Gillian Levy: Co-Founder & CEO/Humboldt Apothecary Digs Deeply Into 2020 – FORBES
I love the company named Humboldt Apothecary because they have bridged the gap between traditional mixology, my former world in liquor meets the all grown up newest age movement, cannabis. Cannabis has filtered its way into a variety of materials. From non-reactive CBD to fully reactive THC, it’s ironic to me that many of the new “apothecary” products are from long ago. Hence the Humboldt Apothecary. I’d heard about them a couple years ago, primarily because I wrote the book, Apothecary Cocktails back in 2013. It propelled my career in mixology using ingredients more akin to the early apothecary shop. They are authentic and contain the memories of a lifetime of healing. When you had a belly-ache in the early days of our country what did you do? Folk healing was the lay of the land. Herbs, spices and liquors were utilized into potent sipables, known today as cocktails.
Who knew that a Sazerac could heal what ails ye? During the yearly event known to insiders as Tales, aka: Tales of the Cocktail, I discovered that the early apothecary really was no more than a cocktail bar from visiting the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans. The early pharmacy or Apothicaire was a place for people to gather to heal their gut, which more often than not contributed to their ill temper from eating spoiled food! But no one at this time really knew the future of cocktails, they just liked the buzz. Certainly under a different name of course.
Many of the early apothecaries have also utilized cannabis in their preparations. As it turned out, the cannabis may have been the only active ingredient that actually healed anything at all!
Think of modern-day Peychaud’s Bitters (which did not include cannabis), invented by Antoine Amédée Peychaud as a medicinal tonic in the early 1800’s. Or Angostura Bitters (also, no cannabis, although I did infuse cannabis into my version of bitters later on), originally invented for General Bolivar’s troops who were stricken with dysentery.
With this said, Humboldt Apothecary caught my attention because I have made my career working with bitters, shrubs, syrups, tonics, digestives, aperitifs and mixing drinks of all kinds. Humboldt Apothecary uses natural ingredients that I’m very familiar with, having grown up on a farm, living a somewhat enlightened life around healers had benefits that are encapsulated into each drop of bitters. Be they contain THC or not, but it couldn’t hurt. Healing comes from deep within the soul and Humboldt Apothecary is healing their clients, one drop at a time.
Warren Bobrow=WB: Where are you from? Why Cannabis? When did you discover our plant? Where were you? With whom?
Gillian Levy=GL: I am originally from Seattle and discovered cannabis as a sophomore in high school. My best friend’s older brother would have BC indoor bud, and we would sample it when we could get ahold of it. It was more of a social thing and just for fun at the time.
However, I didn’t really fall in love with the plant until I moved to Humboldt County in the mid-1990s. Here I was able to connect with cannabis in a very intimate and new way. The more I learned about the diverse genetics and the plant’s many medicinal properties, the more it drew me in. I have been an herbalist since the late 1990’s and plant medicine has always been a great passion of mine, so understanding how to use cannabis and the diverse therapeutic properties that it offers, was an intuitive way to connect to the plant. I fell in love with the CBD-dominant genetics and the diverse terpene profiles found in sun-grown cannabis bred and cultivated in Humboldt County. I became inspired to create tinctures and infusions with cannabis, and to move away from smoking. Using tinctures allows you to microdose and really personalize your medicine to your individual needs. This is a very powerful thing, and helped me personally with some anxiety and sleep issues I had been suffering from.
WB: Tell me about your company? What is your six and twelve month plans? Did you think that you’d be doing this in life? What did you originally want to be when you “grew” up?
GL: Humboldt Apothecary was established in 2015 by my business partner, Susan Cleverdon, and myself. Our products are available statewide in California and we are continually growing our footprint in the state, as new dispensaries open and more of them carry our products. In 2020 we are going to pursue expanding our footprint into other states, primarily through a hemp CBD line, but also possibly through the licensed cannabis channels in other states. I would say our 6 month plan is to work on new product development and growing our footprint in California, and our 12 month plan includes a new product launch and possibly moving into other states. Taking our products to other states is an incredibly complex undertaking, and we will be spending many months analyzing the markets to determine if it’s the best move for us.
Although I never dreamt that I would be a cannabis entrepreneur as an adult, I am finding the experience quite rewarding. I have degrees in biology and botany and always intended to go on to medical school. I fell in love and had children at a young age, so I made a life in Humboldt County and worked for many years as a biologist and botanist. Humboldt Apothecary was born out of a love for cannabis as a tool for vibrant health and a desire to engage in the creative and blossoming cannabis industry.
WB: Do you cook? If so, is there anything that you make that brings a tear to your eye when you prepare it? Why? What is your favorite restaurant? Where? What kind of food?
GL: I LOVE to cook! It’s a joyful sensory experience to me. Jewish comfort foods that I grew up with, such as matzo ball soup, latkes, blintzes, and fried matzoh are all capable of evoking an emotional reaction. I have great memories tied to the tastes and smells from my childhood. I love to cook at home and create all kinds of fusion experiments, usually involving lots of fresh herbs and sometimes an ingredient that’s new to me that adds a little bit of excitement.
My favorite restaurant is probably Revel in Seattle. It’s menu is inspired by Korean street food and the flavors are remarkable mixes of delicate, botanical flavors and bold chilies and sauces. I also really love Southeast Asian cuisine for similar reasons. The fresh herbs and spices excite the palate and add that little extra something special.
WB: What kind of obstacles do you face in your business? How do you remove this kind of obstacle? Do you have a favorite mocktail or cocktail?
GL: Between 2015-2019 there were constant changes in the California regulations that posed one obstacle after another for operators. Now that the final regulations are in place, that stress is largely over. Now we are focused on the process of raising capital, so that we can grow our craft cannabis business and expand into larger markets. However, it is a bit challenging to raise capital right now because there has been a big slump in the projections for growth within the cannabis industry, and investors are now more reluctant to write large checks.
Another obstacle I would say is that there are so many other products out there that setting yourself apart can be a big challenge. Our quality is very high, and our standards for how and where we source from, and how we manufacture are some of the strictest in the industry. We are currently creating content to educate around these topics of quality and efficacy. Educating the public, as well as potential investors is key to getting noticed. We are very tenacious. We like to think we see an obstacle as a challenge to be tackled with creativity and the simple act of showing up every day.
My favorite cocktail is an Old Fashioned. It’s remarkably simple, yet so elegant. I am a complete sucker for the classic pairing of bourbon and bitters. My favorite mocktail varies by season, and I like to switch it up depending on my mood. Lately I’ve been enjoying a drink with a little cranberry, a splash of ginger ale, with thyme syrup, and of course a splash of Humboldt Apothecary Winter Bitters. It’s a festive drink, and I find that most people I’ve served it to love it. I also love the simplicity of soda water with the bitters and a twist of orange. It’s refreshing and makes a great aperitif.
WB: What is your passion?
GL: Speaking and educating about the components of a healthy lifestyle, with the hope that others are empowered to take steps in their own lives that foster wellness. I have a number of passions and they all tend to center around healthy living. I am passionate about exercise; my yoga practice, working out, and being active in nature. I love to create amazing and nourishing dishes, and I am deeply passionate about using cannabis and other medicinal plants to promote vibrant health. I am also passionate about reading and studying the latest scientific research in medical cannabis. I feel really lucky to have my personal passions and my work intersect in a really rewarding way.