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He doesn’t just make cocktails, he speaks to them! And cannabis. Yes, Warren Bobrow, a.k.a “The Cocktail Whisperer,” is a mixologist-budtender extraordinaire who knows more about cocktails and cannabis than Google itself, and if you do indeed google his name, you’ll find that he’s also the author of severalbooks on the subject matter, including his latest, Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzz-Worthy Libations.
Being cocktail and cannabis enthusiasts ourselves, we sat down recently with Warren to discuss his latest work and learn more about his love for cocktails, cannabis, and the art of fusing the two together for the ultimate cannabis concoction.
As we sit down at the bar to start the interview, I notice a gnome resting on Warren’s shoulder. Yes, a fuckin’ gnome! Weird? Sure. Fun? Most definitely.
So first off, I see you’ve brought a little friend over with you today. Who is he?
His name is Klaus. And in all fairness, he’s a persona all onto himself.
Is that so?
And is that why you brought him?
It certainly is. I think life can be so very serious, and that’s coming from someone who worked at a bank for twenty years! So why not lighten things up a bit and have a gnome to travel with? I’m on the road so much and he’s been known to make people smile. In fact, he’s more famous than I am. I believe he’s a Griebel Gnome, from Germany. He dates back to the mid 19th century.
And how about you? How far back do you date?
(Laughs) Well, I graduated from Emerson College back in 1985, so that should give you an idea.
And you said you used to be in banking? Banker. Bartender. What else?
Well, I graduated with a degree in Communications and ended up working in NYC as a TV engineer for my first post-college gig. I did a stint of “hard” news editing at WPIX TV and at WNET, as well as the PBS station as an engineer. I also worked at a famous NYC nightclub called Danceteria. It’s debatable what I did, but if my memory serves me correct, it included video and an elevator.
That sounds both wild and freaky. Not sure which of more. And is that where you got into bartending?
(Laughs) Not exactly. Growing up, my family traveled extensively to Europe as an international tax lawyer for my grandfather’s company—a global pharmaceutical company that made snake oil whiskey masqueraded as vitamin tonic, after-shave solutions, shaving creams, and laxatives.
Nothing like some good ‘ol fashioned snake oil laxative to get the insides moving.
That’s for sure!
So it was through traveling the world that you fell into bartending??
Well it was through traveling that I discovered my passion for food. My parents were total immersion travelers. We would rent a car and drive for months around Europe, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Scandinavia, and a ton of other beautiful cities and countries, and we would just eat and drink and laugh, and all these memories were constantly being burned into my brain.
And they’re still burning today, huh? What time period are we talking about?
It was the 1960’s/1970’s, when travel certainly wasn’t where it is today. This all had a tremendous influence on me and how I grew up. When my career in television disappeared—mostly due to my own efforts—I just wanted to get into a kitchen and try and rehash some of those memories. And so I became a pot scrubber.
A pot scrubber?
Yup, but not that kind of pot. (Laughs) I rented a carriage house in York Harbor, Maine for a winter season to listen to the ocean and try to forget NYC for a while, and one night I dreamt about my childhood ambition of becoming a chef. And so I trotted up to the York Harbor Inn, knocked on the kitchen door and introduced myself. I asked the chef if he needed any apprentice cooks. He said no, but that he was in need of a pot scrubber. So I said, “Sure, I can do that!”
Fast forward to five years ago— I had lost my corporate banking job and wasn’t sure where I was heading in life, especially at 50 years old. I went to visit my friend, chef Anthony Bucco at the Ryland Inn in New Jersey and asked if he needed help at the bar. He introduced me to Christopher James, the gentleman running the bar program, and Chris made me his bar back—the rest is history! From there I excelled and became the experienced mixologist that I am today.
Yes, the “Cocktail Whisperer,” correct? How did you end up earning that moniker?
Well, I was writing for an online magazine called Served Raw, and they anointed me with the name because of my passion for flavor and balance. By then I was a trained cook specializing in soups, stocks, and sauces, and although I wasn’t particularly any good, passion went a long way.
And still does… speaking of which, it seems that passion has now led you to become a full-fledged author, no? I mean, 4 books! That’s quite an accomplishment. How did you go from writing for a small online magazine to publishing several books of your own?
Well, actually, there are five books. My fifth will be released in May 2017. It’s called The Craft Cocktail Compendium. It’ll be sold on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as a broad range of indie book stores globally.
As for the actual writing, I’ll be honest, I never really wrote all that much before 2009, but I always knew what I wanted to say, so actually putting my fingers to the keyboard thankfully came quite naturally. And while I’m certainly lucky to do what I love, it by no means came easy. I was forced by necessity to write for nearly two years without pay, and during that time there was complete financial destruction—loss of my home, my job, my whole life being uprooted and changed… it was definitely quite difficult, but thankfully I pushed forward and was able to get to where I am today. And to that end, I love it! And love writing, especially about things I’m so passionate about.
And what was the first book you actually wrote?
My first book was Apothecary Cocktails. Basically a day in the life of the early apothecary. It was all about keeping in mind the health origins of many of the now common cocktails you’ll find at speakeasy bars across the country, like the Sazerac and the Sailor’s Grog. Drinking a fine Navy Grog was initially for good health, not the buzz. Back then the water was often poisonous so you drank red wine in your drinking water to see if it was safe. Dysentery, a most insidious disease, was staved off by the consumption of many of the apothecary cocktails invented in the early 19th century. Brilliant red Peychaud’s Bitters were also invented in the early 19th century, and the popular Angostura bitters did more than just add a spicy depth to your Manhattan cocktail. When you had sea-sickness, a tablespoon of Angostura could mean not spending your time behind the helm sitting instead of standing.
Wow, pretty fascinating. And your latest book, Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks and Buzz-Worthy Libations… how did you come to write that? To mix cannabis and cocktails together?
Well, I’m fascinated by flavor, and I also like getting buzzed—yes, I smoke weed! Have for many years now, and that certainly is the premise of the book. I like the way cannabis makes me feel. It stimulates my intellect, among other things. I’ve written five books under its beguiling influence, and no one can say that people who smoke cannabis are any less intellectual, or even serious, than those who don’t. It’s an expansion to my inquisitive nature. I’m horrified that it’s still so vilified. I’d much rather enjoy smoking cannabis than drinking, but with that said, I figured out a way to combine the two based on my love for the plant and my past experiences bartending and crafting cocktails, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Turns out cannabis and cocktails work great together!
They certainly do, and we can more than attest to that here. We’ve worked with several bartenders and mixologists in the past—particularly in the summer months—to create original cannabis and cocktail pairings as well as several infused cocktails, and they sure do taste great, not to mention make for a great buzz.
And besides edibles and drinkables, how else do you like to enjoy your cannabis? I see you’ve got a vaporizer pen with you? What kind is it? And what sort of strain are you vaping?
It’s a RemPen Slim, and I’m enjoying their sativa blend. Pretty floral and quite lovely—a nice easy buzz. Nothing too overwhelming at all.
That does sound nice. And do you typically enjoy it all day, every day? Are you an everyday cannabis user?
Definitely. All day if possible. I enjoy the expansion and aural appreciation from being stoned.
What about your preferred method? Vape pen and oil? Wax? Flower?
I like the oil. It’s easy on my lungs and very discrete. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more pleasing than sharing a nice fat joint with friends—that’s certainly an art form as acute as drinking a bottle of well-aged wine and enjoying a perfectly roasted duck. That being said, for me, as an everyday method, I’m an oil man.
And how about strains? Are you more of an indica guy? Sativa? Hybrid? Or does it all just depend on your mood and situation?
I’m pretty even-steven most of the day. Also, beggars can’t often be choosers, so what I can get is not always my preference. I do like indica for the body numbing qualities, but sativa is my choice for brain power. Again though, unfortunately it’s not always up to me.
What about edibles? What’s your take on those? Do you enjoy them? Experiment with them at all in the kitchen?
I love edibles and I wouldn’t be the authority that I am today on cannabis cocktails without having enjoyed them. That being said, I don’t really cook or bake them that much.
Fair enough. Well, since we are at a bar and are discussing your latest cocktail book, what are some of your favorite spirits and liquors to work with? And to indulge in, of course.
I’m a huge fan of rum and Rhum—the difference is striking. Rhum Agricole from Martinique is freshly crushed sugar cane, pot stilled, and white French Oak aging, which all makes me a very happy man. I’m really a Jamaican Rum fanatic. It’s the dunder, the wild yeast, the funk, the pot stills! I love Guyanese Rum for its flavor, which I often find somewhat similar to Scotch. And I always get green pepper in there. Maybe just me. I love the Absinthe produced by Ted Breaux in France. The fine Bourbon from Barrell Bourbon, Gin from Barr Hill in Vermont. And of course where would I be without Sorel or Uncouth Vermouth? I’m a Brandy-head too. Unfortunately I can’t name those off the top of my head at the moment.
That sativa blend coming in strong, huh?
(Laughs) Nah, just my memory coming in short.
And how about cocktails? What are some of your favorites to make? And are they the same favorites you like to drink yourself?
I’m pretty easy going. A cocktail that I need everyone to know about is made with Mezan XO rum from Jamaica. I take a portion of Fruitations Tangerine soda and cocktail mixer and shake it up, then finish with good ol’ Angostura and a splash of seltzer. Or when I’m sailing and am fortunate enough to have a Mezan Panama and Mexican Coke, with plenty of Angostura and lime against a scurvy. I also love a milk punch and of course a rum punch. Hot buttered rum is my go-to, and of course Barenjager Honey Bourbon with hot tea. Stroh 160 when I’m cold to the bone—served in a collins glass, of course, with plenty of freshly scraped nutmeg and grilled grapefruit juice… yum!
Wow, that’s quite an eclectic list. And speaking of eclectic, you’ve obviously worked a lot of interesting events over the years with a lot of interesting people. What are some of the more memorable ones? Any fun stories?
Well, being in Russia for the Moscow Bar Show—that was certainly one to remember. When I arrived in Russia via Belgium, the customs guy—in a very blank face—said my last name as my grandfather would have said it, and then he said, “welcome back!” Scary, in a way, but after it took a second or two to settle, a bit comforting as well. As for the people I’ve served and the places I’ve served them, I try to keep a tight lip and never do too much talking about that. Private banking taught me well…
Apparently. Maybe after a few more vape hits and a some sips of this cocktail you’ve made us and you’ll change your mind….
(Laughs) Maybe. But doubtful.
And how about the future? What’s next for “The Cocktail Whisperer?” Any new or exciting projects or books in the works?
Making my bills and doing what I love. I honestly can’t think much further than that. And thankfully, at the ripe young age of 55, I don’t have to!
Well good for you! And finally, before we let you go, tell us, honestly, on a scale of 1-10, exactly how high are you right now?
Oh… pretty much like I always like to be—a nice, peaceful stone. And I’ll smile more today because of it. Yup, all is good and well. Here, have a hit…
Photography by David DuPuy