Cannabis is certainly a hot, burgeoning market that may put a small dent in the alcohol market. Smart alcohol industry players realize that legalization is eventually coming, so they are looking at ways of becoming a part of the marijuana market, instead of combatting it. We’ve seen very big alcohol companies make serious inroads in Canada, even before the nation passed its legalization law, seeing the writing on the wall. As legalization moves through the U.S. state by state, with some progress federally, alcohol manufacturers have to be a little more cautious, but breweries are certainly starting to dip their toe into the water, as we’re starting to see with infused beers. Coalition Brewing, a craft brewery in Portland, Oregon, is a pioneer in the field.
In the United States, breweries will have to use hemp for now, and according to Tom Hogue, of the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), federal, state, and local ordinances impact the ability to infuse and market the beer. As The Ringer’s Molly McHugh reported, there are some serious bureaucratic hoops to jump through, something the cannabis industry definitely understands:
FDA approval of regular beer recipes has become standardized, but according to Hogue, hemp-derived beers are scrutinized much more closely. The TTB has to reconcile these formulas with not only the FDA, but the Drug Enforcement Administration as well because cannabis is a controlled substance. If the beer meets the standards of all three bodies, the drinks can be sold in the states where they’re made.
The Ringer’s McHugh, a Portland-based reporter, doesn’t live far from Coalition, and she asked co-owner Elan Walsky, and Phil Boyle, the brewery’s regional ambassador, about their process and intentions with infused beers, which all began with a cannabis-infused dinner. Of course, they wouldn’t reveal all of their secrets, but you can tell that they are primed to work with the cannabis plant once the laws change:
“We knew that people who were in that room could help us make the beer correctly, because at the time, we didn’t know what we were doing,” Boyle explained in his Irish lilt, which distinguishes him from most stoner bros. Walsky and Boyle teamed up with chemical engineer Bill Stewart from Half Baked Labs, an edibles business, to understand how to work with these new ingredients. The brewery also works with a company called True Terpenes, which extracts terpenes from non-cannabis plants and then mimics strains like OG Kush and Pineapple Express in the form of oils. “There are a lot of questions out there about the efficacy of synthetic CBD, so ultimately we decided to go with one extracted from plant material. It’s more studied at this point,” says Boyle.
Coalition couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell me everything about how it makes its CBD beers. “The product that we use allows us to stay in full compliance, so we’ve kind of been spearheading [the commercial CBD beer business] in Oregon,” Walsky said. When the DEA stated that CBD, as a cannabis extract, falls under the Controlled Substances Act, it forced Coalition to reformulate. After experimenting with various batches, Coalition released Two Flowers IPA, its first CBD beer, in December 2016.
With some breweries feeling a bit of a pinch due to legal cannabis, it would make a lot of sense to see more beers infused with hemp (for now) and cannabis in the future in the U.S., and really, really soon in Canada. There’s a saying that, if you can’t beat ’em join ’em. I for one, welcome beer and alcohol companies into the cannabis community. Let’s work together to craft laws that allow responsible adults to be responsible adults. If you need any guidance, make sure to attend the International Cannabis Business Conference in Portland, Oregon, this September 27th to 28th and let’s build a market that works best for craft brewers and cultivators alike.