If you’re going spirit-free, your options are no longer limited to coffee, tea, water or soft drinks. There’s a new wave of zero-proof cocktails in Chicago, at places like Julia Momose’s instantly legendary Kumiko (630 West Lake) and other higher-end local restaurants like Acadia (1639 South Wabash), where skillful bartenders can match your no-alcohol beverage with Ryan McCaskey’s changing tasting menu. Roka Akor (456 North Clark) also has a fine selection of no-alcohol options, made from multiple ingredients and with layers of flavor.
We’ve enjoyed excellent zero-proof cocktails at many Chicago bars and restaurants. Even at their best, many no-alc cocktails can leave you longing for a shot of bourbon or gin or one of the many other spirits we’ve come to anticipate as part of our evening drinking ritual. We don’t want to fall off the wagon, but we do want something special.
CBD is becoming a special, and sometimes off-menu, ingredient at Chicago bars and restaurants.
CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, but has none of the psychotropic impacts of THC-based oils and tinctures. CBD has the purported benefit of providing relaxation, pain relief and a host of other benefits, most of which await scientific verification through double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. We may have to wait some time for such validation, as Big Pharma would likely not get behind a pharmaceutical that you or I could grow in our gardens.
One intangible benefit of adding CBD to a cocktail is that it makes those who are alcohol-free feel as though they’re having something more than a substitute for a “real” cocktail. Of course, at several Chicago locations, you can add the CBD to a real cocktail.
At the Godfrey Hotel (127 West Huron), Grant Gedemer, food and beverage director, tells us that “CBD can be therapeutic and naturally calming. Adding it to cocktails is a way for guests to become introduced to it, and we’re selling a lot of drinks with the CBD add-on. There is a little bit of mystery in it since it is relatively new to the market. For people who already use it and love it, it’s a new way to enjoy cocktails.”
Beau Kelly-Fontano at Entente (700 North Sedgwick) tells us his CBD-laced 700 Club is his “bestselling spirit-free cocktail and our second bestselling cocktail on the menu.” The 700 is a beautiful cocktail, opalescent on the bottom three-quarters, deep purple on the top, with cucumber mint lemonade and citrus flavors. Kelly-Fontano says, “It feels like a cocktail. A chef was in here the other day enjoying a 700 Club, and I told him, ‘You know, that’s a spirit-free cocktail,’ and he said, ‘No fucking way.'”
Beverage director Tim Ryll at 20 East (20 East Delaware Place) says that CBD “is a cool, fun add-on to a cocktail. If you can steal a little relaxation out of a cocktail along with the usual buzz, we are here for you. We use an unflavored CBD so it wouldn’t interfere with the intended profile of the cocktail. There are, however, many flavor options for CBD oil and tincture.”
Young American (2545 North Kedzie) in Logan Square has been in the vanguard of CBD additives in food and drink. Beverage director Aubry Robinson says that “Many people choose to abstain from alcohol but still want to have fun in a bar environment. We offer a wide array of spirit-free cocktails with the option to add CBD so that guests can have a special experience regardless of what they choose to order. The CBD isolate we use is relatively unflavored, so we don’t have to factor that into the flavor profiles of each drink.”
At Fat Rice (2957 West Diversey), Abe Conlon and crew give diners the choice of CBD dosages. To any drink or cocktail or egg tarts, you can have the kitchen add .25 mL ($3) or .50mL ($6) of CBD oil. “There’s a lot of compelling scientific research emerging in support of CBD as a health supplement,” Conlon says. “Like taking your daily vitamins!”
Nick Jirasek, Young American’s director of food, is slowly introducing CBD to food, and feels that the CBD he uses provides flavor dimensions to a preparation. Currently, the only CBD-containing food on the menu are the Calmonds. “Full Spectrum CBD is rich in herbaceous terpenes and adds a complex, almost piney note to the Calmonds. We play into the natural verdant flavor of the hemp plant by adding fresh rosemary and thyme.”
Adding CBD to a regular alcohol-containing cocktail is a point of some debate. Young American’s general manager Matt Zavala says “Putting CBD and alcohol together seems like a bad idea” if for no other reason than that the alcohol could “overwhelm” the faint flavors of the CBD.
Ryll counsels, “we recommend respecting CBD the same as alcohol. Be reasonable with consumption, know your limit, and of course, do not drive.”
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org