In 2019, the launch of Artet changed the game by bringing to the world of spirits the original cannabis aperitif. A modern take on the traditional European beverage, each batch coalesces cannabis and botanicals for a product that works over the rocks or as a crafted cocktail. As Artet gears up for a new year, Angeleno caught up with co-founder Xander Shepherd to learn more about the family business, diversifying your bar cart and society’s evolving relationship with cannabis.
Artet is a family business. What’s it like to work together as brothers/cousins?
In a way, it feels like we are carrying on a tradition. Our grandmother ran a business that was not only a family business, but also something that was incredibly present in all of our lives. I think the best thing we learned from it was how to isolate the three of us as partners in business and the three of us as family who would do anything for each other. That latter part takes precedence over just about anything.
You share a deep appreciation for the convergence of cannabis and aperitivo culture. How did that all begin?
Simply put, the three of us have enjoyed smoking weed and drinking cocktails for quite some time. As for the convergence of these two cultures, we see similarities between the act of rolling a joint for friends and making a drink for them. There is ritual and personal connection to both experiences that we were obsessed with capturing in Artet.
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You are the original cannabis aperitif. What was it like developing a never-been-done-before product, especially one that lived up to your vision?
The brief was simple, we looked at our favorite aperitifs –– for example Campari or Lillet –– and asked ourselves what if these were non-alcoholic and infused with cannabis? That gave us a baseline for ingredients, depth of flavor and mouthfeel. However, it was 2016, so there were very few resources available for us to figure out how to actually create a non-alcoholic aperitif and even fewer for how we could effectively infuse it. We started by making shrubs, drinking vinegars and tonics after work with fruits and vegetables from the grocery store underneath my building in the East Village. A lot of R&D mistakes, unrelenting belief in the vision, and finally finding the right partners after a few years of searching helped us get a product to market that we were proud enough to bottle and sell. Now it’s incredibly fulfilling to get positive feedback from consumers who confidently recite their favorite botanicals in Artet and describe what it is about the Artet feeling and flavor profile that they love so much.
Your newest release, Founders' Blend, is a collaboration with Aster Farms. Why did you decide to partner with them?
We were introduced to Sam and Julia at Aster Farms in January 2021, and immediately we clicked. There was a common language around cannabis, design and cocktails that we connected on right away. After a few conversations, it became clear that there was an opportunity to do something special. We realized they would be the best partners for us to work within our pursuit to push the cannabis beverage category forward with high-quality products. Their sustainably harvested sun-grown cannabis was appealing to us when thinking about how we could create a transparent link between our beverages and the ingredients that go into them.
Looking at consumption, what do you hope Artet does for cannabis culture? The recipes and approach mirror standard cocktails, but, ultimately, cannabis-infused beverages offer a different experience.
You’re absolutely correct that cannabis-infused beverages offer a different experience than alcohol. That’s what excites us most about Artet. We want to challenge the idea that a well-made cocktail has to begin with alcohol. The modern bar cart should be a tapestry of moods and feelings that are not all reliant on alcohol. People are not monolithic in their behaviors. We live on a spectrum, and we believe what you drink should too. Take Dry January for example. For many, it’s a break from booze, not a wholesale rejection of it. We saw a massive uptick in consumption of Artet during last year’s Dry January and we are seeing it again this year. If we can show people that an elegantly dosed cannabis beverage can help you loosen up without losing control and still deliver on the flavors and experience of alcohol-based cocktails, then that’s exciting to us. Because the more we do this, the more people will learn how to integrate cannabis beverages into their own lives on their own terms.
And what about from a social/political perspective— how does having something like Artet on the market help to normalize cannabis consumption? Cannabis is nothing new for California, but across the country, it doesn’t exactly have the same reputation (or legality) as alcohol.
It’s our belief that “getting a drink” with someone is one of the most universally understood and embraced social exercises. Whether it’s grabbing a juice with a friend, coffee with a coworker or meeting for drinks with a date, beverages play a massive role in our lives. There is no reason why cannabis can’t exist in that context. Products like Artet help to progress the normalization of cannabis and combat any preconceived notions built up over years of misinformation and demonization by presenting it in a format that is not only familiar, but also elegant and in some sense biological. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many people who do not need Artet to introduce them to cannabis. Our hope is that they find our beverages to be complementary to however cannabis already factors into their lives.
You donate a portion of your revenue each quarter. From the beginning, did you always envision doing your part to help communities ravaged by the War on Drugs?
Simply put, if you are not doing everything in your power as an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry to reverse the impacts of the War on Drugs, then you should probably find a different industry to work in. We grew up in New York City during the stop-and-frisk era and it was clear from its inception that it was an insidious policy that was going to disproportionately upend the lives of the BIPOC community in New York. When we started Artet, that past trauma or concern never factored into the equation because it was not something that impacted us. Therefore we collectively understood and agreed that we needed to use Artet to be an agent for positive change, even if small, from the very beginning. Since our inception, we have donated a percentage of revenue every quarter to organizations that work on anti-racist policy, combat the War on Drugs or organizations like The Last Mile that help people in the carceral system learn reentry skills and services to improve their chances of getting a job.
What are your future goals and ambitions for Artet?
In 2022, we intend to expand Artet to new states for the first time. We will also continue innovating our portfolio of beverages beyond our current aperitif and canned spritzes to offer different potencies, cannabinoids and flavor profiles that bring cannabis and cocktail culture closer together in California and beyond. And lastly, with a slightly longer time horizon, our goal is to help create pathways for on-premise consumption of products like Artet at bars and restaurants so that it is not a discrete experience but rather an integrated offering into the places and spaces we all exist in.
Photography by: Courtesy Artet