Botanically speaking, cannabis sativa (marijuana) and Humulus lupulus (hops) are close relatives. Both come from the Cannabaceae family of flowering plants, and both are rich in a suite of aromatic compounds (terpenes) that allow for flavor manipulation.
Now, how do those oily cannabinoids (THC, CBD) get into an aqueous solution like beer (which is 90-95% water)? Answer: Emulsification. How this is done on a commercial level is proprietary information, but think of making salad dressing. Pour oil and vinegar into a jar, and they’ll separate. Vigorously shake that jar, and you can force the two liquids together. Voilà. Emulsification.
Now comes the question of dosage.
“The reason we dosed the amount of the milligrams of THC [in non-alcoholic CERIA beer] was to emulate the same experience a person would get from a product if it were alcoholic,” Keith Villa explains.
You ought to recognize the name Keith Villa by now. He’s the brain behind Blue Moon, co-founder of CERIA Brewing and the author of Brewing With Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer — available now from Brewers Publications. If you’re just joining us, check out Boulder Weekly Aug. 12 and 19 for more.
“So our Belgian white (Grainwave) has five milligrams of THC. And that, to us, simulates the buzz — the relaxed feeling — you would get from drinking a 5% ABV beer,” Villa explains, adding that most people who drink a 5% alcohol by volume beer aren’t going to fall over stoned drunk. Ditto for most who consume Grainwave.
“It’ll give you a relaxed feeling, but you’re not going to be couch-locked with five milligrams,” Villa says.
Granted, some people are sensitive to cannabinoids, and even five milligrams might cause an adverse reaction, but those instances are rare.
“And then 10 milligrams is what’s in our IPA [Indiewave], and that will give most people a buzz,” Villa says.
Standard IPAs can range anywhere from 6.3-7.5% ABV and come on a bit stronger. The same goes for Indiewave. But, as Villa explains, with that amount of THC, there’s the possibility of a psychotic-type buzz. So, to minimize that, he added 10 milligrams of CBD to the recipe. “That really mellows out that buzz people get, and it helps them to relax at the same time.”
CERIA was the first THC-infused beer to market, making Grainwave (light and citrusy) and Indiewave (full-bodied and hoppy) the first two drinkables customers are likely to encounter. But brewers have a palette of beer styles to play with: Pilsner, porters, pale ales, etc. Do certain styles lend themselves better to THC infusions than others?
“Yes and no,” Villa explains. “IPA [the most popular craft beer style] might be more difficult than other styles because of the hop material.”
As Villa discovered, the hop material is so similar to cannabinoids that it can be difficult to analyze how much THC is present in the finished product.
“That happened with our IPA,” he says. “The initial tests we did were really all over the board in terms of results. And so we had to switch emulsions to make it a little more stable. … A hazy IPA might be even more problematic.”
What about seltzer?
“Seltzer is pretty straightforward,” Villa says, adding that his book gives a recipe for brewing seltzer. “Cannabis can go in, readily, with the right emulsion and carry through.
“Seltzer, that’s no issue, no problem,” he continues. “Sparkling teas, sparkling waters; still water, still teas. You can put the cannabinoids in an emulsion form and have a great product.”
In addition to Villa’s seltzer, Brewing with Cannabis contains a dozen more recipes — from light lager to weizenbock — for the homebrewer looking to experiment.
“The principles [of cannabinoids] will be in existence for quite some time,” Villa says. “You can extract them from the plant, you can activate them, and you can make them water-soluble.
“There will be advancements, like how to put it in an emulsion that gets into the body as fast as smoking,” Villa explains. “Right now, the fastest emulsion can carry cannabinoids into your body is about 12 to 15 minutes.
“Smoking is almost instantaneous,” he continues. “You smoke a joint, and, you know, it can be maybe a minute, maybe two minutes, and you start feeling it.”
Villa thinks that advancements in emulsions will close that gap within the next three years, making drinkables a promising market to stake a claim.
“Right now, cannabis beverages are very small compared to the cannabis market,” he says. Smokeables own the largest share of the market, followed by edibles. “And under that are the beverages. But the strongest growing, of all the categories, is beverages.”
Next week: Terpenes.