In this special report, we highlight some of the unsung heroes in culinary innovation. Read more about creative approaches to five signature menu items here.
There’s a lot of chatter about how the cannabis and foodservice industries can work together, most of it having to do with adding cannabidiol, or CBD, to food and drink, and some of it about how to use the psychoactive part of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, in restaurants, which might sound fun but is still illegal under most circumstances.
But there are also technologies that Big Cannabis uses and that foodservice can benefit from. For example, Colorado, which is at the forefront of recreational marijuana treats like gummies, chocolates and beverages spiked with THC or CBD, now has companies that specialize in extracting those substances from cannabis plants.
From left: Camp Firewood Cooler, Tigerclaw Smash and Activate The Falcon (see cocktail descriptions at the end of the story).
If they can extract essences from weed, why not from other plants?
That was the thinking of McLain Hedges, co-owner with Mary Allison Wright of RiNo Yacht Club, a cocktail bar in Denver that is currently moving from its previous location in The Source food hall to an as-yet-undisclosed spot.
Hedges has been at the cutting edge of cutting down on waste, making a variant of orgeat out of avocado pits and corn “milk” out of cobs and husks. So it pained him to look in his dump sink at the end of a shift and see it full of leftover mint, citrus peels and spices that were used as garnish. He wondered if the cannabis extraction companies he was familiar with might be able to do something with the waste.
“That’s where a lot of the initial conversation started with us,” he said. “How do we take some of these technologies that are in our market … and use that to our advantage?”
RiNo Yacht Club co-owners Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges.
He began designating one dump sink each night to a specific collection of flavors that he thought would go well together — say, mint, citrus and peppercorns, or ginger, lemon grass and chile. He’d collect those combinations for a month or more, freezing them at the end of each night, until he had a large enough collection to extract some real flavor.
Then he’d take them to a lab, which would first extract the flavorful, highly concentrated, mostly oil-based flavors from the dump sink collection, and then distill the water-soluble elements out into an intensely flavored tincture suitable for use in cocktails.
Although CBD oil is a trendy ingredient in cocktails, Hedges said he didn’t want his tinctures — or “dump sinktures,” as he calls them — floating on top of his cocktails or, in the case of iced drinks, possibly hardening. So he has the labs take the extra step of creating water-soluble substances.
A dump sinkture for the winter included combined extracts of mint, grapefruit and lemon peels and peppercorn. One called “Spring” combines essences of green strawberry, white flower, chamomile and lemon peel.
The Thai dump sinkture is made from ginger, dehydrated lime, lemon grass, chile threads and basil.
Ultimately, Hedges would like to refine the process and create more sweeping solutions for bar waste, possibly collecting the leavings of dump sinks from many bars to create standardized extracts.
In the meantime, Hedges has used his products to make cocktails such as A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. For that drink he combines an ounce each of either Tanuki sake or Funaguchi sake and coconut water, a quarter ounce of turmeric juice, half an ounce of salted lime juice and three quarters of an ounce of a syrup Hedges makes from spent tea leaves. He finishes the drink with three dashes of Thai dump sinkture.
“A few drops go a really long way,” he said.
Three RiNo Yacht Club cocktails
Camp Firewood Cooler: Lustau Fino & Manzanilla sherries, strawberry tomato water, salted citrus and Thai basil
Tigerclaw Smash: George Dickel whiskey custom made for RiNo Yacht Club, Palisade peach, corn milk, smoked lemon and mint
Activate the Falcon: Elijah Craig whiskey custom made for RiNo Yacht Club, Gran Classico bitters, maple, cucumber and absinthe
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
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