Prohibition has hindered the development of certifications in cannabis. Thus, a massive void exists in terms of the standardized education available, which is problematic considering the industry’s rapidly expanding into a global market and trade. Over the last few years, however, educational institutions focusing on the plant are starting to organize, and universities are scrambling to catch up with demand. But, unlike wine where people can get various certifications that define their expertise, the cannabis equivalent of a sommelier doesn’t exist yet—even though smell, taste, and pairing experts exist in the cannabis space. So the question remains: what defines a cannabis sommelier?
With the recent wave of legalization, classically trained sommeliers are starting to grapple with defining this term. For instance, the Trichome Institute is coming up with the term “Interpening®” as their cannabis sommelier certification. In Canada, CannaReps has come up with a weekend cannabis sommelier course. BBC has even thrown around the term weed sommelier, which can be offensive to cannabis connoisseurs and sommeliers alike.
But the cannabis industry can’t just copy and paste the way wine and spirits does things. Just ask the Weed Spectator. They emulated the rating scale and branding of Wine Spectator, which prompted a lawsuit this fall. But it’s difficult not to want to adopt a system that already works–especially with numerous parallels shared between wine and weed . And, while many organizations are launching cannabis education courses and crafting new terms, there’s no international standard for cannabis. So, even if you get a certificate from one of these institutions– and even if the courses were strenuous and helped you develop superior cannabis tasting, smelling, and pairing skills– it won’t hold the same clout as a traditional somm certification.
In Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Ontario Chapter is addressing the issue by piloting a cannabis education course with monthly hospitality sessions. The curriculum will allow sommeliers to apply their fine tuned skills to cannabis and ask questions about legalization. According to Andrew Freedman, an ambassador for Lifford Cannabis Solutions, a cannabis sommelier is: “A wine professional with an extensive knowledge in pairing cannabis with gastronomy, service, and spirits.”
Freedman’s nick name is the cannabis sommelier, and is knee-deep in addressing the issue of standardizing education and certification in cannabis. High Times sat down with Freedman in order to get more clarity.
High Times: What do you think the cannabis equivalent of a Sommelier is?
Andrew Freedman: A cannabis expert is definitely not a sommelier. There needs to be a clear distinction between definitions which relate to training and knowledge. There are a lot of parallels between cannabis and wine, but they must not be confused. I think the easiest definition to create would be a “master of cannabis.” Cannabis needs its own institute of cannabis scholars dedicated to furthering the knowledge of avid consumers and professionals.
HT: You have become a social media sensation, with your wine, beer, and cannabis pairings as well as cannabis mixed drinks. Combining cannabis and alcohol is controversial in the weed world, despite how common it is. What tips do you have to mix responsibly?
AF: I have been using wine, spirits and beer paired with extracts to create a bridge for a demographic that may be hesitant to consume cannabis. The advice is always “start low and go slow”. Using inhaled cannabis vapor for beer and wine pairings gives the user the opportunity to understand their level of intoxication much quicker than an edible. When creating a cannabis cocktail It is important to have a small microdose of THC to ensure you do not become overly intoxicated. CBD is key for relaxation with reduced intoxication in any pairing.
HT: Cannabis and alcohol are illegal to mix commercially in Canada, but consumers are not restricted in their own homes. Do you think that cannabis cocktails will become a trend after legalization?
AF: YES! People are very excited about cannabis cocktails! It is a familiar way to restart the cannabis conversation. Consuming beverages will always be the most socially acceptable and familiar way of becoming intoxicated. I see a huge market for single serve cannabis beverages, especially if they can make the effects of ingested cannabis expedited.
HT: Does a cannabis sommelier just work with cannabis extracts and beverages, or does it also apply to dried flower and edibles?
AF: In the past, I have used cannabis extracts for their purity and preservation of terpenes and flavonoids. Using dried cannabis flower in pairings is a necessity because of the limited legality of cannabis after Oct 17. Only dried cannabis flower and diluted oil will be sold in Canada at first, but beverages, edibles, topicals, vapes and extracts will hopefully be approved within a year of legalization. To preserve my methodology, after legalization I will press cannabis found in the legal market into rosin to pair with wine and beer. A cannabis sommelier should be an expert in all forms of cannabis.
HT: As more and more news comes out around the negative health effects of alcohol, do you think cannabis mocktails will become a trend? What about dealcoholized cannabis infused beverages?
AF: I already see the trend emerging! The largest growth market for cannabis consumption is edible products. Consumers are already so familiar with consuming a beverage to become intoxicated. The infused beverage category will be huge! It will not be long until mega coolers full of single serve beverages are a staple in dispensaries.
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