Though it's becoming increasingly legal to possess it, smoke it, eat it, and even sell it in medicinal, recreational, or retail settings, there's still one thing you can't do with cannabis.
"You can't — legally — drink alcoholic beverages with it," says Weston native Joe Durkin, cofounder of Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Distillers and head distiller for Fwaygo rum. "I want to help change that."
These days, Durkin is on a mission to prove that Mary Jane and rum are perfect companions, while also proposing that craft cocktails are a better way for everyone to consume cannabis "both safely and effectively." And he's not alone; instead, he's at the forefront of a growing trend in which brewers and distillers are experimenting with recipes in preparation for the day cannabis-infused spirits becomes legal.
"I think it is ridiculous that, as a distiller, I'm able to manufacture ethanol, but it's still illegal for me to grow what is, basically, a flower."
Here in South Florida, we're further behind the pot curve than Durkin would like.
While law currently makes possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana a first-degree misdemeanor in Broward County — punishable by a maximum jail term of one year and a $1,000 fine, as it is throughout much of Florida — Durkin is readying his Fort Lauderdale-based distillery for the day marijuana is legalized both on a state and federal level.
To do so, Durkin created a recipe he's dubbed Sour Diesel Fwaygo — named for his favorite strain — a cannabis-infused white rum flavored with lime and honey that offers imbibers a dose of activated Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive element of marijuana.
With the scent of a "fresh bud, similar to Sprite," the resulting spirit could be used to make flavorful cocktails that offer a "subtle body high," says Durkin.
So how do you get weed-infused liquor? Science!
Most old-school recipes call for mixing dried cannabis with a high-proof alcohol and storing the mixture in a dark space for several days or weeks. But Durkin says there are two problems with this method.
First, plant matter creates a thick, murky liquid that tastes (and smells) like swamp water. Second, without heating the marijuana to release the THC, the liquor is unable to absorb the potency of the cannabis.
"It's a waste of perfectly good alcohol and weed," says Durkin. "Instead, I want to create an infusion that's not only potent but also clean-tasting enough to mix well in a cocktail."
Rather than infuse buds into his rum, Durkin has perfected the process of decarboxylating weed — a fancy word for heating the marijuana at a low-enough temperature to activate the THC. From there, he uses a heat-tolerant whipped-cream container and a nitrous oxide charger to force active marijuana compounds into his Fwaygo rum. The potency varies but averages seven grams (or a quarter-ounce) of cannabis for 750 milliliters.
And, voilà: the creation of what could be South Florida's first THC-infused rum. The resulting product would be fresh-tasting with herbal, citrusy notes Durkin likens to herbs like rosemary, sage, or even hops.
Durkin has even experimented with a few cocktail recipes he thinks will work well with such a product; his favorite he calls the "Dank & Stormy," a shot of Sour Diesel Fwaygo mixed with ginger beer and fresh-squeezed lime juice and sweetened with a touch honey.
"It's not enough to get you blasted, but it will give you a nice, relaxed feeling," says Durkin. "A pleasurable high."
According to New Jersey-based mixologist, author, and "cocktail whisperer" spirit expert Warren Bobrow, cannabis-infused cocktails like Durkin's Dank & Stormy are the future of mixology, what he expects to become a growing trend as the decriminalization, legalization, and normalization of marijuana occurs nationwide.
Bobrow — whose parents are University of Miami alumni and former Miami residents — recently met Durkin during his return to the Magic City for the 2016 Rum Renaissance Festival that took place April 15 through 17. The two discussed the potential for future professional collaboration.
"We were talking about cocktails with cannabis infusions and how recipes like mine — mixed with premium liquors — can be a match made in heaven," says Bobrow. "When you mix marijuana and alcohol together, they play beautifully together."
He should know; Bobrow's most recent work is called Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics, a 160-page book featuring 75 cocktail recipes that use cannabis. When it hits store shelves June 1, it will be the first of its kind, according to Library of Congress records.
"To be clear, I'm not promoting this from the distillers' level but rather on the bartending level — creative bartenders interested in the homeopathic history of cannabis as a medicinal tonic, the same recipes that were being used right up until the 1940s," says Bobrow. "I believe, with this book, I'm in the right place to help make history."
Durkin hopes to make history too — as the first Florida distiller to legally brand and sell a cannabis-infused rum. Despite the fact that he can't promote, bottle, serve, or even make Sour Diesel Fwaygo as such, more than anything else, Durkin says his goal is to open people's minds to a different — and equally pleasurable — cannabis experience.
"From a bottle instead of a bong," says Durkin. "It's a great way for people who have never smoked — or don't want to smoke — to experience all the benefits of marijuana."
While it may seem ludicrous to think the federal regulators will ever allow the two substances to be combined and sold in the same product, the idea actually isn't that far out there. Right now you can find a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing it to be regulated and taxed like alcohol, meaning The Food and Drug Administration would have the same authority over marijuana as it does for alcohol.
As the regulatory landscape surrounding cannabis changes, distilleries already skilled at making a quality, cannabis-infused product will have the upper hand, adds Durkin.
"First and foremost, I'm an advocate for legalizing marijuana," says Durkin. "I believe that — in the next 5 to 10 years — cannabis will be a federally regulated substance and — like Warren — I see an opportunity to make an innovative and delicious product, while also making history."
South Florida Distillers is located at 1110 NE Eighth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-541-2868, or visit southfloridadistillers.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.