Talkin’ terpenes

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If you’ve been following along these past few weeks (Boulder Weekly, Aug. 12, 19 and 26), then you know we’ve been talking to Keith Villa about CERIA Brewing—THC-infused non-alcoholic beer—and his new book, Brewing with Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer. We’ve discussed a variety of topics, from making cannabinoids water-soluble to dosing beers, but there’s one topic that truly bridges cannabis and beer: Terpenes.

“Terpenes exist in hops and in cannabis, but also in fruits,” Villa explains. “So when you smell an orange, or you smell a peach, that smell you’re smelling are terpenes.”

Terpenes are the molecules that convey flavor and aroma in plant material. Take lavender: “You smell lavender, and it leads to a relaxed feeling,” Villa explains. “That’s why people put lavender in their bath, or rose petals, because the smell of the terpenes leads to this relaxed feeling.”

Additionally, those terpenes can lead to anti-anxiety, anti-stress feelings—if you’re into aromatherapy, this should be familiar territory. But for a lot of consumers, it’s brand new.

“Before the cannabis industry went legal, you could walk up to almost anybody on the street and ask them what a terpene is, and they wouldn’t have a clue,” says Rob Kevwitch of Isolate Labs. “Now you could walk up and say terpenes, and people instantly think cannabis, right? And they think that because cannabis has done a good job marketing terpenes for all kinds of different health benefits. When we really look at it, nearly every plant has terpenes in it.”

And terpenes are Kevwitch’s business. He is the president of Isolate Labs in Lafayette, whose sister company, Oast House Oils, specializes in extracting hop terpenes for use in the brewing process.

“Terpenes are all made from one unit called isoprene,” Kevwitch explains. “It looks like a little stick figure. It’s only a five-carbon atom with a couple of double bonds, but you can literally take that—think of it like a LEGO—and build massive molecules from that.”

As for the process, Kevwitch’s company takes hops and subjects them to “supercritical CO2 processing,” he explains. “We’ll pull all the terpenes; we’ll pull the acids. Basically, all the molecules that are important.”

The result is a bright yellow liquid loaded with aromas and flavors—the ones we talk about when we talk about beers and buds.

“The really aromatic, dank, pungent—whatever you want to use to describe those—you get a significant concentration of those terpenes in cannabis, in hops, and that’s because they’re related, so they make very similar molecules,” Kevwitch explains.

Terpenes also allow Villa the ability to highlight certain flavors and aromas in his CERIA beers.

“We don’t have the taste of cannabis in our beers,” Villa says. “We use the isolates of THC and CBD, which happen to have a flavor of bitterness without the aroma of cannabis.”

He continues: “Grainwave is spiced with coriander and orange peel. And orange peel has a terpene called limonene, which has an orangey smell, and then coriander has a terpene called linalool, which has a kind of a floral, fruity smell . . . These terpenes from the orange peel and the coriander give [the drinker] a nice relaxed feeling.”

And when combined with cannabinoids, these terpenes help create “the entourage effect.”

“When you use just one cannabinoid, like THC or like CBD, it can sometimes be hit and miss,” Villa explains. “With CBD, some people will take it and say, ‘I don’t feel anything.’ And others will take it and say, ‘Wow, I feel sleepy.’ And it’s most likely because you need the whole entourage of cannabinoids from the plant to do something.

“With CBD, you need some CBG, CBN, THC, a little bit of those to help CBD do its job,” Villa continues. “That’s referred to as ‘the entourage effect,’ with terpenes and everything, because it really makes cannabinoids work on the body and amplifies what they do.”

As Villa writes in Brewing with Cannabis, “The entourage effect is a major reason why many marijuana consumers are proponents of either full-spectrum marijuana (containing all cannabinoids from the plant) or broad-spectrum marijuana extracts (containing all cannabinoids except THC). Having the presence of many cannabinoids and terpenes is reported to amplify the effects of any positive physiological reactions and mitigate the effects of any negative cannabis experiences.”  

Next week: Our series on brewing with cannabis concludes with a few words on non-alcoholic beer and a look to the future.