The High Art of Cannabis Bitters
Written by TWB Staff
There’s a reason writers around the country are buzzing about Messina Bitters.
Not only are they are one of the most delicious and amazing cannabis products we’ve seen, but they’re also in a unique product category that has the potential to be the future of how people consume marijuana. Oregon is already world renowned for its alcoholic drinks. It seems like only a matter of time until it’s similarly famous known for marijuana beverages.
Nobody here works for Messina Bitters, and none of us know Camille well. But we think her small business has big potential, and that’s why this interview is longer than what we usually do. We think this product is great and hope it’s something that Oregon ends up being famous for.
Why did you launch Messina Bitters? It started with plants. When I was kid, I would help in my mother’s garden. In the summer, the kitchen was filled with hanging basil and other drying herbs. It smelled amazing.
Cannabis particularly interested me. My father, a strong advocate for legalization, used it to treat pain from multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. Cannabis allowed him to live out his life with dignity, and it inspired me to learn more about how plants could enhance other people’s lives. My education in plants has lead me from rooftop gardens in Brooklyn, to organizing a permaculture project in Rio de Janeiro, to teaching plant design classes at Pistils Nursery right here in Portland. I’m endlessly curious about cultivation and how plants affect our lives.
My other passions are food, holistic medicine and great drinks. These passions led me to co-hosting pop-up dinner parties at secret locations, featuring speciality cocktails. While developing drinks, I became inspired at the idea of creating my own bitters, so I started making them on my own. People loved them. They couldn’t get enough. When cannabis prohibition ended, I thought, “This is my moment!” I wanted a product that inspires health and celebration. I launched Messina Bitters in 2015. I believe it’s the first legal cannabis bitters company in the country.
Why bitters? Religious, artistic and holistic leaders have been using bitters, including marijuana-infused bitters, since the dawn of history. Ancient Egyptians, Middle Ages monks, Renaissance artists, prohibition-era housewives and Venezuelan botanists are all among the groups that used bitters to treat ailments, make great drinks and celebrate. I doubt pharmaceutical companies will ever come up with a better, all-natural anti-anxiety treatment or digestive or sleep aid. I don’t know anything that does a better job helping people relax or feel better. Bitters bring out the nuances and medicinal properties of herbs and plants. They’re easy to work with and can be used in all kinds of ways.
How did you come up with your recipe? The concept was simple. Cannabis. Cane alcohol. Herbs. But getting the details right is difficult, which is why, I think, it can be hard to find great bitters, with or without marijuana in them. If there were more great bitters products, more people would understand why they’re so essential to, for example, a well-rounded cocktail, tea or salad dressing.
I selected ingredients for flavor and for their medicinal properties. Some ingredients — like allspice, cinnamon, cardamom and Star Anise — are traditional. But others — like elderflower — are less common, at least commercially, but are truly needed to bring out a brighter flavor and to augment the relaxing effects of cannabis. After more than 100 different versions of the recipe, I finally found the right combination of effects, flavor and medicinal properties.
Where do you get your ingredients from? I’m a plant person. I have a passion for the earth and don’t just want a product that’s good for consumers. That’s not enough. It needs to be good for the planet and the local economy and Oregon and the overall legalization movement. That’s one reason I source all my ingredients through companies based in Oregon, get products that are as sustainable as possible, and am doing everything by the book, in creating a product that is authentic and can help people enjoy themselves, feel better and celebrate.
What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced? Right now, bartenders aren’t allowed to sell marijuana-infused cocktails. As a result, cannabis cocktails are primarily made by patients, by hobbyists and at private parties. It’s only a matter of time until this changes. Voters have made it clear, thanks in part ot the folks at the Weed Blog, that regulated and legalized marijuana is a much better system than an unregulated, criminal market approach. Marijuana bars and cafes will eventually become legal. But in the meantime, people have to mix marijuana bitters drinks themselves.
What’s your favorite marijuana drink? Great cocktails don’t have to be complex. Cannabis cocktails don’t even need to contain alcohol. One of my favorites is called Opalescence because it creates this pearly, prismatic drink. Just pour six ounces of soda water over one large ice cube and float Messina Bitters on top.
What are the most common questions you get about your product? It’s funny. With the general public, I seem to get the same handful of responses. It’s either, “Oh my god, that’s amazing! I can’t believe these exist!” Or it’s “What are bitters?”
What’s next for Messina Bitters? So far, I’ve been focused almost entirely on research and development. I’m a one-person business so far. People and reviewers have discovered Messina Bitters, just as you have, through word of mouth, but whenever I plan to start ramping up distribution, someone comes in and swoops up my entire inventory. I need to figure out a way to ramp up production and will definitely need to hire someone soon.
Are you going to make more products? I’m trying to stay focused on one great product and not getting too spread out, but I do have a few things in the pipeline. I’ve created a virgin version of the bitters, without marijuana in it, because I’ve heard from bartenders that they would really like one. Soon you’ll be able to get a cocktail with Messina Bitters in it at the Irving Street Kitchen. I’m also working on new flavors. I think marijuana-infused Cardamom bitters would really go well with a dirty martini. I’m going to create a newsletter at some point, so to stay tuned, sign up on my website. www.messinabitters.com.