Cannabis beer is something we have been seeing a lot in the news lately. In fact, with several cannabis and brewing companies already claiming to be developing or to have already developed the FIRST cannabis beer, things can get quite confusing.
We have to admit that all the weed beer talk these past few months has left us with more questions than answers.
Is there already a cannabis or cannabis-infused beer out in the market? What is cannabis beer and what makes it special? How hard can it be to make one?
Let’s try to answer these questions and take a look at the process, check out which companies are developing weed beer, and what all these is going to accomplish in the long run.
What is beer and what is involved in the process of making it?
In the broadest sense of the word, beer is any alcoholic beverage that is created by fermenting grain. In a vast majority of beers around the world, the grain base used is barley.
The brewing process usually starts with malt, which is barley that has been roasted after it was germinated. The malt is milled, cracking the grains with rollers in order to explore more of its surface area.
Malt is then heated with water using a large kettle that is known as mash tun. When mashing ends, the starches in the malt get broken down into simple sugars, producing a sweet liquid called wort.
The malt is rinsed then strained to get the last bits of sugars into the solution. Wort is piped into another large tank called the brew kettle. Here, green, cone-like flowers called hops are added and boiled into the liquid. This is what gives beer its aroma and its bitter taste.
Barley. The grain base used on most types of beer.
After boiling, the wort is cooled and when the temperature is right, yeast is added. Yeast is the one that does the fermentation work. The yeast is pitched in to the wort and consumes the sugar. As the yeast does this, it releases carbon dioxide and alcohol.
After some time, when the sugars run low and the solution becomes too alcoholic, the yeast slows down or die. This is when fermentation is completed. The young beer is then transferred to conditioning tanks to age. This process can last from a few days to several weeks or even months and years, depending on the beer’s style. Once the brewer thinks the beer is ready, it is bottled or packed for consumption.
What is cannabis beer?
When you say cannabis beer, it can be either of these two:
1. Beer that is made by brewing barley and merely infused with CBD or THC oils. This is what’s more commonly called as cannabis-infused beer.
2. Beer that is made by brewing the cannabis plant’s stalks, stems, flowers, roots and leaves in place of barley. It still uses hops, water, and yeast. The final result is a gluten-free, non-alcoholic beer that gives drinkers a high.
Scientists describe the taste of cannabis beer as savory, dry, and less sweet than a typical beer. The high or the psychoactive effects of the THC also hits the drinker more quickly than a cannabis-laced edible.
Cannabis beer is on the rise. But why?
With Canada legalizing recreational cannabis and with more and more states in the U.S. moving towards full cannabis legalization, an increasing number of companies are also seeing the need to capitalize on the burgeoning marijuana industry.
Moreover, with the legalization of adult-use weed in Canada and in certain U.S. states, alcohol sales are bound to go down. So, for economic purposes, beer companies have to find an attractive crossover brand in order to maintain their profit margin. This is why cannabis companies and brewers are teaming up to incorporate the drug in their brews.
There are also Canadian entrepreneurs who just want to develop new ways for people to enjoy recreational cannabis in a socially acceptable way without rolling or smoking a joint. These new ways include cocktails, tea, coffee, and, of course, beer.
For all these companies, the goal is simple: to create a cannabis beer that gives drinkers a similar intoxicating effect to the alcoholic one. This product, in the long term, could be consumed as a better alternative to alcohol.
Why is cannabis beer better than beer and other alcoholic drinks?
On top of the financial benefits that cannabis and beer companies stand to gain, another potential benefit of THC-infused beer is its ability to help young people avoid getting liver disease from binge drinking.
Many studies have also provided evidence that alcohol brings in a long list of harms, including death. In fact, the World Health Organization said that drinking alcoholic beverages causes injury and illness to millions of people.
Here are some stats:
According to the WHO in its Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, 2.5 million people around the world die annually due to harmful alcohol consumption. Of this number, around 320,000 are young people from 15 to 29 years old.
The WHO also said that nearly 4 percent of all deaths are alcohol-related. We are talking about deaths resulting from liver cirrhosis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and injuries attributed to the harmful drinking of alcohol.
When it comes to the U.S., the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated that around 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the country, right after tobacco use and poor diet/physical inactivity.
The NIAAA also noted that alcohol-impaired driving had accounted for 10,000 fatalities in 2014. This is 31 percent of all driving-related deaths. What’s more, alcohol poisoning kills around six people every day and teen alcohol use is responsible for 4,700 deaths annually.
All these numbers alone answer the question on why using cannabis is better than drinking alcohol.
Nobody has been reported to have died from overdosing on weed. And while studies show that cannabis can negatively affect one’s physical and mental health, it is not as deadly as alcohol, tobacco, and other prohibited drugs.
Which companies have jumped in on the cannabis beer bandwagon?
In June 2018, Toronto-based adult beverage company Province Brands of Canada announced that it was preparing to be the first company to sell beer that is brewed from cannabis once its sale is allowed in Canada.
The company was able to develop a brewing technique that uses the cannabis plant and mash it in order to create sugar. But unlike ordinary beer that includes only 6-carbon sugar, this one will use both 5-carbon and 6-carbon sugar.
The company claims that their beer has a lower number of calories than a standard non-alcoholic brew. Their beer will also be gluten-free.
Province will be using a waste stream in the cannabis industry as they will be using stalks, roots, and stem in the process of making their beer. They believe they will be solving a huge waste problem for the weed industry.
Because Province has already developed a brewing process, it is prepared to hit the Canadian cannabis market first. Province is able to make the beer with their license, although they are not yet legally allowed to hold a tasting.
The beer, however, cannot be expected to be on the shelves in October, which is when Canada is slated to launch its recreational cannabis market. Province will have to wait until next year when all regulations have been set, including regulations that legalize cannabis-infused edibles.
Canopy Growth and Constellation Brands
Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth partnered with beer giant Constellation Brands to work on cannabis-infused beverages that do not contain any calorie but will make you feel more upbeat. Constellation, the company behind Corona craft beers, acquired a 9.9 percent stake in Canopy Growth.
Corona craft beer maker Constellation Brands is venturing into cannabis beer.
Currently, researchers at Canopy Growth are still developing a line of cannabis-infused cocktails.
Molson Coors Canada
Multinational brewing company Molson Coors Brewing Company’s Canadian arm announced its partnership with Canadian cannabis producer Hydropothecary to embark on a joint venture to build a standalone company for cannabis-infused beer.
The deal between Molson Coors Canada and Hydropothecary is expected to close before the month of September ends.
When it comes to cannabis-infused beer in Oregon, Kylie Hoyt and Elan Walsky of Coalition Brewing are the ones leading the charge. They have combined CBD and hops in order to create seasonal CBD beers. You can buy Two Flowers IPA* and Herbs of a Feather, Walsky described as “lemon and basil sour.”
Coalition Brewing plans to release another CBD and terpene-infused beer, which it will call Certified.
Long Trail Brewing
Vermont-based Long Trail Brewing is successfully experimenting with CBD-infusions. They have partnered with Luce Farm, a local CBD-rich hemp producer. Long Trail Brewing started off by selling Luce Farm’s CBD-infused honey, which comes with their cheese plates.
Afterwards, they took a different approach and started brewing cannabis beer.
Since then, they have released two batches of Honey-Ginger IPA. They eventually started to offer straight-up IPA called the Medicator, featuring hemp oil and terpenes that deliver the beer’s weed-like character.
Unfortunately, Long Trail Brewing had to stop brewing cannabis infused-beer, for the time being at least.
A new Colorado-based brewery run by Keith Villa, the brewmaster who created Blue Moon beer, and his wife Jodi, brews a non-alcoholic THC-infused beer under the brand called Ceria. This beer will get you high, but you will be able to choose the kind of high you would like to experience.
They use CBD, THC, as well as other cannabinoids in order to achieve specific results. Villa worked with research company Ebbu in formulating this beer and accurately dosing the cannabinoids required to achieve certain sensations, such as ‘chill,’ ‘energy,’ or ‘bliss.’
Ceria will be releasing three beers during the holidays. The first is going to be a light American lager featuring a low level of THC. The second will be a Belgian style wheat ale containing higher levels of THC, or an estimated 6-10 mg of THC per serving. This one will give the ‘blissful’ sensation.
Ceria’s third release will be an IPA that contains between 10 and 15 mg of THC per serving.
All of Ceria’s brews will be clearly labeled. Lower strength ones will bear a green marijuana leaf label while the more potent options will have a black marijuana leaf label.
Cannabiniers, a Nevada startup, is expected to start selling a line of cannabis-infused beers soon.
There’s also Lagunitas Brewing Company, a California-based craft-beer company owned by Heineken, which has already started selling a cannabis-infused sparkling water.
You also have the Oregon-based Xylem Cider, which offers a unique selection of weekly changing terpene-brewed ciders. Xylem Cider teamed with FDA-approved company True Terpenes, which gets the cannabis terpenes from other plants. So, basically, what Xylem Cider does is replace hops with terpenes and use these terpenes to mimic the aroma and the flavor of cannabis, without the THC.
Cannabis beer is classified as a cannabis edible
Cannabis beer is considered an edible cannabis product, along with oils, baked goods, candies and other confectionary, infused foods, and other infused beverages. Edible products are popular in jurisdictions where recreational cannabis is sold legally.
For instance, in 2016, edibles constituted 13% of cannabis sales in Washington State. Meanwhile, edibles sold in the states of Colorado, Oregon, and Washington were valued at $269.8 million in the same year.
Consumers often view edible cannabis products as the easiest way to consume the drug, not to mention a much healthier alternative to smoking or vaping.
And considering that in Canada, cannabis-related products and services would eventually be worth an estimated C$12-C$22 billion according to analysts, the Canadian government will have to draft and implement regulations that deal with the sale and production of edibles.
Investor and consumer appeal
Canada is considered a nation of beer drinkers with beer considered to be the country’s most popular alcoholic drink. According to a survey, 57 percent of Canadians drank beer in 2015 and that approximately 22.71 million hectoliters of beer were sold that year.
Beer is also a massive market category in the United States. According to IRI Worldwide, beer sales in the U.S. exceeded $34 billion in 2017.
Based on these beer consumption numbers alone and the huge market potential of cannabis, it can be said that breweries getting into the cannabis industry is a prelude to a massive investment opportunity. It is also possible that quality cannabis beer is going to capture a very relevant market share from traditional beer.
Why? Because cannabis is simply a healthier option than alcohol. Non-alcoholic cannabis beer is also gluten-free and will not likely harm the liver. And consumers can still enjoy the same, if not a higher level, of euphoria they get when they drink alcohol.
It is not surprising why investors, breweries, and cannabis companies are working double time to produce a variety of cannabis-infused beers and other drinks that will be appealing to various demographics. Because while brewing beer is easy, making cannabis beer requires tons of research and development in order for companies to come out with a product that tastes good, that has reasonable shelf life, and that offers a euphoric effect that is greater than what alcohol can offer.
* IPA is short for India pale ale, which is a hoppy beer style that belongs to the broader category of pale ale. The term pale ale is a top-fermented beer that was brewed from pale malt.