The CBD train is chugging along across the country, but few cities already have the regulatory tracks in place like Denver.
In addition to approving recreational marijuana in 2012, Colorado voters also legalized industrial hemp, so CBD derived from the latter was already legal here when the federal government legalized hemp last year. Denver bakeries, coffee shops and even pizzerias have added hemp CBD to their dishes and drinks without worrying much about persecution from local and state law enforcement or health and agriculture departments.
But despite the legal freedom, Denver's bars largely weren't hip to adding the non-intoxicating cannabinoid to their drinks, even as their peers in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere were doing so without the same government approval. Take a seat at the bar inside the Nickel at Hotel Teatro, though, and you'll notice that's starting to change.
Prominently featured in the Nickel's drink lineup are takes on White Russian and limoncello cocktails, both infused with approximately 12 milligrams of CBD oil. Flavored with black pepper and turmeric, the oil is used as a relaxing garnish, according to Teatro food and beverage manager Derrick Odom.
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Odom was thinking about expanding the hotel's bar crowd, which heavily comprised theater-goers attending shows at the nearby at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, when his boss asked him about CBD. "He asked me if we could make it work, and I'm all about finding different niches for our beverage program," Odom explains. "And it seemed like Denver hadn't really done this, which was disappointing."
Habit Doughnut Dispensary will also add CBD to alcoholic drinks upon request — but the Nickel is the first bar we could find that regularly features drinks on the menu specifically crafted with CBD in mind.
Shortly after the New Year, the Nickel debuted the Chill Lebowski — a White Russian with chili liqueur, espresso, honey syrup, Frangelico, egg white and CBD oil — and the Super Lemon Haze, a concoction of housemade limoncello, ginger liqueur, cherry bitters, whipped cream and CBD oil. The Nickel bartenders will also add the CBD oil to any other cocktail upon request, Odom adds.
"I played with about ten different drinks first. I wanted to play off the effect of the egg white and coffee. Citrus also stood out to me," he says. "When you stop thinking about it, you kind of realize the different feeling, and how your tension or anxiety has disappeared."
The Super Lemon Haze is now the bar's second-most popular cocktail behind the classic old-fashioned, Odom says. Employees have also enjoyed the new venture, he adds, after bringing in CBD manufacturer Ashlae Warner to educate bartenders and servers about what it is and how it can affect you while drinking alcohol.
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Warner founded her CBD company, Supergood, shortly after getting into the regulated THC edibles industry in 2016 with her husband. Already used to heavy regulation, she thought adding hemp CBD was a natural and easy evolution for hospitality businesses.
"I think that THC and alcohol is a problem, because they're both [intoxicants]. But CBD isn't intoxicating, so there's no concern there," she says. "I don't want these kinds of products available in grocery stores or a boutique, where someone might not know where they're talking about, but I can go into a restaurant and do some in-person training with their employees."
The Nickel's success with CBD has led Odom to tinker with other possible CBD-infused drinks for the future, he says, as well as expand the bar's cannabinoid content. In April, the restaurant plans to hold a series of CBD-infused dinners for a select group of diners.
"The stigma is gone now. When customers see CBD on the menu, they only want to know more," he adds.