When Chris Abbott thinks about cannabis going mainstream, he envisions places like bars and grocery stores adding cannabis- and hemp-related drinks to their menus.
"I think there's an incredible opportunity for drinks to really increase the awareness and mainstream acceptance of cannabis, because when people get together, they drink. That's how people socialize," Abbott tells Hemp Grower.
Abbott is the co-founder of The Pathfinder Hemp and Root (The Pathfinder or Hemp and Root), a fermented and distilled hemp-based, non-alcoholic spirit.
In September, Hemp and Root launched in Seattle, Wash., and has since made its way into some of the most popular bars in the city.
Building the Brand
Abbott co-founded his first cannabis company in Seattle in 2014: Mr.Moxey's Mints, a multistate edibles company that offers an array of cannabis- and hemp-infused mints.
He describes Mr. Moxey's as a "personal product" that individuals can carry in their golf bag or purse and take whenever they need it. It's the brands and products like this that can fit into a consumer's everyday life, which Abbott thinks brings us one step closer to mainstream cannabis adoption.
"The Pathfinder, for me, is the epitome of that type of product," he says. "It's natural to think that drinks could go a long way. I mean, 12% of the population smokes tobacco, 70% of the population drinks alcohol. … [I think this is] going to go mainstream. It's going to be stuff like drinks. So, we started working on a drink."
Abbott says he began working with Guy Escolme who previously worked at a Diageo, a multinational beverage alcohol company, for over 15 years.
"We got together, [and] when we started thinking about, 'Hey, what can we do for a drink? And how would we do it?' [Guy] said, 'There's only one guy we need to talk to. I worked with him at Diageo; his name is Steven Grasse. … He's the creator of Hendrick's Gin and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum,'" Abbott says.
"So, the three of us got together. We were like, 'OK, we need to do this, and we're going to do it and do it right. So, if we're going to have a cannabis drink, it can't just be cannabis in like an orange soda or something; we should do something that's based in cannabis,'" he adds.
Abbott's background in cannabis, mixed with his co-founder's expertise in global branding and the beverage market, led to the birth of Hemp and Root.
The Formula is Born
Abbott says when he and his team began experimenting with creating the liquid, they wanted to make a product that they could sell everywhere without any regulatory pushback.
"We had to go by the letter of the law with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)," he says. "The FDA says that hempseed is generally accepted as safe, so that's what we start with is hempseed, and that's what we're fermenting and then distilling."
To give Hemp and Root its "unique special flavor," the formula includes 20 different botanicals, in addition to the hemp. Abbott says that the most prominent botanicals within the formula include wormwood, angelica root, ginger, sage, juniper, saffron, orange peel and douglas fir.
"Italians make a spirit called Amaro, which is basically a bunch of blends of botanicals together, and it has a bitter taste to it," he says. "So, it's similar to an Italian Amaro, but we've used a lot of botanicals from the Pacific Northwest. So, I guess you could say it's like a Pacific Northwest Amaro."
The product does not contain any CBD or cannabinoids, he says.
"We did that on purpose because, in my experience in the cannabis industry, it's so hard to grow a brand when you have cannabinoids in it," he says. "So, our vision was that someday you're going to walk into a bar, and there's going to be a section for your whiskeys, there's a section for gin, there's tequila, there's going to be a section for non-alcoholic spirits, and [then] there's going to be a section for cannabis spirits. Depending on the night, and depending on how you're feeling, you might want a whiskey, you might not want any alcohol, but you want a nice drink to pass your time, or you might want cannabis, right? So, what we're doing with Hemp and Root, is because it doesn't have any cannabinoids in it, it can go straight into the back bar today and begin to educate people on an interesting new taste that fits right into social norms."
Due to Hemp and Root's complex flavor, it can be "taken as a shot, sipped neat, served on the rocks, or [bartenders] can use to modify a multitude of classic cocktails," the company’s website states. And bartenders in and around over 30 bars in Capitol Hill have already added Hemp and Root to their menus.
The Future is Bright
Abbott says the company has plans to launch a Pathfinder THC-infused cannabis spirit sometime in the spring. The product will have the same flavor profile as the Hemp and Root, except a THC emulsion will be added to the formula to create the psychoactive effect, he says.
"Obviously, we can't sell that to the bars today. So, that will be available in Washington and Oregon because that's where I have licenses, and we'll be looking to grow that into other states as well," he says. "But the main focus right now is Hemp and Root, because that's where we believe this is all going."
"Our goal is to be everywhere," he adds. "I want to be in the top 50 bars in the world, but [we've] got to start somewhere. Like having a place where it's from, making sure that you've got it right, and having it close to where we can watch it. So, that's why we've launched it in a very specific target area with very specific bars that are at the highest end of mixology here in Seattle, and it's really working. So, as we increase our production, we will definitely look to grow the business into other states and hopefully target some of the best bars in the country."