With 4/20 just around the corner, it seems the perfect opportunity to discuss the merits of stirring cannabis cocktails. I’m usually hard pressed to find bartenders who really know the physical differences between stirring and shaking a cocktail—any cocktail. Now, add to that equation fragile ingredients that you may not want to pulverize and turn into overly green (read: botanical) flavors like cannabis, and those differences become even more important.
One of the most unpleasant of all overly-green flavors is mint. When it is excessively manipulated, the aromatics and essences resemble that of mud. And no one wants to drink mud. You may have witnessed this yourself in batched up Kentucky Derby cocktails, where the mint is added to the ice the day before, frozen, and then topped with bourbon just prior to serving. The end result is a muddy mess that screams for a fresh glass, new mint, and clean ice.
Why Stir Cannabis Cocktails?
Stirring a cocktail by hand is a gentler and kinder way to work with delicate ingredients. It simply requires a clean vessel and clean, neutral ice that has been unadulterated by the scent of an unclean freezer. One technical ingredient that I work with is cannabis. I’ve learned through practice that cannabis cocktails taste better when stirred instead of shaken. The physical action of shaking turns the tantalizing aromatics of cannabis into a muddled brown mess. Besides, shaking is violent. Given the fact that shaking creates dilution, shaken cocktails naturally have more than just the liquor in it. That relaxing drink will not have balance, nor depth. What it will have is diluted ice—aka water—affecting the technical aspects of the cocktail. When working with cannabis in a craft cocktail, one must try to minimize the amount of water, as that water thins the healing herbs and results in slimy, dark, off-putting flavors.
When creating a cannabis-infused craft cocktail, the THC-infused liquor must be treated with care and humility. First of all, to chill down a THC-infused drink, the vessel should feature the largest chunk of ice that will comfortably fit inside the container. Then you should use a long bar spoon, one that will deftly spin the ice around the vessel, chilling the fragile herbs without breaking or muddling them into a mess of unpleasant aromatics.
Cannabis, Meet Lemonade
Vietnamese-style “lemonade” forms the backbone of this simple cocktail that must be stirred over the much more ferocious shake. This little sipper, served in a Collins glass, can be finished with a floater of funky Jamaican rum. The aromatics and flavors of rum balance well against the sour notes of New York Sour Diesel, a cannabis strain available on the East Coast. The sourness and fuel-like flavors of the cannabis meld themselves into the salty-acerbic flavors of the Vietnamese-style lemonade.
Vietnamese Lemonade is made with sun-preserved lemons that have been rolled in salt before the preservation begins. From there, I utilize a cannabis-infused simple syrup and spring water, and then finish it all with the Jamaican rum. It’s a carefully built punch with a capital P. Or, in this case, it’s a “ponch,” as we’re using the French spelling of the word.
Tản Viên Sơn Thánh Ponch
4 oz Vietnamese Lemonade
1 oz THC-infused simple syrup*
0.5 oz Jamaican Rum
Preserved lemon slice
Lemon for garnish
Muddle preserved lemon slice in a cocktail mixing vessel. Add a couple large cubes of ice. Pour in the Vietnamese Lemonade and cannabis simple syrup. Stir exactly 30 times to chill, but not overly dilute. Strain into a chilled Collins glass that has cannabis smoke added to the glass. Float about one half ounce of Jamaican rum on top. Garnish with lemon zest, and dot with Angostura Bitters.
*THC-Infused Simple Syrup
8 oz demerara sugar
8 oz spring water
2 g medical-grade decarbed cannabis of your choice
1-2 T organic food-grade lecithin
Slowly heat sugar, cannabis, water, and lecithin in a double boiler. Do not boil, but lightly simmer for about an hour, adding a bit more spring water as needed. You should finish with about one cup of dark colored liquid.
Author’s note: To keep from taking too much THC in your craft cocktails, it’s essential to teach that less is more. Start with a minuscule amount of THC—I suggest no more than one gram per one cup of simple syrup—and work up from there.