What do you get when you cross Chicago’s sophisticated post-speakeasy vintage cocktail culture with Seattle’s embrace of experimental gastronomy and recreational cannabis?
A wonderous line of syrups and elixirs fit for both craft cocktails and pancakes. You get Craft Elixirs, a small startup in the charming Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.
Jamie Hoffman came to THC-based elixirs through a twisting path. After graduating in 1995 from Northwestern University with a major in Communications and Advertising she managed integrated marketing programs in the commercial construction industry. Hoffman developed website databases and content management systems for rooftop companies like Tecta America, a full service roof company that offers, among other services, vegetative roofing, otherwise known as ‘green roofs’. When Hoffman realized that Tecta didn’t offer garden maintenance as part of their services, she saw an opportunity. Her company Chicago Earth LLC, designed and maintained vertical rooftop gardens: pillars of greenery in the heart of the city, stocked with mint, basil and other aromatic edibles.
By 2009 Hoffman had branded Chicago Earth as a boutique service, catering to penthouse owners and luxury condominiums across the city, providing soul-refreshing green spaces as rooftop retreats, little islands of serenity perched atop steel and concrete skyscrapers.
That sparked her interest in infusing syrups with herbs for coffee, cocktails and whatever. Her curiosity simmered in the cauldron of the Windy City’s foodie mecca, where chef’s spicy concoctions led her to pair habanero with smoke and other beguiling combinations. No one thing led Hoffman to found Craft Elixirs, but her background in horticulture and herb growing, and Chicago’s culinary and craft drinks scene certainly contributed.
So, with Washington state’s I-502 recreational marijuana law passed, Hoffman reinvented herself as a provider of high-end boutique elixirs – everything from a standard simple syrup (with either 10mg or 60mg THC per 100ml), to the exotically named Verdita Dragon (named “Little Green” after the southern Mexican tequila-accompanying shot – pineapple, lime, jalapeño), to the simple, yet profoundly tasty Ballard Beat (blueberry and orange). And for something healthy to nibble on, she included a line of dried fruit chew edibles: citrus, or pineapple/chocolate, or local Washington Apple & Cinnamon chips.
Sometimes sophisticated can be a hard sell.
Even though I-502 has been implemented with sometimes maddeningly deliberate caution (it was months after Colorado opened recreational shops that Washington got around to offering licenses, and months beyond that before the first shops opened, plagued by shortages at first), there remains a certain youthful aspect in extracts and edibles. Hoffman describes it as ‘teenage-boy based’. The overly sweet, extreme with five X’s marketing that aims for the gonzo instead of the gourmet.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle,” Hoffman says. “The product takes a lot of explaining. It’s not always popular with tourists.” Her vision is of a fresh, seasonal and refined cannabis-based beverage, one that expresses and accentuates the natural exquisite flavors of the plant.
Indeed, a local shop identified an elixir (Wallingford Wanderlust – a simple syrup with strawberry and peppercorn flavors) as ‘for cooking’, totally ignoring its potential as a topping, as an addition to wine or cocktails, or adding it to hot water to make a delicious and unique tea.
Not content with just adding THC to sugar water, Hoffman pushes for a product that stands on its own.
“Every bartender makes their own syrup,” Hoffman says. “Because premade syrups are just not as good. I experimented until I could make one that I would enjoy. I wanted something that could be both a cocktail syrup, and syrup on French toast. Something that’s fun and social, maybe a splash in a glass of wine while you’re sitting around chilling with friends. Something that’s good for a lot of applications.”
Her products are of the highest quality: Ginger Grass is a mix of three distinct kinds of ginger. The Apples & Cinnamon Chips dried fruit chews use locally grown Granny Smith apples. All concentrates are vegan, using only cane sugar. She allows no additives, and everything is Kosher, both figuratively and literally.
As with any fledgling purveyor, maintaining an even supply chain has been dicey at first. Ramping up to meet the demand has been hard. Her website (craftelixirs.com) just came on-line in August, and with the new flavors she’s developed it’s already out of date.
She is navigating the whirlwind chaos of a startup with an infectious laugh and an almost puppy-like gentle, yet boundless energy. “We only have six employees,” Hoffman says, the smile and pride obvious in her voice. “We’re lean and mean. Right now it’s crazy. A month ago everyone was looking for something to do.” Now they’re scrambling to meet demand. “We’re constantly starting over,” Hoffman says.
But starting over is no stranger to Hoffman, and with an infectious laugh that’s almost a conspiratorial giggle, she gives the impression that’s the way she likes it.