Feast is Portland's biggest food festival, but it's really a celebration of consumption in all its forms. It's no surprise, then, that discussions of where cannabis fits into the wider world of food and drink have found their way into the festival.
This year, that includes a panel discussion called "Cannabis & Cocktails: Best Buds?"—an exploration into the emerging relationship between pot and booze. Moderated by journalist Jason Horn, the Los Angeles connoisseur of food, drink and travel, the talk will feature input from Imbibe scribe Paul Clarke, L.A. drink blogger Prairie Rose, Portland's premier weed scientist, Jeremy Plumb, and Abe Stevens of Northern California's Humboldt Distillery, whose hemp-infused vodka recently medaled at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
In advance of the panel, WW spoke to Horn about the future of cannabis-infused alcohol, particularly whether you can ever combine the two in a way that tastes half decent.
WW: What interests you about cannabis and cocktails?
Jason Horn: It's just an area that's a mystery. There's really been no science around it, nobody's really willing to talk publicly about combining them, so it's just a very strange part of the world.
Where do you see the relationship between cannabis and alcohol headed?
I know that Big Alcohol is putting a lot of money into cannabis. I think they either see it as an opportunity or they're terrified. I feel like where it might go with legalization is kind of the same way that liquor went, where there's this three-tier system. For cannabis, it would be the growers and manufacturers; for liquor, it's the brewers and winemakers and distillers. This is going to be something we're going to talk about a lot at the panel as well—whether or not that's a good model. But I feel like if they're putting money into cannabis, that might be where they're trying to steer it. I definitely do feel like national legalization is coming. We're over that hump. It might be a few years, but it's definitely on its way.
What do you think the relationship between cannabis and alcohol will look like post-federal decriminalization?
The big problem is that we don't know. There's literally no science because it was literally illegal to study. So we don't know what happens when you combine cannabis and alcohol. We have an idea of what happens when you combine caffeine and alcohol, for instance, but we just don't know. Honestly, I don't feel like people will really want to combine them that much. I feel like you want one or the other, but not really both at the same time. I do think it means, as a whole, that people will be drinking less alcohol, which is bad for the liquor industry.
Will it be possible to produce a THC- or hemp-infused beverage that doesn't taste terrible?
I think so. There are a lot of technologies out there to create edibles of different kinds. Basically, their goal is to create some sort of THC extract that essentially has no flavor that you can put into anything. So if you perfect that, then yeah, you can put it in literally anything.
What excites you most about the future of cannabis and alcohol?
Right now, there is very little connoisseurship in cannabis, and coming from the food and drink world—where there are whiskey geeks, gin geeks, rum geeks, cocktail geeks—there's this whole world of cannabis and different types of strains and different edibles. There's not the cannabis equivalent yet of 25-year-old scotch, for example. I try my best to keep up with what's happening, and it really is the Wild West. Half the time I walk into the dispensary and something has changed. I'm interested to see how it settles into a normal consumer market.
SEE IT: Feast presents Cannabis & Cocktails at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 98 SW Naito Parkway, on Saturday, Sept. 14. 2:15 pm. $45.