The Pot Sommelier: Weed Next to Wine at the Dinner Table
To your left, a fork and a wineglass. To your right, a pipe for your pot.
The pipe, with lighter and ashtray, are yours to keep at the end of a meal catered by Cultivating Spirits, which pairs dishes with wines and—it promises—just the right kind of cannabis.
“We are adding a third layer onto your dinner experience,” said its 31-year-old founder, Philip Wolf, who started the Silverthorne, Colo., company in early 2014. Wolf has two full-time employees and, after bootstrapping for two years, recently received a verbal commitment for a $400,000 investment.
He's one of the nation’s first accredited cannabis sommeliers, having completed two levels of schooling at the Trichome Institute in Denver. It's one of a handful of such schools, greatly outnumbered by the many certification programs for wine sommeliers. The legal-marijuana industry is in its infancy, with recreational use permitted in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C., and it's on the ballot in eight states this year.
Trichome calls its program Interpening, which refers to “a method used to identify and understand cannabis variety, based on interpreting the plant’s terpenes and flower structure. Scientifically speaking, terpenes are evaporating molecular hydrocarbon chains that produce scent.” Wolf “will break down the strain of cannabis and give that over to the chef,” he said. “We don’t prepare the menu until two days before the event, to utilize the freshest ingredients.”
A typical menu features a ribeye steak with chili relleno, a 2013 Malbec, and Gorilla Glue. For dessert, there’s a white chocolate creme brûlée with a 2012 Petite Syrah, and Blue Dream. The protocol is puff, eat, drink, in that order, though it's more a sensible suggestion than a rule, and it's hard to imagine anyone getting upset at a breach, especially as the meal goes on. Wolf doesn't expect weed to replace wine at the dinner table.
“If anything, I think it’ll take something away from hard alcohol,” as the slow, deliberate tasting experience of wine and marijuana makes for a better pair than food and cocktails, he said.
Most restaurants charge handsomely for a dinner with wine pairings. Adding weed to the mix only increases the price. The minimum cost of a three-course pairing dinner catered by Wolf is $1,250, which provides enough of everything to entertain a group of 10. The company, which caters at least five events a month, served 56 people for dinner on opening night of X Games in January 2015.
Cultivating Spirits targets bachelor, bachelorette, and birthday parties, as well as the wedding industry. In January, Wolf helped organize the Cannabis Wedding Expo, where his catering services were presented alongside smokable bouquets and venues that allow smoking. A full-service wedding package from Wolf's company approaches $10,000, with additional a la carte services like managing the "bud bar" and a pre-wedding cannabis-tasting available.
Many of Wolf’s customers are millennials treating themselves for a special event, he said, as well as affluent women hosting an alternative dinner party.
“What I’m trying to teach millennials is to slow down a little bit, to get in tune with themselves and what they’re putting in their bodies, to focus on different tastes and textures,” Wolf said. He added that he doesn’t target that demographic exclusively.
“I feel like cannabis is something for all walks of life,” he said.