Welcome to Like A Virgin, a column in which we recommend a different zero-ABV drink each week. They’re not “near beers,” they’re not “mocktails”—they’re delicious beverages that anyone and everyone should try at least once. Got an idea for a future Like A Virgin column? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a while since I last featured a hemp-infused drink in this column, and that’s because most of the ones I have sampled have been, to put it kindly, terrible. I appreciate that these brands are trying, but I also feel like many are rushing their products to market to capitalize on CBD’s exploding popularity, without taking enough time to make sure said products taste good. It’s hard, I know! Hemp extract is an acquired taste—for the uninitiated, think dried grass and burnt nuts—and to make it work in a drink, it you have to work with it, not against it. Flavorings need to be calibrated to round off some of hemp’s sharper corners and soften any bitter notes that border on acrid; attempts to drown it out will never result in anything good, no matter how rare and/or sophisticated those flavors may sound.
I have found that the makers of many cannabinoid-infused beverages believe that Instagram-ready packaging can save a sub-par product (which, at $5 a can, it absolutely cannot). This is why I was surprised when I first tried Mad Tasty’s hemp-infused sparking waters. Between the catchy name, a Keith-Haring-meets-Glossier aesthetic, and the fact that its signature flavor is called Unicorn Tears, I was positive that Mad Tasty, like so many of its peers, was destined to leave me mad underwhelmed—yet I was not. Even more surprising: Unicorn Tears is the best of the brand’s three flavors. I say this as a fully grown adult.
For all you people out there who are new to the world of cannabinoid drinks, I think Mad Tasty’s Grapefruit could be good entry point to the genre, since grapefruit is naturally a near-perfect example of how to balance bitter, sweet, and tart, and hemp extract’s earthy flavor can slip in among those notes almost seamlessly. For the Watermelon Kiwi Mad Tasty could have tried to drown the hemp out with sweetness; instead it wisely lets the fruit flavors play in the background, where they can complement and amplify hemp’s botanical taste. Lastly, the Unicorn Tears, which I’ve consciously chosen not to over-analyze. Yes, the name is ridiculous, but it’s also functional; since I can’t immediately identify every individual fruit that was called forth to produce these tears, my brain doesn’t dissect and categorize the flavors into “hemp” and “other stuff,” allowing me to fully relax and enjoy the experience for what it is. Mad Tasty’s drinks have a noticeable calming effect, and I’d much rather live in the moment with my can of tears.