Hemp and hops, both part of the same family of flowering plants, are close enough to be kissing cousins. As a result, they share lots of the same chemical properties. For example, the organic compound in hops that gives beer its bitter taste is a terpenoid, which is also the primary active ingredient in pot. Given that the weed business has been expanding exponentially, it was only a matter of time before someone had the epiphany that bud and beer are the new chocolate and peanut butter. Here are four trailblazing breweries that have put cannabis-infused beer on the map:
1. Dad & Dudes Breweria (Colorado)
This Aurora-based brewery was the first in the States to produce cannabis-infused beer.
They debuted General Washington’s Secret Stash IPA at the Great American Beer Festival back in 2015, which was met enthusiastically with long lineups. The IPA was infused specifically with the hemp extract cannabidiol (CBD), which does not have the psychoactive effects on consumers that THC does. Each keg of the beer contained 500 milligrams of the hemp extract cannabidiol (CBD), while each pint bore roughly 4 milligrams.
While they were the first in the country to receive approval for a non-THC based brew, the brewery quickly hit a snag in their distribution plans. The US Drug Enforcement Administration suddenly reclassified weed derivatives like CBD to be Schedule 1 drugs just as Dad & Dudes was about to go national. The brewery had no choice but to halt production. They have since joined a federal lawsuit against the DEA and are taking their fight to court. Dad and Dudes co-owner Mason Hembree said in an interview with Men’s Journal that General Washington’s Secret Stash has become a political statement: “Cannabis should be removed from government scheduling completely. Even the hemp plant is not legal at the federal level. It’s just stupid.”
2. Coalition Brewing (Oregon)
Coalition’s Two Flowers IPA is the first of an entire series of CBD brews and contains 3 mg of CBD per 12 ounce glass. (Other beers in the series include a lemon and basil sour called Herbs of a Feather.) They state on their website that the “base style is a west coast IPA that is light, crisp, bitter and refreshing…The bitter grassiness augments the hop bitterness, while the citrusy terpenes in the CBD mirror the aromatics and hop flavors.” The Portland brewery is looking to create a “platform of breaking down barriers” beyond just churning out delicious beer.
Elan Walsky, co-founder of Coalition, told Marijuana News that their bud brew “opened up a new consumer segment” and that both markets place an emphasis on craft and locality. He also acknowledges that the DEA presents a big obstacle for brewers who want to work with weed. Unlike Dads and Dudes, Coalition is able to continue to brew batches of CBD-infused goodness due to an exemption that allows the use of industrial hemp and CBD that “comes from a proprietary product that does not fall under the controlled substances act”.
3. Lagunitas Brewing Company (California)
The reviews for Lagunitas’ SuperCritical IPA say it all. Their brew has been described as “super dank” and “great tasting if you enjoy bud”. The limited edition batch was released last August and garnered the highest ratings of the competing bud beers. Lagunitas paired up with Sonoma County’s AbsoluteXtracts and blended their terpenes into the beer. The brewery is able to skirt around the federal roadblocks because terpenes remain legal, as opposed to CBD or hemp. This partnership has extended beyond beer as the two companies have also created a line of the first ever craft cannabis and hops vape cartridges.
4. Long Trail Brewing Company (Vermont)
Long Trail’s CBD-infused Medicator IPA is the product of a collaboration between the brewery and their neighbors at Luce Farms. Luce Farms gained a reputation for producing a delectable CBD honey and word got around to Long Trail. The brewers made a limited edition, 15-gallon batch of their Honey-Ginger IPA, swapping out regular honey for the farm’s hemp honey. The result was a brew with a “mild, sweet malt base is combined with zesty ginger spice, and citrus and floral notes from the hemp and hops”. Reviewers described the beer as “delicious and juicy” and mentioned that it tasted like weed. They launched their brew over Labor Day Weekend and enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive response, with their entire supply tapping out in a mere two hours. Encouraged by their massive success, the Long Trail crew did it all over again on Columbus Day weekend. This was before the DEA reclassified CBD, so it will be interesting to see what develops moving forward.
These four breweries have paved the way for others to also take advantage of a widening opportunity. The marijuana market is growing at rapid rate while beer sales fell 1% between 2016 and 2017. Weed is looming near as the newest threat to the big breweries’ business, after craft breweries. Budweiser exec Chris Burggraeve has even stated that “Weed is the new craft beer”. We’re consequently seeing companies like Constellation Brands (the third largest US beer company) buy up shares in Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth. Meanwhile, companies like the Toronto-based Province Brands are specializing in cannabis-infused alcohol and “groundbreaking” new products. Dooma Wendschuh, the CEO of Province Brands, stated in an interview with James West that he intends for his company to profit from recycling weed growers’ hemp waste:
“We take that stuff that’s basically waste for Canadian cannabis producers, and we turn it into a delicious, great-tasting beer which is alcohol-free, hits you in ten minutes or less, leaves your system very, very quickly, and is designed to really compete on a level playing field with the $1.2 trillion alcohol industry.”
If you can’t beat ‘em, then might as well join them.