Cannabis-Infused Beers on the Rise

News by | Oct 2017 | Issue #129
Long Trail co-head brewer Ian Harbage at Luce Farms. | Photo by Drew Vetere

Cue the “highly limited” jokes. In an intersection of cannabis and humulus, Petaluma, Calif.-based Lagunitas Brewing Co. partnered with Santa Rosa-based AbsoluteXtracts to release SuperCritical, an IPA brewed with THC-free cannabis terpenes for aroma. The August release, briefly available in California, is the latest in a string of brews incorporating cannabis from producers in cannabis-friendly states like Vermont and Oregon.

THC’s non-psychoactive cousin, cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in cannabis and hemp plants. “Hops and hemp are very close relatives, and share many chemical characteristics,” says Bill Stewart, a chemical engineer and maker of infused edibles who helped Coalition Brewing in Oregon develop its CBD beers.

After six months of recipe development, Coalition released the state’s first CBD beer, Two Flowers IPA, in November 2016. “It was vitally important to us to avoid making this a ‘gimmick’ product, so the knowledge of the cannabis industry was instrumental in the development of Two Flowers,” says Coalition owner Kiley Hoyt. “With Bill’s help—and through lots of taste testing—we learned about the unique flavors, aromatics, and chemical properties of hemp and CBD, and how to properly and safely incorporate them into our beer.” Now available year-round, the 6 percent West Coast IPA clocks in at 55 IBU and 3 milligrams of CBD per 12-ounce serving.

Since then, Coalition has released several small-batch beers with CBD, including Herbs of a Feather, a sour ale with lemon and basil notes from terpenes found in both hemp and hops, and Charlie Brown, a nut Brown Ale brewed with toasted hemp seeds. “The idea behind Two Flowers is to show the biological, industrial, and cultural similarities of these two plants, and how they can be used together to create pure deliciousness,” explains Hoyt. “CBD beers are not some chimera of intoxicants.”

Vermont saw its first CBD beer with Long Trail Brewing’s Labor Day draft-only release of an IPA combining freshly grated ginger with hemp honey from nearby growers Luce Farm. With about 20 milligrams of CBD per serving, the 5.7 percent IPA brewed with Mosiac and Citra hops was met with an “overwhelming response” from taproom customers.

“We see this as a very compelling and unique new ingredient for our brewers to experiment with and our fans to enjoy,” says marketing director Jed Nelson.

Despite being non-psychotropic, beers using the ingredient face an uphill battle when it comes to government approval. Take Colorado-based Dude’s Brews, the first brewery to get TTB approval for a CBD beer, which it debuted in 2015. A later DEA declaration that cannabidiol, like marijuana, is a Schedule 1 substance disrupted the brewery’s distribution plans. Dude’s Brews has since joined the Hemp Industries Association in a lawsuit against the agency.

Even with some added challenges, though, Long Trail’s Nelson thinks we’ll see more breweries experiment with the ingredient soon. “Hemp and hops are so closely related that it’s a natural fit for creative exploration.”