“There’s nothing better than watching a consumer pop a G13 cap, put it to his nose, take that first smell and see his eyes light up,” Bensch said. Within two months, G13 became SweetWater’s second-best-selling draft beer available year-round.
As state regulations on marijuana have recreational use has become legal in several places (like most recently Michigan and Canada), breweries have been looking for ways to use cannabis and its derivatives in beverages. The players range from conglomerates like the Corona importer Constellation Brands, which has invested $4bn in the company called Canadian marijuana producer Canopy Growth, to small craft brewers.
“It’s not that often that you see an area that’s wide open,” said Gerry Khermouch, editor of electronic newsletter Beverage Business Insights. This very fast-moving search for a potential windfall is also a confusing one because laws and enforcement can conflict and change easily. Federal law forbids mix of the alcohol and THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component; brewers are trying to get around that by putting the THC into non-alcoholic drinks, and infusing the alcoholic beers with other cannabis by-products.
Breweries say they are willing to leap over any legal hurdles, in part, because cannabis (CBD) and its associated compounds or elements that can deliver novel aromas, flavors and experiences. This allows beers to differentiate themselves in this crowded market. “It’s like a whole new world of hops has opened up,” Bensch said. That world is rooted in a familiar relationship: marijuana and hops – the flowers that impart the bitterness, aroma and add flavor to the beer – both belong to the Cannabaceae plant family. Many varieties of marijuana and hops and shares the aromatic signatures, from citrusy to resinous.
Tony Magee founder & chairman of Lagunitas Brewing Co, in Petaluma, California. Said that “Craft marijuana and brewing have always been very closely connected,”
Magee said, “There’s a generational change happening that’s taking the handcuffs off marijuana,” who envisions a future in which beer and cannabis are sold on a level playing field. “I think THC beverages will definitely have huge competitors for beer.”
That may require transforming average American’s attitudes towards cannabis. “Right now, there is not a socially acceptable way to use or consume cannabis with friends and family,” said Keith Villa, who retired this year from MillerCoors, where, as head brewmaster, he created the famous influential Blue Moon Belgian White. He hopes that to change. In March, Villa announced the production of Ceria Beverages, a company in Arvada, Colorado, that will make non-alcoholic craft beers infused with little doses of THC. The first, a Belgian style white ale known as Brainwave, will go on sale in Colorado dispensaries in middle of the December, with 5 milligrams of THC per 10 ounces bottle.
“People should be able to drink our beers and experience the effect in about eight or nine minutes, which is similar to alcohol,” Villa said. The goal is enjoyment, not inebriation. Beer makers have also been wooed by CBD, the non-intoxicating cannabis by-product that has become very famous in the wellness industry, billed as a solution or remedy for pain, anxiety, acne, and depression.
An early and prominent component of CBD-infused beer is Coalition Brewing, of Portland, Oregon. The brewery released the bitter, citrusy Two Flowers IPA, containing hemp juice and 4mg of CBD per 12-ounce serving. The company said it was eager to search the biological similarities between cannabis and hops and highlight their crossover aromatics and flavors. “We didn’t want to make a gimmick beer,” said Phil Boyle, the general manager, and an owner. “We wanted to make a beer that could stand by itself, irrespective of its CBD element.”