After a historic 2019 debut at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, cannabis earned another seat at the culinary festival’s coveted table (Sept. 10-12, 2021).
The three-day outdoor event marked a triumphant return following the cancellation of the 2020 summer edition, rescheduled instead against an autumn alpine backdrop. Headliners from Martha Stewart, Guy Fieri and Andrew Zimmern to Bravo “Top Chefs” including Melissa King, Shota Nakajima and Kwame Onwauchi toasted to gathering again, leading a full slate of tastings and seminars to a sold-out crowd — smaller this year, as organizers responded to the ongoing effects of the pandemic by hosting about half of its usual capacity (2,500 festivalgoers were also required to confirm vaccination).
Since first embracing CBD-forward brands two years ago, the Meredith Corporation-owned media company has furthered its interest in cannabis as it relates to the food and wine worlds — in 2020, the magazine published its first in-depth report on the subject and has seen an increase in reader response for infused recipes and news items, according to Food & Wine editor-in-chief Hunter Lewis.
“We’ve worked to cover cannabis in a serious way for our readers — to inform and provide insight to help our audience better understand and navigate this emerging space. Consumer perceptions and consumption patterns have been changing in a major way,” shared Lewis. “Given the growing legalization and mainstreaming of cannabis culture in the country and Colorado’s presence as a leader in the industry, it’s only natural that you will continue to see CBD integrated in the magazine and at the Classic very organically.”
The three CBD companies who were invited to partake — CarryOn, Lord Jones and Red Belly Honey — were ultimately selected because they “are all high-end brands that support people’s wellness mission,” stated Food & Wine Classic in Aspen executive director Diella Allen. Beyond official participants, other cannabis brands hosted activations over the course of the weekend to capitalize on the captive audience of tastemakers in town.
“We look for brands that align with the Classic’s attendees and the editorial mission when selecting exhibitors for the event,” explained Allen. “This is how we select all exhibitors — are they newsworthy? Has Food & Wine covered them? Do they enhance the experience by introducing them to new products and sharing new trends?”
From Ocean Spray’s CBD beverage launch to a superfood infused by bees, here are five top takeaways from the 38th Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Upon entering the iconic white tents of the Grand Tasting Pavilion, the first sight many passholders set their sights on was a colorful, candy shop-esque display table by Lord Jones — arguably the original “luxury cannabis” brand to emerge in the post-legalization era.
“There is nothing like the ritual of starting any experience with a Lord Jones Old Fashioned Hemp-Derived CBD Gumdrop, so this placement as the first touchpoint before entering the event was kismet,” reflected Lord Jones general manager Summer Frein. “The world of food and wine in and of itself is an art — there is a meticulousness that goes hand-in-hand with achieving culinary success. We have always felt that cannabis deserved a seat at the this table.”
Founded in 2017 and acquired for $300 million by Cronos in 2019, the Los Angeles-based company is still the authority for decadent (and effective) CBD-infused edibles, tinctures and skincare. While not an exhibitor in the pavilion, Lord Jones was for sale at the Classic’s “Mercantile,” where guests were personally guided by Frein and her ambassador team — donning custom-embroidered pink jumpsuits by Free People — as they shopped.
“We felt that this was the perfect audience to share the delight of our best-in-class products,” Frein added. “Our brand has become synonymous with ‘award show season’ for many years as a red carpet essential — we’ve worked with the Academy Awards, SAG Awards and Telluride Film Festival, but this was our first in-person food event. Being spotlighted here really gives everyone participating an industry-wide stamp of approval.”
Following in the footsteps of corporations like Molson Coors and Constellation Brands entering into the infused drinks category, Ocean Spray is the first non-alcoholic, mainstream beverage brand to introduce its own line of plant-based CBD-infused sparkling waters. Launched in 2020, the cranberry conglomerate chose the the Classic to formally debut CarryOn.
“[We were ready for market] right in the middle of COVID-19, so the past 12 months have been a challenge to connect with consumers in a truly experiential environment,” said CarryOn managing director Chris Peterson. “By participating, we knew that we’d [be able] to share our drinks with thousands of people, including world-renowned chefs, winemakers and industry leaders to get their feedback in real time.”
Developed by the team of scientists and biomedical engineers at Ocean Spray’s Lighthouse Incubator with a mission to “normalize the pursuit of mental wellness,” CarryOn is formulated with active ingredients including choline and L-theanine and infused with 10 milligrams or 20 milligrams of CBD per can — a refreshing alcohol alternative to help aid in “early morning recovery needs or the end of the day wind-down.”
Despite the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is still lurking in a regulatory grey area, but the market for CBD-infused beverages alone has grown from $7 million in 2017 to $318 million today according to the cannabis industry research firm Brightfield Group. Expect to see more household names stake claim in the space — particularly once the FDA provides clearer guidelines.
CarryOn is currently available across Sprouts Farmers Market locations in Colorado with expansion to other states slated for 2022.
As one of only two official CBD brands exhibiting in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, Red Belly Honey wowed the crowd as founder Joline Rivera explained how it’s magically made.
Originally set to showcase at the cancelled 2020 Classic, Red Belly Honey still launched last summer in partnership with PhytoPharma International, the creators of Bee Fuse Technology. Yes, the bees do the infusing all on their own, resulting in a patented hemp and nectar blend.
Sustainably produced on a farm in California, Red Belly Honey’s resident bees are naturally attracted to the mixture, eating it as they would from any flowering plant. This ruby-tinged syrup melds with the honeybee’s belly enzymes, combining the nutritional and healing benefits of both honey and hemp.
“As we look at trends for 2022 and beyond, you can’t discuss food and wine overall without including cannabis,” noted Rivera, who is also the founder of the pioneering cannabis culinary magazine Kitchen Toke. “As the public continues to become better educated on cannabis, CBD as a cannabinoid will be better known as a beneficial health compound that doesn’t have the effects of THC. This is happening at a time when the restaurant industry as a whole, not just fine dining, is reshaping menus that are healthier, meatless and plant-forward.”
“Chopped 420” cheftestants and champions Derek Simcik and Emily Oyer served up venison lemongrass skewers with a Red Belly Honey nuoc cham emulsion and corvina ceviche topped with coconut Red Belly Honey snow, while Rivera handed out Snap Pack samples in front of her display table adorned with custom floral arrangements (complete with cannabis buds).
“It’s truly amazing that cannabis is now being included in events like this, which shows that the stigma it’s had for decades is starting to be broken down and people are realizing the potential of this plant. It has flavor profiles that other ingredients don’t and medicinal health benefits that [people] are just starting to understand,” said Simcik, director of culinary operations for Sage Restaurant Concepts in Denver. “This is the most exciting time for the intersection of food, wine and cannabis.”
Sustainability Stands Out
Earlier this year, regenerative agriculture movement leader Land to Market granted a verification seal to Onda Wellness — its first-ever seal of verification to a CBD oil product.
Based in Boulder, Colo. with hemp sourced from Casad Family Farms in Oregon, Onda Wellness joins the program’s impressive membership group best-known for its impact in categories including meat, dairy, wool, leather and cashmere.
“Sustainability [has been] all about not making things worse,” said Land to Market co-leader Chris Kerson. “We are at a point in time where we need to go beyond that and make things better. That’s what regenerative is all about — cultivating net positive change. As this movement continues to garner momentum, we’re seeing new partnerships sprout up across disparate industries that typically would have never crossed categories.”
Onda Wellness founder and CEO Stephen Smith noted, “At the end of the day, wine, food and hemp all embrace farming and respect for the earth. In order to have superior quality with the most nutrient density, the highest level of farming and minimal processing have to be the focus. We use a slow infusion process, not an extraction. Onda Wellness oil is green, not clear.”
At a private ranch in nearby Woody Creek, Patrimony Estate and Corrida presented a picturesque wine dinner (unsanctioned by the Classic) benefitting Land to Market. Onda Wellness tinctures were incorporated into this harvest season soirée, which Kerson said was “a ribbon-cutting of Land to Market moving further into the culinary arts category with more events planned to showcase verified regenerative ingredients and products that are shaping the future of our climate.”
“Being sustainable is no longer good enough and in order to claim that your product comes from regenerative land, you should be able to back it,” added Smith. “By partnering with Casad Family Farms and Land to Market, we can truly make an impact and ‘walk the walk.’ We wear the Land to Market badge with pride.”
The Social Consumption Conundrum
In a perfect world, luxury cannabis retailer and cultivator Dalwhinnie Farms would have had the freedom to throw a cannabis-friendly fête in honor of its first anniversary in business, but the reality remains that social consumption laws in Colorado have still not caught up to the rest of the legalization movement.
Held on the rooftop of the W Aspen, Dalwhinnie’s unaffiliated “Food, Wine and Flower” event welcomed longtime locals and festivalgoers alike for an invite-only celebration presented by its in-house brand Shift Genuine Cannabis, Modern Luxury’s Aspen Magazine and Grey Goose.
As signature cocktails flowed freely, Dalwhinnie-branded ashtrays, lighters and rolling trays were only intended as design touches and take-home souvenirs, as it was strictly organized and promoted as a non-consumption event.
“We planned the perfect party during the Food & Wine Classic and teamed up with the W Aspen to make our vision come true,” shared Dalwhinnie head of marketing and strategic initiatives Bryan Welker. “That said, alcohol consumption was obviously allowed and as we see with many full-day alcohol-focused festivals, there are some guests who overindulge in these experiences. We definitely see the hypocrisy around alcohol consumption and hope that evolves.”
Currently, cannabis consumption in Pitkin County is only permitted at social gatherings when held at a private venue. Despite allowing for adult-use cannabis sales for the past seven years, the state still has yet to make much progress. However, in 2019, legislators passed a law allowing the establishment of consumption spaces and so far, Denver is the only city to have opted in with the Department of Excise and Licenses expected to open an application process for businesses in November.
“[Dalwhinnie] would love to see legislation progress to permit consumption for special events or in designated locations,” Welker added. “Prioritizing social use, and figuring out how to do it strategically, so it respects cannabis culture as well as those who don’t consume cannabis, would only positively impact the industry. We believe there’s a great future for Colorado, and Aspen in particular, when it comes to cannabis tourism.”
The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen returns to its regularly scheduled summer dates for next year (June 17-19, 2022). For more information about the festival, visit classic.foodandwine.com.