If achieving a glistening, golden-hour slideshow on Vanity Fair’s website alongside Hollywood happenings and New York Fashion Week news last month is any indication — farm-to-table dinners paired with spirits and cannabis are officially a thing, breaking new ground toward cultural acceptance. Sure, having a celebrity chef like “Top Chef” winner Hosea Rosenberg helps the cause, but the pioneer of the elevated cannabis pairing event identified the now trend early on.
“I wanted to show the rest of the world how cannabis should be treated, how health benefits can be achieved and simply how much it can be enjoyed,” says Philip Wolf, the founder, owner and operator of Cultivating Spirits. “This is what led me to go down this path.”
With a background opening dispensaries for various investors early on during the medical marijuana movement, Wolf hit a “stale moment” despite recreational legalization gaining traction. He wanted to stay involved in cannabis, but in a whole new way. Starting the business in March 2014, Wolf also is the face of the tour, leading up to 10 guests per outing on an intimate and sophisticated culinary adventure in the high country of Colorado’s Summit County (keep reading for the tour rundown).
Despite recent mainstream attention, there is still a stigma attached. When I reached out to interview two out-of-state fellow guests for this piece, both politely declined, citing fear of losing their jobs or their children finding out — even with an offer to keep names anonymous. Trip Advisor, one of the world’s leading online travel resources, recently removed Cultivating Spirits’ listing after Wolf worked to build a positive rating and review profile over the past year.
East Coast-based Farnesi Travel owner Ray Farnesi planned a fact-finding trip last fall and discovered Cultivating Spirits through his own research. He agrees that the widespread negative stereotype is what’s holding back the cannabis tourism industry overall and thinks it will continue until it’s legal to consume marijuana in public.
“The marijuana travel business should be booming by now, but it’s not. You can be in New Orleans with an open container all over the place, and that’s somehow OK and this still isn’t,” says Farnesi.
“Travelers from out of state who are looking to experience marijuana in Colorado have very limited options as to where they can even smoke. Phil’s tour is the best out there right now — it’s of course a legal, safe environment, but so much of it is about educating his guests to appreciate pot in a new light — just as they would food and wine.”
Even though state tourism agencies won’t say it, there are a few clues that marijuana is indeed a draw for Colorado visitors. The latest monthly data available from the state show record-breaking numbers with more than $96 million of recreational and medical marijuana sold in July. As previously reported by The Cannabist, “Those numbers are showing that our pot tourism is surely increasing,” says Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “People want to come here and try this out and tell their friends and family that they came to Colorado and tried some of the best cannabis the world has to offer and they had a great time.”
Six years of industry experience is what gives Wolf an edge on cannabis education, which he agrees is the key to changing perceptions.
“We’ve built upon this traditional course-pairing experience to also share our knowledge on the plant’s flavor profiles that are a perfect complement,” Wolf says. “My goal is to spread the idea of consuming cannabis with intention and the importance of becoming a connoisseur.”
Cultivating Spirits tour guest Drake (who did talk to me, but requested his last name be kept anonymous), traveled to Silverthorne from Kansas City, Missouri, this past summer. He compared the experience to a wine tour in California’s Napa Valley. Aside from looking into property for relocation, Drake and his wife also wanted to find a “marijuana adventure” while they were visiting. After doing a Google search for “pot tourism,” they discovered Cultivating Spirits, which was “much more of the luxury full package we were looking for.”
“So many people are going to Colorado now, but have no clue what’s happening. We were curious, so this was like a crash course — one I never thought could be a reality,” says Drake. “The accommodations, the food, the wine — all impressive, but it was far more interesting to see how they’re incorporating cannabis into the lifestyle.”
But the evolution of successful pot tourism businesses isn’t as easy to navigate for some. In June, CannaCamp announced plans to open the first-ever pot-friendly resort, grabbing headlines worldwide. Its holding company, the MaryJane Group, quickly retracted the original opening date of July, pushing it to summer 2016. Wolf and Cultivating Spirits were contracted on the project to consult on cannabis activities at the resort, but are no longer involved.
Farnesi also found that other Colorado tour operators were charging upwards of $1,000 for guided visits to grow operations and dispensaries around the Denver-metro area.
“I vetted six other tour operators trying to find what I call ‘ground operators’ where I feel completely confident they will take care of my clients from beginning to end,” says Farnesi. “Travel agents are typically catering to an older demographic, so we’re trying to get ahead of the curve.” He says the 28-36 age range is where he receives the majority of his pot tourism inquiries and bookings.
Wolf says that more than half of his reservations come from out of state, and he has more recently seen a spike in destination birthday, bachelorette and bachelor parties. He’s also expanded his offerings to include a “Food, Craft Beer & Cannabis” tour and plans to launch in additional cities throughout the state in 2016.
The Cultivating Spirits tour
A perfect Colorado summer staycation, I experienced the “Food, Wine & Cannabis” tour myself in celebration of my high life-loving boyfriend’s birthday.
It began at 4:30 p.m. with the arrival of a Cadillac Escalade limousine outside the door of the Breck Haus — our accommodations for the night. Wolf emerged from Cultivating Spirits’ own official vehicle to welcome us into “Black Pearl,” departing to pick up the other six guests. Cannabis is not included in the price of the tour, but Wolf does gift the group with a small glass pipe once everyone is in tow. This crew came prepared and as soon as the joints started circulating, there was an instant connection and camaraderie.
We first stopped at the Cultivating Spirits Eatery — a former commercial kitchen space in a Silverthorne industrial park. We gathered around the U-shaped table, where we met the chef in action and dove into an appetizer of tempura-battered yellow fin tuna on sticky rice with wasabi cream, ginger and sweet tamari soy. While we dined, Wolf gave a formal introduction and rundown for the rest of the evening.
The next stop was just a few minutes away at High Country Healing for a dispensary download and opportunity to purchase the recommended strain for the evening: Tangerine X Flo ($21/gram). Cultivating Spirits guests receive a 25 percent discount on all purchases during tours, and Wolf works with select service partners from spa treatments to yoga classes to enhance every aspect for the rest of your stay.
From there, we had a solid 20-minute ride to sample our new strain as we made our way toward the Frisco Wine Merchant. There, we were treated to a private wine and cheese tasting from certified sommelier Susanne Johnston, the wildest wine lady I’ve ever encountered. Whether it was from her drill sergeant-esque sipping rules or the fresh Tangerine high, our group giggled for the entire hour.
Feeling the perfect balance of weed and wine, we then took a sunset cruise around Lake Dillon, stopping at the top of the route and hopping out of the limo for a photo opp. Ready for the main course, we headed back to the Cultivating Spirits Eatery for the rest of the meal.
Working with a rotating roster of Summit County chefs and industry experts like Jessica Catalano (author of “The Ganja Kitchen Revolution”), the menu is always changing. On our tour, we were presented with cuisine from Chef Ryan Worthen: blood orange-painted Atlantic swordfish over brussels sprout slaw, cilantro vinaigrette, candied pistachios and balsamic glaze. For dessert: cherries flambé with agave nectar, bourbon vanilla, rum, pecan crumbles and chocolate fudge ice cream.
A menu highlighting both the courses and cannabis strain was set at each place-setting when we arrived, and as we were seated Wolf began to walk us through the specific flavor profiles of the strain — this one a sweet sativa with floral and citrus notes. He passed a nugget on a glass dish around the table and explained terpenes at length — the essential oil compounds that vary across every strain and create an array of aromas and flavors. For Wolf, it’s the most important part of the tour: helping guests learn how to look for strains to help with specific ailments or the type of high they most enjoy.
In between courses, the limo sat at the ready in the parking lot if guests needed to maintain their preferred high, but at that point, I had had more than enough to smoke. The only complaint I had, which might also be an issue for guests who don’t smoke as regularly, is that with eight people simultaneously smoking in the back of “Black Pearl,” it was too hot of a box for me toward the end. Wolf is quick to accommodate, though, if any guest needs an extra stop, more air or even alternate transportation.
The night ended on the highest of notes with a champagne toast of gratitude to new friends and a new appreciation for cannabis.
Food, Wine & Cannabis Tour: $249 per person with 10 guests, Saturdays only, 5:30-9:30 p.m.; private tours also available from $225-$450 per person, any night of the week. NOTE: Tours booked by Oct. 31 using code FALL20 have a 20 percent discount and apply through May 2016. Online: CultivatingSpirits.com
The Breck Haus
While Cultivating Spirits works with multiple area lodging partners like the Summit Peaks & Riverside Lodges, this privately owned and cannabis-friendly condo is worth the splurge. Located 1.5 miles from Breckenridge’s historic Main Street, the four-bedroom, two-bathroom accommodation sleeps nine and is the ultimate after-party pad. It’s priced via Airbnb at $420 per night (of course), but owners Scott Smith and Jennifer Grimm are currently offering an off-season fall special for $300 per night.
Also a couple, Smith and Grimm completely renovated the unit with custom woodwork throughout. It’s no surprise their other business venture, Colorado Woodcraft, has them sourcing beetle-kill pine to create decorative Colorado flags. A red, white and yellow version hangs above the six-seat dining room table.
Upon entry from its unsuspecting condo complex exterior, guests are welcomed into a mountain chalet that defines Colorado cool. Cozy and worldly is the theme here with a wood-burning stove, Kilim and animal hide rugs, colored-glass light fixtures, plush bedding and fur throws draped over every custom couch and chair. A loaded Sky Glass bong awaits on the living room table for an immediate smoke to help you get settled. The Breck Haus is also fully equipped with ashtrays, a Volcano Vaporizer and a dab rig to use freely anywhere inside. Tobacco use, however, is only permitted outside.
But the best spot to smoke in the house? The enclosed, wood-paneled hot tub room directly off the first-floor bedroom dotted with stained glass windows and Tibetan prayer flags. A stock of candles to light at night completes the chillest of vibes.
The duo has another property in Golden and is currently putting finishing touches on a third in Avon. Just in time for the winter season, they’re working to unveil their own rental website later this month.
As to why they decided not to list their properties on a dedicated cannabis-friendly rental site:
“Most of the cannabis-friendly specific sites that launched with legalization still don’t have their platforms quite figured out,” says Smith. “We want to give our guests the best experience possible. Plus, they all take a higher percentage than Airbnb.”