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Craft Brewers Branch Into Cannabis Drinks

April 9, 2019

As cannabis marketers look to appeal to consumer groups wary of the traditional delivery method of smoking, drinkable forms of cannabis have become a hotbed of innovation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, craft brewers have been at the forefront.

“The biggest challenge, by far, has been the convoluted legal environment,” says Mason “Dude” Hembree, president and co-founder of Dad & Dude’s International, an Aurora, Colorado-based company that operates a brewery and restaurant. The father-son pair make the CBD-infused beer General Washington’s Secret Stash, a 6.5% abv IPA brewed with 4.2-mg. of CBD per pint ($7 a draft pour at their restaurant; $16 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans). The company debuted the product in 2015 at the Great American Beer Festival and faced legal repercussions soon after. They re-released the beer this past December, when the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill passed with provisions that officially removed hemp and its extracts from the controlled substance list.

“We had to continue battling the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) up until December,” Hembree says. “We have a patent-pending process to produce CBD beer. Now that the DEA is out of the picture, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the last barrier for interstate commerce. Currently, we’re sourcing all of our ingredients, including packaging, from the state of origin, which is Colorado. Once the final barrier is lifted, I believe we’ll see one of the largest emerging product segments in history.” He says Secret Stash has a distinct cannabis aroma and flavors of citrus and resin, and adds that the target audience varies from millennials to 50-and-over.

Portland, Oregon’s Coalition Brewing Co. also produces a CBD-enhanced beer. Its 6% abv and 5-mg. CBD West Coast-style IPA Two Flowers ($24 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans) debuted in December 2016 and is now available in a variety of on- and off-premise venues throughout Oregon. Coalition general manager Phil Boyle says the brew attracts a new type of consumer alongside traditional beer drinkers. “Over the past two years we’ve seen an increase in overall normalization,” Boyle notes, “and we believe that CBD beer will eventually become its own sub-category in the beer world.”

Lagunitas Brewing Co., owned by Heineken, has also experimented with CBD and THC brews. Initially, the company worked with a Sonoma County extract producer to put cannabis terpenes into its SuperCritical ale, but Lagunitas was told by regulators that working with cannabis terpenes in beer was illegal, so production halted. Instead, Lagunitas now produces Hi-Fi Hops, an alcohol-free, IPA-inspired sparkling water with two extensions: a 10-mg. THC version and a 5-mg. each CBD-THC hybrid (both $9 a 12-ounce bottle).

Southern California’s Two Roots Brewing makes alcohol-free, cannabis-infused beers, including an IPA, lager, stout, blonde ale, and wheat beer, all of which come in 2.5-mg. and 5-mg. THC varieties (all $8 a 10-ounce can; $38 a 6-pack). “Our ultimate goal is to normalize the consumption of cannabis-infused products,” says Kevin Love, vice president of market activations for Two Roots owner Cannabiniers, a cannabis brand management firm. The company works with state-regulated cannabis facilities to ensure it’s legally compliant in each market, and plans to have its THC products in most legal markets by mid-year and its CBD products nationwide by the end of 2019.

Meanwhile, Keith Villa, creator of Blue Moon, is taking aim at the THC beer category with his Ceria brand. Ceria’s flagship Grainwave Belgian White Ale has 5-mg. THC per 10-ounce bottle. Launched in Colorado last year, Ceria partnered with Growpacker Inc., a contract manufacturer of cannabis edibles and beverages, to enter Southern California last month. Villa also plans to debut Ceria in Nevada and Massachusetts looking ahead.—Laura Pelner

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