The founders explain what a cannabis aperitif is and why it's about to change your happy hour routine.
If you were looking at the cannabis beverage market a couple of years ago, you might have been horrified to find extremely potent concoctions, oily textures, and grassy aftertastes. You can still find those same questionable options today, but a few new standouts are quickly revolutionizing the cannabis beverage space. One of those brands is Artet, a cannabis aperitif inspired by French and Italian style liqueurs. Each 50ml serving contains a reasonable 2.5mg of THC and a sophisticated blend of flavors designed to complement (and perhaps even compete with) liquors on your bar cart.
But the product details are only part of a brand story that’s also part family saga. Zach Spohler, his brother Max Spohler, and their cousin Xander Shepherd all joined forces to make a weed drink their whole family could enjoy. “Our grandmother is a successful entrepreneur in her own right and also a trained artist,” says Max. “Some of the artwork that manifested itself on the bottle is inspired by her artwork and that family company energy is really core to our brand ethos and what we're about.”
I had the pleasure of chatting with the dudes behind Artet and got the full scoop on where they’ve been and where they’re going.
Tell us, how was Artet conceived and how did you get the idea to make a cannabis aperitif?
Zach: Sometime around 2016 I had this thought. Well, more like this vision in my head of myself, my friends, and us guys sitting around sipping a nuanced beverage on the rocks. But instead of getting drunk, it was a cannabis experience. I just had this thought that, in the future, everyone is going to be drinking cannabis. That thought stayed in my head for a while until I hit up Xander and Max. Because of his job in brand strategy, Xander knows a lot about alcohol trends. So, for him, something immediately clicked in his head and he was like, yeah we have to do this.
Xander: I think what became really clear to me and then collectively was that there's a shared romance and a shared experience between rolling a joint for someone and passing it around and making a drink for somebody and giving it to that person to enjoy. Whether it's the sound of popping open a bottle of wine and pouring a glass for somebody, or the sound of a shaker and pouring out a drink and giving it to somebody, or grinding weed and rolling it up and handing it out. Our hope was that we could create the first cannabis product that could sit on your bar cart and bring cannabis culture and cocktail culture closer together. They are incredibly similar, but for regulatory or compliance or cultural stigmas, they have been at arm's length of each other. And we really felt that a product like Artet could bridge the gap between two opposite sides of the same coin.
How did you guys initially get into cannabis?
Max: It's a little different for each of us personally, but I know at some point in high school, each of us started consuming cannabis on our own with our friends. I always felt cannabis was a more natural way to relax and be present in the moment than alcohol was for me personally.
You’re all originally from New York. Are you still based there now, and if so, how do you run a cannabis company from the east coast?
Xander: We’re from New York but we have made the leap over to California in order to really dedicate the energy and effort needed to make a successful product. We want to give it the labor of love it deserves and needs considering how much time we put into it. But going back to the question itself, I mean yeah, there is no real infrastructure in a place like New York City to do something like what we're doing.
“We like to think of ourselves in many ways as a beverage company that utilizes cannabis as a core ingredient.”
Zach: A lot of the work we were able to get done in New York was mixing up drinking vinegars and shrubs in the kitchen and just getting an idea for the type of flavor profile we wanted to build. But when it came to the cannabis side of things, we definitely knew we had to find expertise in California.
Xander: Yeah, exactly. We like to think of ourselves in many ways as a beverage company that utilizes cannabis as a core ingredient. We knew from a strategic standpoint and an experience standpoint that we wanted it to be something that was low dose, did not need to be shaken before consumption, and worked as advertised every single time. We knew this long before we ever got to a place where we were like, let's call this an aperitif. We knew these were the product barriers we needed to account for and felt that there was enough innovation and technology happening that we could find the right people to partner with.
Weed drinks are such a big thing now, but a lot of them are not great. What challenges have you faced in trying to make a great beverage?
Xander: We had really strong comps for the types of flavors we wanted to create. So we had a bit of a canvas to work with. They were very inspired by Italian style, French style liquors, aperitifs—things like Aperol, Campari, and St. Germain. We had a spectrum of products that we, in our personal lives, were already excited by and inspired by and consuming. Then the only other thing we felt very strongly about was that we didn't want to make an alcoholic drink and then remove the alcohol. We wanted to build this beverage from the ground up.
Zach: The other thing we wanted to rethink was the user design related to dosing. When we were looking at the market, it seemed like you had to limit yourself to one sip of a beverage in order to get a full dose of THC. And that seemed like it didn't really make sense. It was one of those things where if we wanted to create a product that we could feel comfortable serving to our family, something that we could enjoy in a seamless way, we didn’t want to be so nervous about how much we were getting. We wanted to be able to learn how to eyeball a serving and not be worried.
Xander: Yeah, I think if alcohol was still in a place today where all alcohol had the potency of moonshine, that industry would look very different. There's been a lot of years of innovation and fine-tuning to get to the types of proofs and strengths people prefer. With Artet, if you want to have something a little more potent, you can pour a double. If you just want to have a single, pour a single. You can enjoy it on the rocks, on its own, or as the base of a mixed drink.
In the process of refining this beverage, were you going for a high that's similar to a relaxed alcohol buzz, seeing it as a nice replacement for unwinding? Or something else?
Xander: I mean, our underlying belief is that cannabis is the perfect aperitif, especially when it's presented in the right context and the right mechanisms. And in this sort of social, 2.5mg THC dose, it really does speak to the history and legacy of what aperitif culture represents. It comes from the Latin word meaning “to open” and the whole idea is that opens your mind, it opens your mood, it opens your palette. It really helps transition you into a more epicurean, gourmand kind of moment. If you look at that, that screams cannabis.
So, I'm sure you're aware of the disparities in the cannabis industry and how the war on drugs has disproportionately penalized minority communities. What do you guys think about that and are you taking any steps as a brand to try to level the playing field?
Max: We're definitely open and honest about the fact that we're three white males who didn't bear the brunt of the war on drugs. But we grew up in New York in the stop and frisk era, and we had peers and classmates who were arrested or even stopped and frisked in high school. So it's the kind of thing where we know the impact and we saw it firsthand. As Artet comes in, we see our privilege and advantage that we have in being entrepreneurs in the space. We see it as our responsibility to train this generation and future generations of entrepreneurs. So, one small step that we've been taking is working with and engaging young entrepreneurs, and just telling them about our experience and the things we've learned when it comes to raising capital. We see training entrepreneurs as a real place where we can mitigate some of those negative impacts.
“To operate in this industry without any acknowledgment of the inequity... is inappropriate.”
Xander: Righ, so it's kind of twofold. On one hand, it's working with groups to help them get their ideas into this market and really getting to participate. And on the other hand, it's just trying to do everything in our power to work with groups and give people the opportunity to have their fair share. It's not something that we wanted to just be able to say, oh we do this. We want to hold ourselves accountable to this, so we spell it out on our website so that we are accountable and don't ever lose sight of it. Because I think to operate in this industry without any acknowledgment of the inequity, injustice, or privilege that many groups have is inappropriate and wrong and it means that people are in this industry for the wrong reasons.
Photos by Anthony Tripoli