While industry tastemakers have been keeping a close eye on the burgeoning CBD oil trend, relatively few producers dare to blend the tincture with booze. But then, the folks behind CBD-infused spirits company Top Beverages are hardly your average distillers. We chatted with attorney-turned-entrepreneur Nick Pullen, the company’s co-founder, as their inaugural gin and spiced rum bottlings hit the market…
“We wanted to really pioneer something that’s never been done before,” explains Philadelphia native Pullen, who established Top Beverages with business partner Saf Ali back in January 2019. “A lot of folks out there have an existing range of alcoholic beverages and just throw in a [CBD-infused variant] to catch a fad or trend. Our core business is CBD spirits and that’s what’s really going to set us apart within the industry.” Pullen met English music industry and property Saf Ali at their childrens’ school bus stop in Barcelona – the city they call home – and the duo made it their mission to disrupt both the spirits and CBD industries.
For the uninitiated, CBD or cannabidiol is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, so it doesn’t make you feel “high” (that’s down to THC, one of 113 known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant). Research suggests it offers a range of health benefits, from reducing chronic pain and inflammation to easing anxiety and epilepsy. You can buy ‘CBD isolate’, a pure, concentrated form of CBD with no other cannabinoids present, or opt for ‘full spectrum CBD’, which includes other naturally-occurring plant compounds, and it’s the latter Pullen and Ali chose to use in their range.
After months of research and trial-and-error testing, Top Beverages has bottled its first products, a gin and a spiced rum, each available in a limited run of 500 x 100ml bottles at a punchy 54.5% ABV. The RRP is pretty punchy at £30 a bottle, the equivalent of £210 for a standard 700ml bottle. One gin is distilled with juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, elderflower, lemon peel, lime peel, and a fresh Valencian orange, while One spiced rum is made with cassia bark, orange peel, ginger, and Indian vanilla pods. Both variants contain 10mg of full-spectrum CBD, which injects “a little bit of flavour, but not much,” Pullen says.
“It all comes down to finding the right CBD,” he outlines. “A lot of what people are calling CBD products are really hemp oil, which has a different flavour profile. We had to do a lot of research and tried dozens of CBD types from different suppliers from the UK, Europe and the US. It took us a long time to identify the best water-soluble product out there and then experiment with when to add it, how to blend it, how to filter it – getting to the end result was a labour of love.”
Top Beverages is working with legal and food safety professionals to guarantee the quality of its CBD, but aside from EU standards that regulate CBD and THC content, no industry-specific regulations exist. This is uncharted territory after all, which means there’s no lower or upper limit to the amount of CBD a producer is required to add to a given spirit, wine or beer. Where some companies may seek to capitalise on this by adding as little as possible, Top Beverages has “a more concentrated approach,” Pullen says, with every 10ml of spirit containing 1mg of CBD.
“We view more regulation as a benefit because it’s going to weed out a lot of the potential bad actors,” he adds. “Compliance regulation is ultimately a good thing and the people that adhere to it end up becoming the cream of the crop because ultimately consumers want a trusted brand. It’s really important to communicate that you’re getting what you’re paying for, especially in this virginal market.”
One area there are regulations, however, are in regards to advertising. Communicating how a CBD-infused G&T might compare to a ‘regular’ one in terms of mood-altering effects is, well, a little tricky. “I’m not a doctor or a medical professional,” Pullman clarifies. “We’re not allowed to make any kind of medical claims relating to CBD and alcohol, but here’s what I can say personally: About three to four weeks ago I had terrible back pain, I was really struggling. I opened up my gin to make a G&T and afterwards my wife said, ‘Wow, you’re almost dancing now’.
“There’s a calming aspect and pain relief aspect for me,” he continues. “Obviously, people respond to it differently, and like all spirits, it should be consumed in moderation. But for our focus group, the reaction has been one of, ‘This is an amazing spirit and I feel really good after drinking it’. Whether that comes from the CBD, the alcohol, the natural flavours, or the whole combination, it makes people feel great.”