Weed-flavored liquor could have gone so, so wrong. It could have been like countless gimmicky flavors that have no business on your bar. But we tried Dr. Stoner’s weedy booze and were pleasantly surprised. The vodka smells of fresh grass (in both senses of the word), with notes of lemon zest and sweet corn. (Stoner likes to tell people it smells like his high school locker.) What you might expect to be a flavor bomb turns out to be surprisingly nuanced and fruity. While one Supercall staffer did describe it as the taste you get when licking a joint to seal it, other flavors of blueberry and ripe mango, basil and vanilla also roll around the grassier flavors. As for the texture, the vodka is heavier and creamier on the tongue than we predicted, and a touch of water makes it downright buttery.
Stoner was inspired by neighbors in his rural Virginia town who produced their own moonshine. Having locked down a medical degree, he figured producing spirits couldn’t be too hard. He scanned the shelves of liquor stores and noticed a lot of sweet flavors, but very few herbal ones, and so herbal flavored vodka was born.
The exact recipe for a miraculous weed flavor without real weed remains a bit of a brand secret, but Stoner does say they use 19 herbal ingredients and extracts, among them basil, hops, citrus, lemongrass, lavender, sage and, an oddball addition, extract from coffee leaves. The base of the vodka is a corn mash, which imparts natural sweetness and obviates the necessity for the overpowering sweeteners found in other flavored products.
Dr. Stoner didn’t stop with vodka, though. The company also produces Smoky Herb Whiskey. Also made with a corn mash, the good doctor adds four more botanicals and toasts a few others before infusing them. The American light whiskey, as it’s categorized, barely picks up any flavor from a short stay inside a barrel, allowing the primary, infused flavors to shine. The result is even fruitier than the vodka, with a good amount of funk reminiscent of weed stank, along with richer notes of caramel. The flavors are too strong for some palates to drink neat, but mixing the whiskey into something like an Arnold Palmer, as Stoner suggests, yields some fun results.
As for the herbal label, Stoner explains that he decided against being too direct with the flavor description (or adding any THC to the spirit) in order to avoid legal troubles and to ensure the spirit is universally enjoyable. He jokes that, while younger drinkers may immediately point out the spirit’s similarity to weed, older drinkers simply find it pleasantly botanical. “We go ahead and sell nana a bottle and she takes it home, and we figure the grandkids will wise her up if need be.”
Even so, it’s been an uphill battle to get his entirely legal vodka approved by the TTB (the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau that regulates the liquor industry). “We had a bit of a battle with the TTB at first getting our bottle together, what it would say on the label,” Stoner explains. “We sent it into the TTB lab for their evaluation. As part of that they have to come back with a predominant flavor. They came back and agreed, ‘yes, [herb] is the predominant flavor.’ When we get questioned by the labelling part of the TTB, they go, ‘Well, we don’t like the Dr. Stoner on the bottle and we don’t like the word herb on the bottle.’ And I just say, ‘Hey, that’s the label that the lab gave it. And that’s my name!’” After some back and forth, the brand and TTB seem to have settled on a truce. “We don’t try to mess with them and they don’t mess with us,” Stoner says.
Steering clear of obvious infractions, the brand has still been able to push the envelope with marijuana references in its suggested custom cocktails, like the Chronic Tonic (Fresh Herb Vodka, tonic water, lime), Psychedelic Cosmo (Fresh Herb Vodka, triple sec, lime, cranberry juice), Cherry Diesel (Smoky Herb Whiskey, lime, simple, grenadine), Purple Haze Sour (Smoky Herb Whiskey, black raspberry liqueur, lemon, cherry), and Stems and Seeds (Smoky Herb Whiskey, almond liqueur, pineapple, lemon twist).
While the spirits are only currently available in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and New York, the brand is eyeing markets in Delaware, New Jersey and South Carolina, along with international prospects in New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Stoner expects attitudes will only continue to loosen up as the brand looks to expand. “This isn’t like way back in the ‘50s when they were making Reefer Madness. It’s become a part of normal life. They talk about it openly on TV. It’s become legal in several jurisdictions,” he points out. Even adamant critics of weed seem to agree that the spirits are simply tasty booze. Stoner is friends with a retired FBI agent who has taken to sipping the Smoky Herb Whiskey on the rocks.
We’re still working out exactly how to work Dr. Stoner’s spirits into cannabis-esque cocktails. As is clear to any reader who has tried weed-spiked edibles (you know who you are), marijuana isn’t the easiest flavor to work with. But there’s an elemental joy for any stoner (even if you weren’t born one) in sipping on neat vodka that smells and tastes incredibly, well, herbal. If you don’t trust us, trust the doctor.