Reefer Madness: Legal Weed & Beer

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Reefer! Marijuana! Cannabis! Weed! Ganja! Wacky Tobacky! The Devil’s Lettuce! The weed that plants its roots in HELL! So it’s legal here in Canada now, after a very long time of being illegal but mostly unenforced save for the odd dispensary bust. The governments in each province handles things their own way, Ontario being particularly botched, with incredibly dry cannabis being sold from a poorly built online store until licenses can be given to shops in April.

While I’m personally grappling with the mental state of growing up buying weed by the train tracks from some hooded dude named Travis or Tim or Cody to suddenly picking up a couple of grams on my way home from doing groceries, it can’t be argued that it’s an interesting time for the cannabis industry. There’s a seemingly limitless number of strains with different effects and flavours that are just as complex as hops, with some tasting like citrus, tropical fruits, and more. With that in mind, dispensaries are going to be the most interesting, with experts to help you find exactly what you’re looking for, from medical use to just having a good time while playing Tekken 3. I’ll even say that before all of this was going down, reading essential resources like Leafly has been incredibly educational.

It’s also fast becoming an industry that is catering to the luxury influencer crowd, which makes sense considering that many owners/investors of cannabis production facilities are rich white people who favour an instagrammable aesthetic and would certainly want to make cannabis appetizing to that end of mainstream culture. It’s…something that I’m obviously concerned and critical about, but only time, and more conversations, will tell on how that goes.

But anyways, it’s a new and exciting industry in this country that has practically guaranteed lucrative growth and of COURSE that means that everyone and their dog wants to get in on that sweet, sweet reefer money. PARTICULARLY the drinks businesses.

Constellation Brands, famous drinks producers and marketers that represent beer brands such as Corona, Modelo, and Ballast Point and wines such as Robert Mondavi and Ruffino started up a deal last year and since then has invested billions in Canopy Growth. Molson-Coors has announced that they’re ready for the moment cannabis consumables become legal and they’ll have a cannabis-infused beer hitting markets next year. Steam Whistle’s CEO Andy Burgess told BNN Bloomberg that the Toronto brewery was engaged in active talks with cannabis producers, saying “The bottom line is that our brand and the building, our distribution, and the popularity of our beer is of interest to the cannabis space” (Though should say that when I reached out to Burgess to elaborate on this news, he refused to comment).

cannabeerA more recent company making news though, is Province Brands, which is partnering with a number of breweries to make cannabis beers. Their first notable Ontario partnership was with Whitby’s Brock Street Brewing Co., where they will be making a 7% ABV Imperial Pilsner made with hemp. Another beer they’ll be making with Brock Street, as well as Yukon Brewing, Lost Craft, and Bell City Brewery, will be beer infused with cannabis oil or making what Province Brands claims will be an “alcohol-free beer that will be brewed with cannabis plants rather than barley or other malted grains, and will intoxicate using THC and other phytocannabinoids.”

If that last one sounds like a THC carbonated water to you, you’re not alone. It did to me too. So I reached out to Province Brand’s CEO and co-founder Dooma Wendschuh who explained. The process, currently patent-pending and under the supervision of brewer Rob Kevwitch, involves extracting fermentable sugars from the cannabis plant, making an alcoholic beer, and then going through an alcohol extraction method similar to many non-alcoholic beers. In fact, Wendschuh explained, he really saw the beer as no different from gluten-free beers in terms of brewing with a different process. And although there might be some concern that the government of Canada, currently revising the definition of what beer is, might disagree with legally calling that drink a “beer”, Wendschuh laughs, saying “We’re going to call it a beer anyways. Let the government sue us. That would be hilarious.”

The states are also no different with the cannabis beer trend. Most notably Blue Moon brewer Keith Villa will be coming out with a series of similar non-alcoholic THC-infused beers.

Now…I’m going to be honest here, but personally I’m not 100% sure that cannabis beers will be a huge thing. At least not in Canada after the first year or so when the novelty has worn off. THC-infused beverages will definitely be a mainstay, but cannabis beer just reeks a bit too much of gimmicky fads to me, and I’m a person that freakin’ LOVES gimmicky fads. And while I get that things are all shiny and new and people are smelling a LOT of money in the air and freaking out like a pack of hyenas, it might pay to stop trying to get in on the ground floor and actually think about what a sustainable partnership with the cannabis industry looks. Thankfully, many breweries are doing just that, bringing it up in meetings as a thought experiment and figuring out what works. Ideas like brewery-branded cannabis that pairs with beers or even edibles made with the brewery’s spent grain, for example, have been pitched and to me that sounds like a great way to incorporate cannabis without it being so damned forced (or, realistically, not breaking the bank).

Other breweries have at least started dipping their toes in with pairings. Muskoka Brewery said that their new session sour Ebb & Flow might be one of several low-alcoholic beers to be paired with weed, but the award for going full-in with pairing has to go to Nickel Brook for coming out with a whole post on what strains to pair with their beers. Good stuff.

In the end…I don’t know, man. Everything is far too early to tell right now. Cannabis beer has been talked about for years before legalization and to me it’s always sounded kind of dumb, but we’ll see where that goes. As a consumer though I love the possibilities of combining weed and beer in different ways so that both products are well-represented, customers are better educated, and no sacrifices are made in the name of novelty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I wasn’t really joking about playing Tekken 3.

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