Photography Provided By: Philip Wolf, Cultivating Spirits
With the surge in cannabis consumption at a recreational level becoming increasingly more legal, it’s only fitting to explore cannabis and food pairings on a deeper level. Through some thoughtful research online I noticed that not many people were really having this conversation in a public forum.
Sure, there were some menus where some restaurants had taken it upon themselves to pair strains with featured menu items. But I wondered, how did they make those decisions? What made them the voice of authority? Was there a bad ass formula that I was missing out on? I needed to know how to elevate my cerebral foodie experience.
Through this research, Philip Wolf kept popping up as a voice of authority (at least in my opinion). If you read his IPA beer and cannabis pairing, you could see that his recommendations were on another level.
They weren’t merely a matter of opinion, but he had science to back it up.
For those of you who don’t know, Philip Wolf is the founder of Cultivating Spirits, located in Colorado Springs, and their main focus is cannabis tours where they pair the cannabis to food and wine. They provide a sophisticated cannabis experience, one that I would say, not really anyone else is doing on this level.
So when you get the urge to pair your next meal with the perfect type of bud, you ask the expert. You ask Philip Wolf, the ultimate cannabis connoisseur.
MERRY JANE: Can you talk about what your role as a voice of authority in the cannabis industry, when it comes to cannabis and food pairing?
Phillip Wolf: I got into the cannabis space in 2009. I opened one of the first dispensaries in Colorado Springs when the medical boom hit Colorado after the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment changed regulations to really allow this industry to thrive.
I folded my equity in that company and moved up to Summit County where I started grow operations for High Country Healing, which is becoming one of the more well-known dispensaries in the state, and then branched off and started doing grow consulting with different dispensaries and caregivers. I kind of got stuck in a spot, I needed to go back to school and further my science behind growing.
I met a Wall St. investor who really needed someone who knew the ins and outs of the cannabis industry. He moved out here to Colorado shortly after it was voted legal in 2012 and dropped everything out in New York. We started working on ancillary businesses together, one of those being tourism, and he started the second cannabis tourism company behind my 420 Tours, which was called Spiro. It was a typical grow tour, and somewhat elementary to what I thought cannabis could bring.
I was at a wine tasting in Barcelona and I was on this beautiful plantation out there and thought this is what the cannabis industry needs. I came back from that trip, walked away from multiple equities in different companies, and started Cultivating Spirits about two years ago with the concept of food, wine, and cannabis tours.
We started developing the concept and really started looking at cannabis and food pairings. As I started doing it, I started learning about terpenes. Once I started learning more about terpenes I really started to see the legitimacy in what we are creating, because we started pairing the terpene profiles or flavor profiles, of cannabis with food.
MERRY JANE: Can you elaborate on what terpene profiles are for those who don’t know?
PW: Terpenes produce the aroma and flavor profile in cannabis, but what it does is, terpenes in the natural world are in all plants, vegetables and fruits, and they produce the aromas. They are used to attract pollinators and detract predators in the natural world. Terpenes help give you your mood enhancement.
That’s why you can smoke one sativa and feel different smoking another sativa, it’s because of the terpene profile makeup of the cannabis. Terpenes are also the main component of essential oils that you would use for aroma therapy — you can think about it like that.
By teaching people how to become a cannabis connoisseur, and educating them, they can trust their own senses and quantify how you are going to feel before you even consume that strain of cannabis. It’s really cool to become a cannabis connoisseur because you can mindfully consume cannabis and depending on what you are going to do throughout the day you can find cannabis that has the right terpene makeup to fit that activity.
Whether it’s going hiking or having a glass of wine with your girlfriend or whether it’s just trying to knock yourself out at the end of the day, or even if it’s work and you're about to have a meeting. Alpha Piney is a pine that helps retain memory and focus. You can actually smoke something with heavy pine in it and be very functional at work. It will kind of dial you in to the meeting, the people around you, and what’s going on.
MJ: We are in a unique place right now where we are developing this conversation about pairing. How do you define the rules? Who are your voices of authority?
PW: I’ve developed all of our concepts just from myself. I’ve also been in the industry so long and talked to so many people, like Max Montrose of Trichome Institute, he really opened my eyes to some things. He is one of the smartest people I have ever been around in regard to cannabis. I also worked with Jessica Catalano a lot, who is the author of The Ganja Kitchen Revolution. She helped me out a lot in the beginning stages [of Cultivating Spirits].
MJ: What are the main flavor profiles with cannabis when pairing with food?
PW: There are about 12-15 main terpenes that are predominant and pair well with food. One is myrcene, which is the earthy taste. Caryophyllene will be that clove and black pepper taste. Those will do a lot with red meats and steaks and heavier indicas. Limonene will have the lemon taste and alpha pinene will have a pine taste. We’ll pair those lighter profiles with fish. Limonene and alpha pinene are very energetic and uplifting terpenes. Obviously there are other ways to pair, but this is a fun platform to teach people about terpenes.
MJ: Are there go-to strains for major proteins?
PW: For me, it’s more about using your nose and smelling, then worrying about strain names. Unfortunately you will get a Lemon Kush from one dispensary and it will give you a completely different high than if you were to get it from another dispensary. You just have to be cognitive of that fact.
I definitely respect different strains and what all the developers have created and everything, but Cultivating Spirits is trying to teach you that it can be more than that. Something that’s actually a really, really good pairing; the earthiest strain that you can find with dark chocolate.
It goes so well together because cacao already has a lot of myrcene in it. With that said, I work with High Country Healing a lot, and one of their strains is Golden Goat, which pairs really nicely with fish dishes. Gorilla Glue also goes really well with Elk.
MJ: When pairing, is cannabis used more to complement or contrast the food?
PW: I do it more to complement the food, because as far as the contrast, it doesn’t change the flavor within your mouth like a wine does. Wine can completely change what’s going on in your mouth, like drastically, especially when you’re dealing with different fats and different sweets, which is why the contrasting of wine works well.
MJ: Can you walk us through the thought process of pairing a complete meal?
PW: What I do at Cultivating Spirits, I break down the strain and really identify the flavors within it that we want to highlight for the meal. I’ll identify how those go in the fore taste and the after taste, and then I’ll go over it with the chef and then we’ll create the menu.
MJ: Is pairing a science? Is there a formula that people can plug in to bring out the best experience possible with cannabis and food? Or are there other resources involved in developing a pairing? Does it take a village, or could one person do it on their own?
PW: It’s something that takes a lot of practice. You can’t just focus on taste and immediately get it. It takes a lot of thought into what’s going on in your mouth. As far as formulas, I actually have developed formulas, but we are waiting for the moment to come out with those publicly. If you sign up for the Cultivating Spirits newsletter on our website you’ll stay informed on when that happens.
MJ: Lastly, what’s your favorite pairing? Why?
PW: Grape Ape with a nice filet. A simple filet with Grape Ape is really good for me because I’m more of a traditional foodie. I’ve definitely opened up, but when it comes down to my favorite stuff I’m more of a meat and potatoes southern soul food type of guy. Grape Ape has a lot of earthy tones to it, but has a really sweet grape pop in it and it just goes so well with a nice rare steak.
Note: Want to develop your palate and learn more about terpenes?
Check out these really cool tools from Trichome Institute: The Weed Wheel, The Interpening Loop, and The Interpening Guidebook. You can purchase these on their website under the shop section.