Co-Working Coffee Space Invigorates Downtown Chico

Stoble is part cafe, part coffeehouse, and part shared workspace. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Little by little, Stoble Coffee and Workplace is evolving into the full-fledged coffeehouse, café, and workspace the owners envisioned.

While a Stoble coffee cart has been serving up hot liquid creations since June 2019, it was in March that the doors opened to the brick and mortar location.

That cart has found a home inside, with a sign explaining its significance.

Coffee continues to be an important part of the whole business concept, with the roaster located in a prominent spot near the front door. Details about the beans are on Stoble’s website. Those beans can be bought there or ordered through a subscription.

Breakfast and lunch are available now; pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches are the main items.

The building is an impressive transformation in downtown Chico. It has two main floors, a basement and rooftop. The latter is where views of the city and plaza are most prominent.

The site was last home to Mary’s Gone Crackers, which moved to Reno.

Coffee beans are roasted on site. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The openness is inviting for those wanting to eat, drink and/or work. Those requiring a more private work environment away from the café have a variety of options. Just this month hourly co-working spaces opened. Conference rooms allow people to teleconference, they come with whiteboards, and seat up to 14 people. More options are coming this summer.

The website says, “What began as an idea to create a single story cafe with a few offices for rent has grown into a much larger endeavor. We now find ourselves with a light filled atrium surrounded by 17 offices, two conference rooms and tables galore. Our freshly renovated sublevel adds an additional space for a large classroom space, printer/coper facilities, phone booths, breakroom lounge and more.”

This creation was the brainchild of Matt and Lauren Theide with business partners Matt and Natalie Johnston.

“It’s turned from a $1 million project into a $5 million project,” Matt Theide told the Chico Enterprise-Record. This was because of easements and the original building’s structure, which had brick walls dating to the 1800s.

Stoble owners had hoped the business would be open every day from 7am-10pm. For now, the café is open five days a week for seven hours each day. Expect this to change.

Stoble has a variety of seating options for guests. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Address: 418 Broadway St., Chico
  • Café hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 7am-2pm
  • Email:
  • Phone: 530.513.5547.

Baja inspired chocolate winning awards for NorCal couple

Award-winning Volo chocolate is based in Northern California, but has its roots in Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A sack of unfamiliar beans sitting in a Baja kitchen was a sweet discovery for Susan and Jeff Mall.

While the couple was well versed in the culinary world, chocolate making was not part of their repertoire when they took over the food and beverage operation at Rancho Pescadero. Today they are winning awards at international competitions for their bars of dark chocolate.

The couple started in 2010 as consultants for the Baja California Sur resort. At the time they owned the highly acclaimed Zin restaurant in Healdsburg in California’s Wine Country. In December 2014, they sold the restaurant and in February 2015 they were working full time just steps from the Pacific Ocean as executive chefs at Rancho Pescadero.

“We inherited the ingredients from the previous chef,” Susan Mall shared. “We had never seen cacao beans and we didn’t know how to make chocolate.”

A little research helped the Malls figure out what to do with the beans—roast, peel, and turn them into something edible. It took a few tries, and a realization the recipes they found online were subpar.

This is when they got creative. Because the Malls had honed the understanding of food profiles through their restaurant work they were able to create unique recipes and heighten the flavors of their chocolate bars.

“We had to learn how to tune our palates,” Susan Mall said of acquiring a refined taste for high-end chocolate. Today, they are close to being equivalent to wine sommeliers by being able to dissect what is in a piece of chocolate. While chocolate and wine is a natural, well-known pairing, the Malls have pairing sheets for their chocolate with cheese.

At Rancho Pescadero cacao beans were roasted in the pizza oven. (Image: Susan Mall)

In Baja it was a bit of a bootleg, MacGyver-type operation as the couple used trial and error to figure out the process and the tools needed to make it happen. The Indian wet stone grinder was not suitable for tortillas so it was put into the chocolate operation. The wood oven was perfect for roasting the beans.

Hotel guests got in on the action by becoming free labor when it came time to peeling the beans. They found it to be an interesting activity one often doesn’t experience on vacation. When the chocolate was done, those same guests got to nibble on what they helped create. Many would buy handfuls of bars to take home with them. Rancho Pescadero profited from all the sales, not the Malls.

The duo didn’t anticipate the Rancho Pescadero gig being permanent or long term; having made a commitment of 18 to 24 months. By the end of July 2016 they were headed north—for personal and professional reasons.

(Rancho Pescadero has been closed since 2018, with a reopening expected in 2022. Then it will come under the Hyatt Unbound Collection umbrella.)

The MexiCali bar starts subtle, before bursting with memorable flavor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What the Malls took from Baja was a desire to turn their prowess for chocolate making into a business. Thus, Volo chocolate of Windsor, California, was born. In Latin the word volo means to want or to desire.

It’s an appropriate name because after one bite you will desire another, and another, then a square from a different bar. This is high-end, artisanal chocolate that ranges between 62 percent and 73 percent darkness.

A nod to Mexico goes into each bar, as cinnamon is part of every recipe. Sea salt, often from Baja, is part of the mix as well. When they were in Baja the salt came from Guerrero Negro in Baja Sur.

In Baja, finished chocolate was wrapped in foil whose original purpose was to be a hamburger wrapper.

Family quilts are the inspiration for each wrapper of Volo chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Bars to this day are still hand wrapped, though automation is coming soon. A person can wrap one bar in a minute, while a machine can do 60 in the same amount of time.

The outer wrappers are a work of art. They are images of quilts with a color scheme of cream, orange and brown that have been created by Jeff Mall’s aunt, Cathy Shanahan.

The beans the Malls first worked with were from Chiapas, the southern-most state on the mainland of Mexico. The problem was the quality fluctuated. Today, Volo’s beans are sourced from Guatemala and Haiti.

“The quality level of the bean is ultra-premium,” Susan Mall said.

While the beans are foreign, other ingredients are more local, such as from Clover Dairy, Petaluma Hill Dairy, Merchant & Miller Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Wolf Coffee.

Sonoma County businesses in turn support Volo by carrying the bars. It is the “turndown chocolate” at the Montage resort in Healdsburg.

In summer 2019 Volo introduced the MexiCali and Chocolate Orange bars. The MexiCali has chiles and dried cherries, while the other has candied orange peel.

Volo chocolate is gearing up to go to automation for wrapping. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Volo has eight chocolate bars, with No. 9 being talked about. The 73% Deep Dark Chocolate is the No. 1 seller, with the 70% Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Crunch close behind.

In 2019, Volo entered the Academy of Chocolate competition with its MexiCali and Chocolate Orange bars. Both earned bronzes; the former in the Milk Bean-to-Bar Flavored category and the latter in the Bean-to-Bar Flavored Category. There were 1,500 entrants representing 46 countries.

In 2020, Chocolate Mocha earned a bronze and the Dark Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt & Brown Butter a silver in the Milk Bean to Bar Flavored. The 73% Deep Dark Chocolate garnered a gold for Dark Bean to Bar Flavored. It was one of 43 golds in the whole competition.

“I call this chocolate reimagined. It explodes and lingers,” Mall said.

In 2020, Volo produced 37,000 bars of chocolate. Each year the company has grown. It was on target to grow 15 to 20 percent in 2020—then the pandemic hit. Wholesale orders dropped by 70 percent, while online sales took off. A federal loan helped keep the company going.

Some of the equipment at Volo that is required to make award-winning chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

An advantage to being in Sonoma County is the chocolate can be made year-round. Operations had to come to a halt in Baja in May because it got too hot and humid. Chocolate should not be refrigerated. Ideal storage temperature is between 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. In the right climate chocolate never goes bad.

With the growing popularity of Volo, the Malls know the 500-square-foot space where the chocolate is made is not going to be enough. Next door is the office and where inventory is kept. It too will need to be bigger to keep up with demand. They might also need more employees. They only have 2½ others working at Volo.

The back of each wrapper says, “While living & working as married chefs in Mexico we fell in love with traditional Mexican ingredients including cacao/cocoa beans grown in Mexico for 1,000s of years. We incorporated cacao into sweet & savory preparations which led us into the world of making Mexican-style chocolate. Now back home in Sonoma County we are continuing to make chocolate in the same tradition we learned in Mexico.”

While the Malls don’t have a professional reason to return to Baja Sur, the annual writers’ workshop in Todos Santos keeps them in touch with Mexico, where this chocolate craze all got started.

Susan and Jeff Mall continue to expand the line of Volo chocolate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



Food truck replaces burned out popular Paradise restaurant

Robbie’s Paradise Burgers has more than Angus beef burgers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From the ashes delicious things have risen.

Robbie’s Paradise Burgers proves this point.

Robbie Avila owned Kalico Kitchen in Paradise. Then the Camp Fire roared through town on Nov. 8, 2018. The flames tore through his restaurant on the Sky Way, leaving ash where once stood a favorite breakfast-lunch spot for locals.

While building is occurring in this town north of Chico, there are plenty of hoops to jump through in order to rebuild.

Kalico Kitchen in Paradise burned to the ground and in its place is a food truck specializing in burgers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Avila cleared the debris and instead of building a permanent structure he put a food truck on the lot. Robbie’s Paradise Burger’s grand opening was July 16, 2019.

Today there are a couple picnic tables with umbrellas on the property that allow for people to eat there instead of having it as a to-go meal.

A variety of choices are available, including a veggie burger ($9). The fries that came with it were good; fries come with all the burgers/sandwiches. The quarter pound Angus burger was $6.50. A pot roast melt and chicken melt, as well as a cranberry chicken salad and other types of burgers are available. Soft drinks, water and Red Bull Monster are also on the menu.

I understand why it’s a favorite of mom’s when she goes back to Paradise.

While the truck looks shiny and new, not everything has been cleared off the land. The old restaurant’s sign is still erect, with one side a melted metal artifact that remains a reminder of the devastation. Looking at the other side of the sign it would be hard to know a fire took out the restaurant.

A mix of new foliage provides life, while nearby charred pines stand as a legacy of what happened that fall day.

The melted sign from what was Kalico Kitchen in Paradise. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • 7099 Skyway Road, Paradise
  • 530.520.3952
  • Open 10am-3pm Monday-Friday, 10am-2:30pm Saturday.

Butte County could contribute to possible record almond crop

Almonds are a big part of Butte County’s agriculture revenues. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Predictions are for California to have a second consecutive record almond crop, though the increase will be moderate compared to the surge in 2020.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, made the announcement this month. The forecast is for 3.2 billion pounds of almonds to be harvested in California, which would be a 3 percent increase from 2020. The harvest increased 22 percent from 2019 to 2020.

NASS said the glut last year drove down prices for growers to $1.83/pound or $3,660 per ton. Those kinds of numbers had not been seen since 2010.

The price per ton and whether there will be enough water for the trees may mean the tonnage has to be higher so farmers can make some money.

Less water means fewer nuts per tree. Butte County is one of the 41 counties in the state declared to be in a drought emergency by the governor.

Walnuts, rice and almonds are the top three agriculture commodities in Butte County. In 2019, walnut production was $214,261,031; rice $166,060,830; and almonds $140,698,904. Coming in fourth were prunes at $24,850,000. (2020 numbers won’t be released until the fall.)

The value per ton of almonds was $4,486 in 2019. This was a drop from 2018, when the price per ton was $4,808.

Butte County has more than 41,000 acres devoted to almond orchards.

California produces 81 percent of the world’s almonds and 100 percent of the commercial supply for the United States. Almond harvest is usually August through October.

Doses of history, wine and spirituality all in one setting

The monks would surely say it was the power of prayer, keeping the faith, and believing in divine intervention that finally allowed them to complete a significant structure at the Abbey of New Clairvaux.

This religious enclave in Vina 20 miles north of Chico and 20 miles south of Red Bluff is home to Trappist-Cistercian monks. They have owned the 580 acres, which includes land dedicated to vineyards, since 1955.

Using stones from the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria De Ovila in Trillo, Spain, the California monks have a house of worship that is to be envied. While the public cannot go inside today because of the pandemic, it is possible to walk the grounds, read the history, and sip wine.

Public services at the Abbey of New Clairvaux are suspended because of the pandemic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

William Randolph Hearst bought the Spanish chapter house in 1931 with plans to use the stones at his property in Wyntoon. That never happened and he eventually gave the stones to the city of San Francisco with the intent the chapter house would be reconstructed in Golden Gate Park. That also never happened.

The Abbey of New Clairvaux was given the stones in 1994 by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with the agreement they only be used for a chapter house. This is the only place to see Cistercian-Gothic architecture in the United States.

Sixty percent of the stones could be salvaged. What couldn’t be used for the building have been incorporated into the landscape and for non-structural purposes. Other stone came from limestone quarried in Texas.

Originally the plan was keep the structure as the chapter house. According to information at the site, “Although the chapter house is an important place at the abbey, as it is the place for the large community gatherings and meetings, it soon became evident that a building so profound and substantial should become the new abbey church.”

In 2012, plans were put into place to make this a reality. The groundbreaking was in 2016, with a consecration ceremony two years later. This was all possible with a generous donation. Those details have not been disclosed.

The master site plan calls for even more structures, like a new senior wing and pastoral center, information center, chapter room, archives and research center, and refectory.

Kae, from left, Sue and Cleo enjoy tasting a variety of New Clairvaux wines.

Since I was last there in 2013, a wall explaining the evolution of the grounds has been installed. This is somewhat of a California history lesson. It alone is worth the drive.

Beyond the religious aspects of the abbey are the wines. Instead of sipping in the tasting room pourings are now done in the old tractor barn that doesn’t have walls. This was actually a more pleasant experience because the three of us had a table to ourselves. Instead of a worker explaining the wines before us we could log onto a QR code to get a short video about the varietal.

We were allowed to taste two wines outside of the five they selected. We all were most impressed with the 2018 Aimee NV Merlot ($35); and now we all have at least a bottle to remember such a fun, informative day. The other wine I was taken by was the 2019 St. James Viognier ($18). The tasting room has been open since 2005.



  • More information about the monastery is online.
  • Winery information is online.
  • Wine tastings are by appointment only. Cost is $10. This is waived with purchase of a bottle.
  • Limited food is available for purchase.

Secret Trail beer is something to shout about

A sampler of dark beers at Secret Trail Brewing Co. in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Secret Trail Brewing Co. may be off the beaten path in Chico, but their product should be no secret to those who like craft beers.

Charlie Barrett had been making beer at home long before he and wife Michelle Barrett opened their brewery in November 2017. Now he has people working for him to make the beer on site.

Through a glass wall it was great to see all the stainless steel gadgetry to make the beers in the room adjacent to the tap room. Something about beer made on site makes it taste so much fresher.

On a recent Friday night, the place was hopping. While masks are required when inside the tap room, the patio and parking lot area with the food truck are mask-free zones to those eating and drinking. The former has seating more close together, the latter has tables socially distanced.

We opted for a flight ($10) of all dark beers. The four were chosen based on the worker’s recommendation.

Secret Trail has been in operation since fall 2017. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

About a dozen handles were available that night, so there is bound to be something on Secret Trail’s beer menu to appeal to most people.

Before imbibing we thought we would use the sampler as a guide to ordering a pint of our own. However, we were pretty full after the four tasters and tacos so we passed on drinking more. At least now we know what we might order next time, because there will be a next time.

My favorite of the four was Lunar Decadence. Sue’s fav was the Choconut. Neither of us was impressed with Shadow. The fourth in our sampler was the Lunar Blackout NITRO.

This is what Secret Trail says about the Lunar Decadence: “ABV 11.0% IBU 50 This is just the second release of this very special beer. The first was so popular we did it again, but this time we ramped up the flavors even more. We took our Bourbon Barrel Aged Lunar Blackout and added locally-roasted coffee from Road Roaster Coffee Company, toasted coconut from Sri Lanka, and vanilla beans from Madagascar. The rich and decadent flavors from around the world come over your palate in waves of delight as you luxuriate yourself in all of their wonders.”

And the specs on the Choconut are: “ABV 7.8% IBU 31 This is a rich and substantial dark lager loaded with premium cacao and heaps of coconut. The result is a decadent chocolate-coconut bomb. On the palate it is silky smooth and full bodied without becoming exhausting and lends itself easily to enjoyment.”

For those looking for a can of beer, Secret Trail is available at a number of restaurants and stores in Chico as well as in Oroville, Orland, Paradise and Magalia. Those wanting a larger quantity might want to consider taking home a growler.

Food trucks are on site every day, with Gnarly Deli there Saturday-Tuesday, Indulgence Pizza on Wednesdays, Black Kettle on Thursdays, and Chicobi’s on Fridays.

I was super excited to see two veggie choices from Chicobi’s. I opted for the Veggie Jamaican Tacos ($12), which were filled with Jamaican jerk spiced asparagus, coconut infused slaw, tropical salsa, queso and lime divided on three corn tortillas. I could see following this food truck around the area it was so good.

Sue chowed down on Jamaican Chicken Tacos ($13)—same ingredients except chicken instead of asparagus.

One of the workers said the most popular item that night was the tropical salsa with chips ($6).

Tacos and beer are a fabulous combination. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • 132 Meyers St., Suite 120, Chico
  • Monday-Thursday 3-9pm, Friday-Saturday noon-9pm, Sunday noon-7pm.
  • 530.487.8151
  • Website

Free Krispy Kreme doughnut just what the doctor ordered

Chico’s Krispy Kreme is one of the participating locations for the freebie for vaccinated customers. (Image: Cleo Reed)

I just got vaccinate and can’t sit still. It must be the sugar rush.

My reward for being jabbed with the second dose of Moderna on April 19 was to take Krispy Kreme up on its offer for a free doughnut to anyone with a vaccination card. Mom and I each flashed our cards at the drive-through in Chico.

It had been years since either one of us had had a Krispy Kreme. Oh, my. It was so decadently delicious. This could be dangerous. I better not travel with my vaccination card to avoid OD’ing on these warm, light, fresh orbs of sugary pleasure.

The North Carolina-based company started the promotion on March 22.

“We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them,” said Dave Skena, Krispy Kreme spokesman.

Kae chowing down on a free Krispy Kreme doughnut as she shows off her vaccination card. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The company would not reveal how many people have received a free doughnut through this promotion, let alone details about specific locations.

People can get an original glazed doughnut every day if they want for the rest of the year—assuming they are vaccinated. The promotion is available at nearly 12,000 grocery, convenience and mass merchant stores in the U.S. along with its 369 shops in 41 states. You have to go in person; promotion is not valid online or via delivery.

Krispy Kreme has been around since 1937. The first California location opened in 1999 in La Habra in Southern California. The company went public the following year.

The first store outside the U.S. opened near Toronto, Canada, in 2001. Now there are more than 700 stores in 33 countries. There are more than 100 locations in Mexico. On the mainland the cities include in Mexico City, Puebla, Cuernavaca, Monterrey, Leon, Guadalajara, and Aguascalientes. There is also a Krispy Kreme in Cabo San Lucas in Baja Sur. Entrepreneurs have been known to bring doughnuts across the border and sell them in northern Baja towns.

That daily freebie is not all the company is doing during the pandemic. The company is delivering free doughnuts to select vaccination centers throughout the country for workers. Krispy Kreme employees get up to four hours of paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ownership doesn’t stop Modelo from still being a Mexican beer

Long before living in Mexico my favorite commercial beer hailed from south of the border—Modelo Negra.

While beverage makers often change the recipe for international sales, that is not the case with this dark beer or any of the actual Modelo labels. What one buys in Mexico tastes the same as what is purchased at a store in the United States.

Modelo beers are known for their squatty bottles and gold foil tops. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Modelo Especial has been around since 1925. This is a pilsner-style lager. The goal of founder Braulio Iriarte was to create a model beer, thus the name. Modelo Especial translates to Special Model. It was introduced to the U.S. in 1990.

Grupo Modelo became the parent company name in 1991. It was founded in 1922 in Tacuba, Mexico, as Cervecería Modelo. The company’s first beer was Corona, then Modelo Especial.

Pablo Díez Fernández became the majority stock holder in 1936 after assuming the title of director general in 1930. Under his leadership the company bought regional breweries producing Victoria (1935), Estrella (1954), and Pacífico (1954). (Victoria is Mexico’s oldest beer, which started production in 1865.)

The company went public in 1994.

Today, New York-based Constellation Brands owns the Modelo group. In 2016, it created Casa Modelo to better brand those beers. Constellation bought the company from Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is headquartered in Belgium.

Despite the beer no longer being under Mexican ownership, all of the Modelo brands are still brewed in Mexico.

Cannabis beverages make is easy to get high without smoking

Harold Han, founder and chief security officer for Vertosa, develops cannabis emulsions for beverages. (Image: Vertosa)

To get the buzz of cannabis in a faster, easier to control, more socially acceptable way, the latest focus is drinking it.

“It makes sense as an ingestion method, especially for new consumers. Smoking anything in front of people is not popular,” Aaron Silverstein, managing director and enologist with BevZero. The Santa Rosa-based company specializes in removing alcohol from beer, wine and cider.

“Traditional edibles take a few hours. With beverages, you feel the impact within 15 minutes so you can pace yourself. It mimics alcohol consumption. It’s not a huge part of the cannabis industry now, but I expect it to be significant in maybe 15 years where beverages will be 30% to 40% of all cannabis sales.”

Technology and entrepreneurship have contributed to the growing variety and availability of these drinks. But those in beverage industry complain a slew of unnecessary regulations, like what color bottle they can use, is holding them back.

“It’s by far the fastest growing sector of the industry,” said David Quintana, lobbyist for the Cannabis Beverage Association, based in Sacramento. “This way you can do your vice in public, you can have all the fun without the calories, and it’s a lot cheaper.”

Fortune Business Insights predicts cannabis beverages worldwide will be worth $8 billion by 2027.

Beer must be dealcoholized before cannabis is added. (Image: Barrel Brothers)

“Beverages are one of the fastest growing categories at our store and in the cannabis industry. They are picking up a lot of traction,” said Eli Melrod, founder and CEO of Solful dispensary in Sebastopol. “Basically they didn’t exist in 2017 when we opened and now we don’t have enough cooler space. Still, beverages make up only 2.5% of all sales, but it was zero in 2017.”

Any beverage, except milk, can get a dose of cannabis without running afoul of the law. Wine is okay, if the alcohol is removed.

“The low-dose sparkling waters are hands down the most popular; in single servings and four- and six-packs,” Melrod said. “I think people are looking for ways to relax and ways to unwind. I think people perceive cannabis as a healthy alternative to alcohol.”

House of Saka was founded in 2018 by Tracey Mason, a wine industry veteran, and Cynthia Salarizadeh, whose expertise is cannabis. In 2020, they sold 530 of the 675 cases of wine they produced. In 2021, they expect to produce 7,500 cases. The increase largely has to do with distribution expansion, though consumer demand and awareness of their products are also key.

The company makes alcohol-free Saka Pink, a rosé made from pinot noir grapes, and Saka White, a chardonnay. Grapes are sourced mostly from the Carneros region of Napa Valley. In February, Saka Sparkling was introduced as a single-serve bottle of champagne.

BevZero’s Silverstein, whose company removes alcohol from beverages, said it does not make sense to dealcoholize everything. For example, to do so with vodka would pretty much leave water. Spirits like tequila and bourbon that can rely on wood barrels to be part of the taste profile are also not good candidates for dealcoholization, he said.

For those wanting to imbibe a cannabis cocktail there are other ways to satisfy that craving by being a mixologist at home or on the road by adding cannabis liquid to a drink.

“It’s like a little ketchup packet that has liquid in it. It has 10 (milligrams) and you dump that into your mocktail,” explained Annie Holman with The Galley in Santa Rosa. “The packets are discrete; you can bring it in your purse.” Some are flavored, some aren’t.

The Galley can create these liquids and other beverages for companies in its kitchen, as well as bottle the product. Mobile bottle operations can be brought in if needed, as is similar to what some wineries do.

However, beer presents a different set of obstacles when it comes to taking the alcohol out because if in the process, too much oxygen gets in, it will ruin the batch.

“The big draw to beer is hops. Hops and cannabis are related to each other. There is a natural synergy,” said Wes Deal, co-founder and brewmaster at Barrel Brothers Brewing Company in Windsor. “Anytime you dealcoholize beer the flavor changes because alcohol does have flavor, and it affects mouth feel.”

He continues to experiment with taking the alcohol out of his line of beers to see what works. To start with the brewery has infused an IPA and a blonde ale. The products hit the market last fall. Valhalla Confections in Santa Rosa infuses the beer with cannabis and handles the distribution to dispensaries.

Beverages infused with any component of marijuana cannot be shipped across state lines because the product is illegal at the federal level. CBD derived from hemp is regulated by the 2018 U.S. Farm Act, which allows for sales from one state to another. This is because the legislation no longer classifies hemp as a controlled substance. The law is the main difference between CBD derived from hemp and marijuana. That is why some beverage makers are using only CBD from hemp.

SipCozy is one of those companies. While the company is based in Florida, winemaker Meredith Leahy resides in Napa. Only California grapes are used in the product. The initial production in 2019 was 600 cases of a 2018 Grenache Rosé blend that was infused with 40mg of broad-spectrum hemp extract. The $18 bottles are sold online right to consumers who reside in states that allow this.

Some dispensaries carry a variety of cannabis beverages. (Image: Solful)

Technology has allowed for the rapid growth in the number of cannabis beverages. The first iterations of cannabis drinks are described by industry veterans as liquid with sticks and twigs. It wasn’t until people figured out how to infuse the cannabis oil with liquids that they became palatable. Emulsions are needed so the oil and beverage don’t separate.

Few companies are in the emulsion business. The one most people point to is Vertosa in Oakland.

“Emulsions start with extracted oil. We emulsify them into an ingredient. Emulsions you see every day are in milk, ice cream and salad dressing. It makes it dispersible in water. We all know oil and water don’t mix. Emulsions make oil and water mix better,” explained Austin Stevenson, chief innovation officer with Vertosa. “We make it stable so it won’t separate. So it won’t float at the top or sink to the bottom.”

No one cannabis emulsion works for every beverage. A lot of chemistry is involved. This is because the liquid the emulsion will be infused with has different components. That IPA and blonde ale at Barrel Brothers Brewery are nothing alike, therefore the cannabis emulsions are just as different.

Whether the product is going to be in a can, glass or plastic also plays a role. If a product is pasteurized or had a chemical treatment, will help determine the appropriate emulsion.

Stevenson said it can take a few months before the food scientists settle on the correct emulsion for an individual product.

Beer and wine with cannabis adds another layer because first the alcohol needs to be removed.

“We pioneered the use of these processes in wine about 30 years back. We’ve always been constantly improving, maybe not radical jumps, but with the ability to have greater quality,” said Silverstein with BevZero.

BevZero is the sister company of 30-year-old ConeTech which developed the dealcoholization method. BevZero was created to do business with the cannabis industry. “We remove alcohol at low temps so we don’t harm the wine at all. It’s a very short process. We separate aromas, dealcoholize, then add aromas back.”

Some varietals are easier to do this with than others, like a lot of white wines. Alcohol has weight and texture, which needs to be considered when removing it from a product. Silverstein said replicating the flavors of a big, bold cabernet would be hard to do.

“When you remove alcohol from wine, you remove quite a lot. You lose weight, sweetness that the palate can recognize. And you lose flavor so we work really hard to build back the flavor profiles. We work with a natural flavor compound,” said Mason with House of Saka.

All beverages in California must be made with cannabis grown in the state.

“The quality of the cannabis extraction is super important. Only certain emulsions work so you have to be careful,” Mason said.

Those is the cannabis beverage industry are working with the state to rejigger the rules including packaging, transportation and distribution.

Beverages fall in the same category as all cannabis products which are eaten, which has created hurdles the industry folks would like to abolish.

When California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 cannabis infused drinks were not part of the equation. Because cannabis beverages didn’t exist at the time as a standalone sector it was thrown in with all edibles. That is coming back to bite the drink industry. Edible cannabis is anything that is a food or drink.

“We need to be decoupled from regulations that regulate edibles,” Macai Polansky, founder of the Cannabis Beverage Association, said.

At the time the regulations were created, the rules were written so packaging hid the contents, to dissuade children being attracted to cannabis-laced brownies and gummy bears.

“We need to educate policymakers that these are very safe products. While we take seriously that kids should not get into them, the rules around child-proof packaging need to be deregulated a bit,” Polansky said. The added restraints ultimately drive up the cost of the product.

Quintana, also with the CBA, said, “We will be doing a lot more legislatively this year.” He pointed out how today cannabis wine cannot use a traditional green bottle because cannabis containers must not be see through.

“I see some (changes) as lower hanging fruit than others. I hope what will change is the restriction on bottle color. That is just absurd,” Mason with House of Saka said. Their bottles are painted to conform to the rules. This adds to the final price.

California law regulates bottle color and labels on pot infused wine. (Image: House of Saka)

What is written on the packaging is also governed by the state.

“They prevent us from using any language that relates to alcohol. For instance, infused wine can’t even say non-alcoholic wine,” Polansky said. “They can’t put it comes from Napa unless they can source the cannabis from one producer. Cannabis usually is from cultivators from around the state. They can’t put that wine is in there. They have to put fermented grape juice.”

Cannabis beverages per state law must also carry an expiration date even though many would likely never grow too old to consume. That means makers face the prospect of a sales slump which leaves product in a warehouse waiting to be distributed, then expiring and becoming unsellable.

In transporting product, the rules dictate trucks are supposed to be owned and not leased. While loose leaf marijuana easily can be driven around in a van, pallets of beverages need trucks. The regulations require purchasing trucks which are not often needed on a daily basis.

“Distribution is challenging. (Cannabis beverages are) a very different economic model for distributors. What we have had to do is partner with distributors who have a forward facing view and realize beverages are the future,” Mason said.

Entrepreneurs with an idea for a new cannabis beverage but who lack one of the various licenses from the state to operate in the marijuana world are out of luck or need to partner with someone who is licensed.

For Holman with The Galley in Santa Rosa, “The biggest thing the state needs to do is put in a brand license. They don’t have a path for licensing.” At her 8,300-square-foot cannabis manufacturing and distribution facility she only works with licensed individuals or companies.

The California Department of Public Health Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, which regulates cannabis beverages, dodged a question regarding its opinions about changing current legislation surrounding edibles so the beverage sector could operate by rules the industry deems more appropriate.

“Members of the public are invited to voice their opinions for how the regulations can be improved by sharing their comments during meetings of the Cannabis Advisory Committee,” Corey Egel, spokesman with the state, said.

Polansky hopes if federal rules surrounding cannabis change, that cannabis drinks one day will be on store shelves everywhere.

All cannabis infused food products must be sold in a dispensary and not at a regular retail store. At the end of 2019, California had 1,440 dispensaries, according to Statista. This compares with the 28,432 stores in the state that are licensed to sell alcohol by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

When California is ready to change the law it could look to Canada which in 2019 began allowing the sale of cannabis infused beverages in retail stores.

“There really should be no reason these beverages (cannot be) sold in the same cooler as alcohol in my opinion,” Polansky said. “That is a long time out, maybe 10 or 20 years to get there. Once we have the data, arguably there will be no reason cannabis shouldn’t be sold in traditional retail.”

This article first ran in the North Bay Business Journal.

Churros–The perfect dessert when out in Todos Santos

Churros are available in Todos Santos after dark. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there is some debate as to what country came up with the first churro recipe, there is no doubt it was the Spanish who brought them to Mexico.

If the United States is the only place you have had one of these doughy confections, don’t let that determine whether you like them. Like so many edibles, it matters where and how they are made, as well as who creates them.

In Spain churros are often eaten in the morning, much like having a doughnut for breakfast. On the streets of Todos Santos the churro makers usually don’t come out until near dusk or after dark. It’s like these people magically appear with their portable churro makers.

The batter is squeezed through a chute of sorts called a churrera. Most have a star-shaped nozzle which gives the churro the rigged lines down the length of it. The dough drops into a sizzling vat of oil. It doesn’t take long for them to crisp up on the outside and be cooked all the way through.

What makes the churros better south of the border is they are not super hard and the inside is soft. Some will be oilier than others, with the better ones not being greasy. The oil—what is used and how old it is—will also affect the final product.

It is amazing how something made from flour, water and salt can taste different and so delicious.

At a Todos Santos stand a bag of six (we got an extra one—guess he thought that would be easier to split between two) cost 40 pesos, or about $2. We passed on the option to add chocolate sauce, caramel or condensed milk. The cinnamon sugar that is added right after the churros are pulled from the oil was sweetness enough for dessert.

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