This Cannabis-Infused Beverage Was Born in a Berkeley Dorm (No, Really)

A chat with Wunder CEO Alexi Chialtas on going big with cannabeverages

July 16, 2021 8:04 am
This Cannabis-Infused Beverage Was Born in a Berkeley Dorm (No, Really)

In a state full of next big things, cannabis-infused beverages may be one of the few to actually deserve the title. While cannabis-infused alcohol remains mostly the province of DIY YouTube tutorials, made-in-California cannabis-infused beverages — whether fruity spritzes or ready-to-pour mixers — are on the rise. 

During a period of creative reflection — following a lengthy stint heading up the Farmville Franchise at Zynga — Wunder CEO and co-founder Alexi Chialtas decided to try to recapture the super-social vibe of his college years with cannabis-infused drinks. The brand’s “sparkling beverages” — now available in flavors including Grapefruit Hibiscus, Blood Orange Bitters, and Lemon Ginger and available at retailers from Redding to San Diego — deliver a modest hit of THC (read: “low-dose effervescent goodness”) with a minimum of sugar.

Here, we talk to Alexi about why cannabeverages are the right brews for this weird, stressed-out, emotionally tenuous time. See below for a few more made-in-Cali picks. 

InsideHook: What were your first experiences with cannabis?
Alexi Chialtas:
I lived in the international dorm as a student at Berkeley, so I had people in my building from all over the world. Two were Italian — they would become lifelong friends, and they were really my first exposure into cannabis experiences.

We’d smoke socially when we hung out — we’d talk and smoke a spliff. Cannabis was always this social experience for me — we would just hang out in a circle and talk and get to know each other.

Has your excitement for cannabis remained the same since you went to college?

As I left college, I could smoke less and less as work became more and more time consuming, and so it kind of fell off. Then, in 2018, when cannabis started to be legal in California, I was like, “Holy shit, you can buy this legally now.”

Speaking of transitions, you moved into this space from a very corporate, and unrelated tech space. [After three years at JP Morgan, Chialtas was a vice president at Zynga, where he managed the Farmville franchise.] How did your experiences there filter into the idea for Wunder?

During my time at Zynga, I saw how many celebrations we had, and how stressful it was. Alcohol was culturally at the center of both. On one side, we were celebrating play, and then on the other side — maybe as we were restructuring or things were really hard — alcohol was this functional product that helped bring people together through tough times. When I left Zynga, I took some time off, and I started to look into the cannabis industry.

What did you find when you “researched” the cannabis industry post-college?
I would buy cannabis products. I would buy a joint to smoke it, but I would take two puffs and I was done. I was really turned off by other products because I couldn’t really consume them — it wasn’t what I remembered. I kind of realized that smoking wasn’t as fun when it wasn’t social. It was also a much stronger product — it wasn’t this, like, ritual thing; it was like, “Oh, let me light it, I’ll take one puff, and then be done.” It just felt very transactional.

What do you think of the new boom in alcohol and cannabis hybrids? Why did you choose the route you did with the flavor profile of your beverages?
[Cannabeverages] have a different kind of energy. I thought it would just be really hard if we took alcohol and then tried to infuse [the cannabis] in it, like with cannabis-infused wine. And so, we really just thought about what would be a great experience from a beverage perspective.

We wanted it to be very approachable for people and great tasting because at the end of the day it was a beverage. We decided to go with this fruit-inspired beverage. You could call it seltzer, but I would call it more of like a San Pellegrino or an Italian soda, without 40 grams of sugar.

Our low-dose product is a product for someone like me but also somebody like my wife, who doesn’t use cannabis.

Do you think the price and method will keep it social for folks?
It’s our view that the can should be in the $5-range or even lower. We’ve been pushing and suggesting to retailers that the more accessible this is the more people buy it. The more people that buy it, the more they’re going to share with their friends. This is a social product.

More made-in-California cannabeverages for your to-sample list:

Pamos: Launched only in April, the LA-based brand offers two cannabis-infused spirits: Low-Dose (with 6mg of THC per serving) and Micro-Dose (with 2mg of THC per serving), both infused into a fruity mix of tangerine juice, aromatic bitters flavor, lime juice, and black currant flavor. 

Artet: Also based in L.A., Artet’s “Flagship Bottle” (with a design inspired by the founders’ grandmother, a painter) provides 2.5mg of THC per pour, along with flavor notes from cardamom, allspice, ginger, chamomile, gentian, and juniper. 

Tinley: From their HQ in Long Beach, Tinley offers an array of Emerald Green-infused drinks and mixers, including the Coconut Cask (with 5mg THC per shot), the Mystic Dove (with blue agave along with the THC), and the Cinnamon Cask mixer, made to pour over soda, cider, or dessert. 

Rebel Coast: This Hermosa Beach winery moved into the cannabis-infusion space in 2017 — which explains offerings like their single-serving Pink Passion, with 10mg of THC and grapes picked in Sonoma County.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.