probably to get that done.
Rick Kiley: All right. That’s good. Okay. Cool. Well, that sounds, man, you’re doing I think a lot of important good work on a lot of fronts, and it sounds super exciting. How do we throw an event with you?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We want to do an event with you, even if it’s just, you know.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, we’ll talk.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. Email me. We’ll set up something.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. That’s actually a very good segue. How do people if they want to arrange an event?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. If they have a West Hollywood home and want to have this private event that they don’t charge money for, how do people get in touch with you? How could they talk to you about working with you in this way?
Rachel Burkons: Yeah, fine. Well, first of all, we’re not really open for hire for events at the moment. So, I’m sorry to say that if you’d like us to come to your home, it’s highly unlikely that we will do so. But feel free to ask if you’ve got a lot of money you could throw my way.
Rick Kiley: Somebody’s going to say something.
Rachel Burkons: Let’s see. I’m going fishing on the podcast today. But in general, if you want to talk to me about culinary cannabis or cannabis hospitality or specifically what’s happening with what I’m working on in West Hollywood, at the lounge level and how that piece will develop, if you want to talk to me about the Cannabis Beverage Association, if you want to talk to me about Crop to Kitchen, you can find me on Instagram at SmokeSipSavor, and then you can email me at email@example.com, or you can visit my website, RachelBurkons.com.
Jeffrey Boedges: Are you sure?
Rachel Burkons: I don’t know. That was a lot. I think I just gave out my Social Security number.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s okay.
Rick Kiley: Don’t worry. Her Social Security number is 5 milligrams. Cool. Well, listen, it has been great talking to you. We always end our interviews by asking people to cast their predictions as to when they think cannabis will be federally legal. But this year, starting in 2022, we’re also adding if you have any predictions about the future of on-site consumption. So, maybe, in this case, we’ll just say, when will someone be able to go sit at a bar-like place and order a joint? So, those are the two we’re going to leave with.
Rachel Burkons: Yeah. I mean, you can go to a dispensary with a consumption lounge in many parts of California and other states today but to go and have a hospitality-driven experience, you’ll be able to have that in West Hollywood this year, if not early next year, and you’ll be able to have that in New York. My prediction is, let’s say 2024, 2025, those places make it open. And I think we will see federal legalization in 2024 if that’s how the Democrats want to stay in office.
Rick Kiley: It would be a good move. That’s awesome. Thank you so much. Rachel, it’s been great talking to you today. And you know, maybe we’ll do some business together. We’ll find a way to work together. That would be super fun. And then when you do hold that first really fancy event in the West Hollywood home, you can either invite us or come back and talk to us about it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Or we just show up. That’s always awkward.
Rachel Burkons: You guys can come. You guys can come. You’re invited.
Rick Kiley: Party crashers. All right. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
Jeffrey Boedges: Ooh yeah, like a pot wedding.
Rick Kiley: Okay. Okay. Good bye, everybody.