Launching Your Cannabis Beverage Brand - Warren Bobrow
In conversation with the Cocktail Whisperer, he shares his incredible cannabis journey and tells us the importance of authenticity in building a brand. Read below to know more about the man behind Klaus!
From working as a TV engineer to author of about half a dozen books, Warren Bobrow is a chef, writer, and mixologist. Well known as the master mixologist for Klaus, a THC-infused craft cocktail brand with zero ABV. The former rum judge works full-time in the cannabis industry as a writer and CEO of Klaus! Warren has written many articles for various publishers and served as a master mixologist for various brands, also developing his own bar programs.
Can you tell me about yourself and what you are currently working on?
My name is Warren Bobrow. Without diminishing my past, let’s dig in for a deep dive into the WB that many of you think that you know. Initially, I studied from prep school on up, every summer and weekend- really whenever I could I worked in the television commercial world in New York City. By the time I was eighteen, I had worked on dozens of TV commercials, and I thought that was going to be my path in life. I had hoped to attend USC in their Film School, but my grades in high school got in the way. Probably for the best, as I have my film and communications degree from Emerson College in Boston.
After discovering at the last moment that I didn’t have enough credits to graduate, I took a post-grad year at MIT in the Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Which led to a job in television engineering at WNET-13 and then WPIX-11 in NYC. Fortunately for my career path, my shifts were always overnight ones, so I peppered my union lunch break from 2-4 am with visits to Danceteria, a famous nightclub from the 1980s. It was a wild time in NYC and I lived it working in NYC to the fullest until I couldn’t any longer manage the “nightlife”... and moved to York Harbor, Maine from NYC. It was quiet there and I had only small amounts of work in NYC, so I could afford to commute when necessary. The other times that I was not vestigated by a childhood dream. That was of becoming a chef.
Image: Cannabis Cocktails & Mocktails Tonics
The York Harbor Inn stands today just about a hundred or so yards away from my former carriage house on the top of Harbor Beach Road. It was in that small house that I wandered up to the Inn and asked for a job. That job would guide me for the next forty or so years of my life.
I became the person that washed the pots and pans. Not even a dishwasher, or even allowed to touch food. I cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed the floors. It was a grueling job that set me up for a lifetime of servitude in the restaurant and later, in the liquor business. After moving from the pot sink to the Garde Manger and dishes, I moved to Portland, Maine- where I was hired by Maine Public Broadcasting as an engineer. Fate again intercepted my career in television as I was fired after six months. It was the winter, I was living beyond my means in Portland, Maine- before it was chic. There were few jobs, and I was unqualified to say the very least for much of anything.
I took it upon myself to become my dream. A chef. I enrolled in the ACF, (American Culinary Federation), and got a job as a dishwasher making pizza from scratch- then working in the kitchen for the late Jim Ledue, who taught me so much about the love of ingredients, fresh daily, cooked with love. At a place named Alberta’s, we changed the menu daily- with the seasons of the earth and the sea.
Of course, he fired me.
Which led to Johnson/Wales for Culinary school in Charleston, which led to my co-founding of Olde Charleston Pasta, the first manufacturer of fresh, not frozen pasta in South Carolina. And then there was Hurricane Hugo, in 1989... and my dream was smashed. (Failure #2) Then cooking at the Scottsdale Princess, and getting fired... (Failure #3) Then founding fresh pasta biz in New Jersey (Failure #4) Then my twenty-year foray into banking... I owed my now late father a large sum of money and it took me twenty years, doing something I never belonged in, not even for a moment... to pay my debts. (Failure #5), I had always worked in wines and spirits, from my teen years forward...on and “off-premise” this took me all over the world as a rum judge for the Ministry of Rum and the Rum XP- a lifelong study, but I ceased my drinking-driven studies when I quit drinking hard spirits. That was July of 2018 at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. My health had been compromised by mass quantities of alcohol that I swilled every day. I don’t miss the nearly one hundred pounds of sugar weight that I’ve lost since then.
I had enjoyed cannabis since the age of twelve but couldn’t imagine working in this field full time. But as everything had gone wrong for me, so I really had nothing to lose by trying something that I’d never considered. The Cannabis industry. I certainly knew enough about good weed!
Bankruptcy, Divorce, Loss of my job, Disowned... Depressed. It was time for a massive and life-changing change. An author, a writer, a journalist, French Culinary Institute, The New School. I had a dream of success as a bartender too. I visited with my friend Anthony Bucco, who had just opened the Ryland Inn located in NJ. A five-star level restaurant was my dream- but I didn’t want to be a cook, I wanted to become a bartender. How else could I write about the recipes that filled my head if I didn’t know how to make them in the first place? From scratch. With the best ingredients-like the ones that I use in Klaus, today.
But Chris James, the bar manager did not need bartenders. He needed a bar back. And I became that man. He told me that being a bar back was not like any other job that I’d ever endured. This was far harder than that, a job for a teenager, not a fifty-year-old man who was completely out of shape. And for a year, I learned to do it all... from scratch, the very bottom up, something culinary school did not prepare me for. Real life. From ice to juices to wine, to service, to taking out the garbage, to bathrooms. It was the lesson for a lifetime and I pay my deepest homage to Chris for seeing me through this path. Couldn’t have done what I do today without his guidance and humility in the craft. A tip of my cap to Jerry Thomas, the father of mixology.
Then I had another dream... which led to six books on cocktail mixology (my own) and the one that really opened all the doors, Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics. This is what gave me a voice, an OG so to speak. I wrote the book in 2015 and it was promptly banned by a number of bookstores. All over. Slandered in the reviews, ostracized, and scorned by many. Jealousy is never pretty and in book reviews on Amazon, it’s down and dirty business. I’ve had good and bad reviews of my six books. They come with the territory. I try not to let these bother me too much. (They do...)
I never thought Cannabis Cocktails would be a success. I was starting to believe that- according to my late father, that I was never going to amount to anything in life, that I was a failure, and I should go pump gas because that was all I was good for. My dad hated me; it was obvious by the way he spoke to me. Yelling always until I broke down, never a kind word that would help my ambition in life, to be me. Not a lawyer like he was, nor a doctor, nor a sports agent... He hated my creativity and zest for the best things in culinary arts, wine, cheese, food.. becoming a chef, working in France, New York, Charleston... I never saw him smile in my presence, only scorn.
I had to do something about it. Which I did. Not all doom and gloom, but the chance to do what I love, what I’m passionate about. The plant rescued me! Again, and again, which is the point of this deep dive.
Now, on the tenth printing, I believe that Cannabis Cocktails has inspired others to “raise the bar” and attempt to make tasty little cocktails and mocktails with love. And yes, they all have weed in them.
Image: Cannabis-Infused Beverage
How did you come up with the idea to launch Klaus. What inspired you?
We haven’t met Klaus yet? Ah, that little guy, liked by most. When I traveled the world in off-premise liquor sales I brought my mid-19th century German Drinking Gnome with me.
What’s wrong with that? I’ve owned the little guy since the early 1990s. He wanted to travel. He still travels with me. How can’t you love a gnome, especially one like Klaus? The inspiration of the brand of course is the gnome. If you look at the label he appears on it, and on drinkklaus.com
Klaus is everyone’s favorite gnome, just watch your glass, he’ll drink it and your friend’s drink too. They tempt us to have a good time, without common sense- so watch out there!
Klaus is the amalgamation of my own personal experience making cocktails for some of the most powerful people in the world. And having them say that my drinks are the best they’ve ever sipped. They’re not sweet!
Let's go on writing a good cannabis beverage band launch plan that should be an ideal checklist
Well, first of all, no poor slob (like me?) needs to apply. To launch a business plan, you must have working capital. Banks won’t talk to you. They might even close your account if they learn that you are working in weed. It’s still illegal federally, so keep that in mind. I do. You should make friends with the kind folks at SCORE. These are retired captains of industry. Although they might frown upon cannabis, you need the skills they offer as CEOs... Be gentle but ambitious. How could they say no to you? Exactly my point. They are MBAs without the cost. Be tenacious! Next, the recipe. Who created it for you? A marketing firm. An ad agency? Your cousin Vinny? Think about working with a real mixologist. Someone who understands flavor. Do you want a seltzer (Hopefully no) or a real experience with cannabis as more than just a metaphor... All these are important. The ingredients, that’s the backbone of the drink. Are you using craft ingredients or industrialized ones? Do you have a plan to pasteurize or what are you using to preserve? Who is going to distribute? Do you have a food scientist to facilitate? A lawyer to incorporate. A backbone to survive all this.
Ha! I do! Just ask my partners. Couldn’t have done this without them. Thanks to them all.
Walk us over your experience with Klaus, what marketing worked and what did not work in the launch phase?
The weed business is not like the beverage business. It’s regulated by the local, state, and even the town you are in. There are labels of ingredients that dig into where the soil comes from. When was the last time that you saw an ingredient label on a bottle of alcohol? They don’t exist. What are they hiding from consumers?
You cannot look at cannabis beverages and think of alcohol. Cannabis is truly the anti-alcohol beverage, the low/no folks are still harping on mimicking alcohol and the flavor of alcohol in their marketing. I don’t use it at all. That’s not our path. Klaus is all about fresh, healthy, clean, crisp, and fun. Always without a hangover. I don’t want it to taste even remotely like alcohol or imitate intoxicating beverages. This is meant to wean you from ethanol, except for in your gas tank! All that sugar is not a good idea. Klaus is 0.6 grams of cane sugar and just sixteen calories.
What doesn’t work in business happens daily. The way you turn that around is to make it work and go forward. I find in corporate work; silos are not to be tolerated. That comes from working at the corporate C-level for twenty years as an executive assistant. I saw it all in Private Banking although I cannot tell you anything about it.
What tips did you have to create a pre-launch buzz?
Cannabis is authentic. It’s those of us who use weed medically and emotionally that is the reason why there is cannabis after five thousand years. It’s all those who came before us. It’s those who still sit in prison today, while corporate interests are traded on the stock market making billionaires on the backs of the incarcerated. Our plant is a force for good, so authenticity is my mantra. I have glaucoma, so my pitch will always include what cannabis did for my eyes. How smoking cannabis allows the stigmas to flourish, everyone knows your business. Drinking a Klaus Craft Libation is a luxury experience that goes beautifully with food and conversation. I suggest that the Klaus variety known as the Mezzrole go with Pacific Rim style cooking or Mexican, fresh lime is my backbone, along with spicy ginger and a splash of rice vinegar. Of course, Klaus is Terpene-Forward. So, it smells just like the craft strain- Hippie Crasher” cannabis, not candy, like so many other beverages on the market today. My beverage is not sweet. It’s piquant and mesmerizingly notable. “You’ll always remember your first Klaus” is more than a metaphor. It’s the way I do what makes me happy.
And the Mezzrole? Named for Mezz Mezzrow, Louis Armstrong’s friend from the Jazz Era in New York and Chicago. Mezz was a cannabis dealer and Jazz Head. A Mezzrole was a particularly well-rolled cannabis joint. I pay homage to Mezz and Louis- and Louis’ daughter Sharon in this unique libation. Not another seltzer, nor tincture!
What tips can you share to get good press distribution and your stories to be picked up?
Weed drinks are hot! Don’t write for exposure when you do write (if you’re a writer that is...) People are interested in good recipes that attract attention. Blog, Blog, Blog... Facebook, Twitter... LinkedIn. Anything free is the best way. My publisher *Quarto* found me through my blog, cocktailwhisperer.com. Do it!
Which cannabis beverage brands do you think nailed it in their marketing?
Well, that would be simple, Drinkklaus.com. Who else is there?
What trends are you seeing in cannabis beverages?
Weed beverages have to be something other than another listless and candy-flavored seltzer, don’t you think? Craft mocktails, simply prepared as a bartender prepares your beverage. That is the way of the world.
Header Image: Warren Bobrow, CEO: Klaus The Gnome; Image Source: http://cocktailwhisperer.com
Interviewed By Sid Patel, Beverage Trade Network