Cannabis cultivating spirit of Aspen mainstream
With dinners and special sales, businesses ratchet up efforts during X Games
By the time the third strain of cannabis came to the tables, accompanying a 2013 Malbec and roasted duck breast in a blackberry red wine reduction, the 54 people inside the Crystal Palace on Thursday night could be forgiven for feeling giddy.
Adults over 21 for months now have been able to get legal marijuana, but the two-hour Cultivate Your Roots dinner was something different altogether: an invitation-only gathering that saw five courses of gourmet food, wine and weed, which was plentiful and smoked openly inside the privately owned building.
The night was organized by Munch and Co., an event-production firm in Denver; Cultivating Spirits, a Silverthorne-based company that offers cannabis pairings, wine tastings and grow tours; and Native Roots, a company with multiple dispensaries in Colorado and a new branch that just opened in Aspen. The dinner was a way to introduce themselves to the community and spread the name of their brands, principals of the firms said.
Under Colorado and local laws, the private party, which went off with neither advertising nor tickets for admission, was legal.
“We did it in the format they requested,” said Rhett Jordan, a founding partner of Native Roots, of city of Aspen officials. “Cannabis is moving from rebellion to fun and celebration. What better way to do that than the X Games?”
Despite legalization, the night that then unfolded still invoked feelings perhaps not unlike those among imbibers on Dec. 6, 1933, the day after Prohibition ended: We can really do this?
On this night, yes, indeed.
Class is in session
The dinner was just one in a plethora of events in Aspen over the weekend that showed the marijuana industry in full throat. Those included $1 grams at the Silverpeak Apothecary ($1!), buck joints at the Stash dispensary, and a clothing designer, VapRwear Colorado, that has turned simple drawstrings on jackets into mouthpieces for vaporizers hidden elsewhere in the clothing.
The industry is expanding in interesting ways, and is taking pains to toe the line between responsible use of cannabis and a free-for-all experience now that the drug is legal.
Walking into the Crystal Palace on Thursday, an attendee saw place settings that included an individual pipe and lighter for each person; a gram or so of Durban Poison, the night’s first course of cannabis; and ashtrays and steel pokers with blown-glass bulbs on the end. Pulsing reggaeton played by Thievery Corporation DJ Congo Sanchez filled the ears, and aspen poles and stumps peopled the corners beneath the palace’s signature chandelier.
Philip Wolf, president of Cultivating Spirits, began the dinner with explanatory salutations.
“Some people might not consume cannabis, some people might not consume wine, but on the general level this is something we all love to do,” he said. “And everyone loves food. Cannabis goes great with food, wine goes great with food, so why don’t we incorporate it all together?”
Novices shouldn’t be forced to overindulge, while heavier smokers could “puff down,” Wolf said to laughter and applause.
“We want to educate people on cannabis,” he told the room. “It has such a negative light in mainstream America a lot of the time.”
He encouraged attendees to consider the attributes of the bud pairings, including the red hairs, the different shades of green and the terpenes, which are pungent oils that give a strain its distinct aroma. People smelled the Durbin Poison as a wine connoisseur might.
Attention drifted away from Wolf a bit as lighters clicked while he continued to talk about the 200 different types of terpenes in a given type of marijuana.
An attendee grumbled about snagging some Cheetos from the Shell gas station, but soon the first dish arrived, pistachio-crusted tuna tataki, seasoned with Japanese 7 spice and wasabi tofu foam. One of the hosts likened the mint in the dish “to the sativa we all just enjoyed.” With it was a spun beet salad tossed with a rice wine vinaigrette.
“Enjoy some wine. Enjoy some weed. Enjoy some beets,” Wolf said.
Soon, a beautiful woman with a partially shaved head and a headband delivered empty pill bottles so attendees could take home the cannabis that went un-smoked. This turned out to be a sizable amount.
To start off the second course, a large nugget of, appropriately enough, a strain called Headband was dropped off. The sativa-dominant hybrid went with wagyu tartare with Asian pear, fresh lemon, sesame oil and other ingredients, and a Blind Watchmaker white wine.
The immensity of the next 90 minutes was slowly starting to happily dawn on people. But fears (or hopes) of a Bacchanalian spectacle were not to be, as the sommelier from Denver-based Infinite Monkey Theorem said the wine selections were to be of limited pours.
Still, boisterous talk filled the tables as a host announced an indica type that “is very good for pain relief and very narcotic.” While dining on deep-fried baby octopus, a tablemate said he could no longer feel his feet.
The dinner ended with an insanely rich and delicious dark chocolate ganache torte and “Platinum Girl Scout Cookies,” the fifth and final cannabis pairing.
A feeling like one was a debaucherous royal was impossible to avoid.
Future is wide open
After the dinner, Wolf, who looks like Kurt Cobain’s twin, described his varied career in the cannabis field. He’s been a grower, dispensary owner and now is head of Cultivating Spirits.
“When it came to normalizing cannabis in North America, I thought, ‘How can I break into that,’” he said. “This industry is going to take off.”
Freddie Wyatt, president of Munch and Co., the event organizer, agreed. He said he and others had several meetings with local officials about what could take place within the city limits.
“The rules are pretty sticky, and they’re getting stickier every day,” Wyatt said.
Thursday’s dinner didn’t require a liquor license because it was held in the Crystal Palace, which Aspen developer Mark Hunt owns. Asked how Hunt responded to the request for the event, Wyatt said his extensive background helped with what he called “a very sensitive subject.”
He’s been organizing shindigs for 30 years — “I started with the Macy’s Day Parade and now I’m doing cannabis dinners,” he said — and last year obtained what he believes was the nation’s first cannabis insurance policy for an event from his insurer.
“I’ve operated for 12 years without an incident,” he said of marijuana-related parties. “My insurer said if [cannabis] is legal there, she was more than happy to write [the policy.]”
Josh Ginsberg, CEO of Native Roots, likened it to snowboarding, which initially drew outrage from skiers who thought boarders were tearing up the slopes.
“We’re here to show you how it can be done,” he said, adding that the expense of Thursday was “absolutely” money well-spent. “If nothing else, we had fun.”