Now that ganja has gone gourmet, consumers are looking to go beyond simply getting high. Now they are seeking higher-level experiences.
With so many strains to choose from, and so many flavors and differing sensations, there’s a growing awareness that cannabis can be carefully paired with alcoholic beverages to heighten the effects of both.
It’s an idea that’s gaining mainstream attention, with publications ranging from Modern Farmer to Wine Enthusiast and even the venerable Smithsonian recently running articles on the topic. And it’s been on the minds of Alaska wine sellers and aficionados as well.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What should I pair my wine with?,” Juneau’s Keith Crocker said. “It could be salmon, could be steaks, why not cannabis? Because if you’re consuming something at the same time as you’re consuming wine, it would make sense to pair it. Because at that point it’s part of the experience. It’s going to make the wine better, and it’s going to make whatever you’re consuming better.”
Crocker, who has a level two diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and who has long worked in the food and beverage industry – he’s currently a sales representative with Specialty Imports – has been both a wine and a weed enthusiast throughout his adult life. He said the same thing he’s learned pairing wine with food also applies when combining it with cannabis. While there are those who insist that only certain wines should be paired with certain foods or cannabis strains, “There are no hard and fast rules with pairing anything. If it works for you, then that’s a perfect pairing.”
His advice was echoed by Mark Winans, a longtime Fairbanks resident who has spent 30 years in food and beverage, including 15 in distribution. “Just like in the world of food and wine pairings, there aren’t any fast rules,” he said.
For Winans, the starting point for any pairing of the two consumables is finding complementary olfactory elements.
“When it comes to weed, what I think is, you’re pairing more the aromas of the cannabis and the aromas and the flavors in the wine. There’s opposite and there’s complementary. Mainly what is in weed is the terpenes, those chemicals that give weed its aromas. If you smell a really great indica, I almost like the smell of it better than I like the smoking of it. It’s the same thing with wine. I almost like the aromas of wine better than I like the flavors sometimes.”
Try these pairings
Asked to provide examples of how this would work when consuming the two together, Winans said, “The earthiness of an indica, that skunkiness, you would pair that with the same profile on the nose of a real earthy pinot noir, or an earthy cabernet or syrah. Where if you’re going to be pairing a white wine such as a Riesling or Sauvignon blanc, you’re going to want to go with a terpene profile of more fruitiness, the Mango Kush or something that has more tropical fruit aromas.”
Crocker also zeroes in on scents. “The best way to start with pairing is, you get a lot of these Blueberry Kush or blueberry smells and flavors from cannabis. You could pair that with a basic merlot. Because the pinots are really blueberry forward or fruit forward on these entry level merlots.”
“I’ve had an older vintage Rhone wine that had all these amazing lavender and violet smells, and that’s something you could pair well with cannabis,” Crocker added. “Because sometimes you do find a violet smell in certain strains.”
Crocker went on to say that, “One of my personal favorites is Lemon Haze or any hybrid that is high in limonene, which is a terpene.” He suggested that a Sancerre, a white Burgundy, or a sauvignon blanc would work well with strains high in limonene. “You’re getting those lemon notes, which are common in those types of wines.”
Winans, who is currently taking a breather from work while assisting his aging mother, has been experimenting with wine and cannabis pairings and has also found that fruitier tasting variations of both work well together. “Just like a good pinot noir and a fresh Alaskan salmon, lately I’ve been doing a lot of white wines,” he said. “A lot of sauvignon blancs with the mango kush is a great pairing.”
Alternatively, he added, “there’s a strain called Northern Lights, which is an indica. And the grassiness of the sauvignon blanc, especially the California sauvignon blancs, as opposed to the New Zealand sauvignon blancs that are more tropical fruit driven, really pair with that Northern Lights strain.”
With their years of experience coupling wines with food, both Crocker and Winans have also given thought to ways that consumers can enjoy both with their cannabis.
Crocker proposed that, “You could do a trifecta of flavors where you have the Bleu Cheese strain of cannabis, which is indica, then you would get some real bleu cheese, and pair together with a wine that would highlight these bleu cheese flavors. Half of flavor is the smell, so if you’re smoking Bleu Cheese strain, you’re getting that bleu cheese smell and flavor in your mouth through smoking, then you’re eating bleu cheese, it makes sense that you complement it with wine. Then you have a really interesting experience.”
He suggested a lighter red for this tripling, or perhaps a Hungarian Tokaji. This wine is sweet, and the grapes it is fermented from have a mold that is found in the flavor that complements bleu cheese.
Winans’ thoughts ran more toward Alaska cuisine. “A nice, freshly caught Copper River sockeye with an Oregon or California pinot noir or French Burgundy would pair perfectly with some strains of weed,” he said. “I would probably start the evening off with imbibing in cannabis. And then that would just lead right into the food and the wine side of the pairings. Because as we know, marijuana enhances your appetite.”
Winans also offered advice on the best way to consume cannabis in a fine dining with wine situation. “When it comes to wine and cannabis parings, the way I like to use the cannabis is through a vaporizer. It gives you more sensual smells. And that’s how we taste everything. We taste it through our olfactory, through our nose, more than we taste it through our mouth. I think vaporizing it makes it more of a pleasant experience.”
But not too creative
Both Winans and Crocker encouraged people to experiment and find what they enjoy most. “Sometimes you’ll find something that you never expected” Crocker said. But, he added, “Go into it with a little bit of an idea of what you’re looking for and what you’re trying to do, rather than doing it willy nilly.”
Another thing both cautioned against was over-indulging. Crocker advised pairing a low THC cannabis with a high alcohol content wine, or vice versa. “Experience is a big part of the equation for this type of pairing,” he said.
Winans offered similar observations, noting that “Higher alcohol level wines might counteract the effects of cannabis. You’ve got to be real careful. A big monster Cabernet and a big skunky indica, all you’re going to do is go to sleep.” Thus, he advised, “Don’t go overboard. Everything in moderation.”
If you’re looking for a mellow high without getting too wasted, Winans said, “It really only takes one puff of it and then enjoy your wine. Because it takes a little time for the effects of marijuana to hit you, but you can enjoy the wine throughout the evening.”
For Crocker as well, the goal is to have a pleasant time.
“The whole idea is to accentuate what you’re consuming it with to make the experience more interesting and more flavorful and fun all around, he said, adding, “Now that it’s legal, wine and cannabis lend themselves to relaxation. Why not pair it? It makes sense.”
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.