It might be one of the priciest single cocktails in Los Angeles right now, but for $25 you'll get much more than just silver tequila and dry-hopped cucumber soda infused with the aroma of smoked hemp seeds. Gracias Madre's beverage director Jason Eisner will roll out a cart of high-tech lab-looking equipment and talk your ear off as he prepares your drink tableside, decanting the final mixture into a clear glass water pipe before lighting one end of a handheld food smoker with a torch lighter and letting the aroma of charred hemp seeds permeate your surroundings.
By “water pipe decanter,” of course, we mean a standard glass bong. Yes, like the one you smoked weed out of in high school, before you discovered that joints are portable and way less conspicuous. And yes, the drink is presented to you with a garnish of cucumber cut into the letters “THC.”
“Basically, I'm a huge stoner,” Eisner says from a seat inside Gracias Madre's bright and airy bar area. The cocktail, called Up In Smoke, is not exactly the creative and labor-intensive kind of drink you'd expect to find at a vegan Mexican restaurant on the trendy end of Melrose in West Hollywood.
“It's really an excuse for me to teach people about the lineage between cannabis and hops,” says Eisner, an energetic stoner mixologist who pulls double duty running the bar program at Cafe Gratitude and just opened his own craft beer project, Block Party in Highland Park. “They have the same main active elements, and there are intense flavor and aroma similarities.”
Hops and weed are, indeed, members of the same plant family, and their similarities are apparent from the first step of Up In Smoke's preparation, when Eisner shoves a whole Mosaic hop cone into the bong's downstem and lights the tip. Like a shaman cleansing the air with burned sage before a session, Eisner allows the hop smoke, which smells like a roach in someone's pocket, to waft around. You practically can hear your neighbors wondering, “Did he really just pack a bowl?”
But presentation is only part of the way in which the drink expresses the connections between these two plants. The house-made soda Eisner uses as the main mixer in the drink is dry-hopped with more Mosaic hops, a versatile new hop varietal that is at some moments piney and others citrusy. Eisner says he gets a vegetal quality out of most hops, something he also recognizes in good pot and something the drink absolutely reflects.
“This is definitely a drink for foodies,” he says.
After burning the hemp seeds and letting the smoke pass through the drink while it's in the bong, the resulting liquid, which gets poured over ice, smells like toe-jam dankness. Smoked cocktails are still rare in L.A. but the bartenders doing them use the technique to impart a depth of flavor and aroma that you can't get using any other method. Hemp seeds are by far the weirdest thing being smoked into a cocktail yet. Eisner calls the Up In Smoke “approachable esoteric.”
That also seems to be the guiding principle behind the other, more affordable smoked drinks on the menu right now — including a smoked-hop Mexican shandy of sorts (made with fermented-pineapple Tepache and Cabotella). When asked how he plans to top his $25 cocktail in a bong, he smiles and moves the mouse on his laptop, which is sitting nearby.
“I've been watching the Rube Goldberg scene in Pee-wee's Big Adventure all day and I'm really excited to try to build a drink-making contraption like that on a cart,” he says. “I just want to make people crack up and have a good time with their drink.”