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Herbal Refreshments

Cannabis and beer create a beautiful union

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What do you get when a booming beer industry and the growing marijuana industry collide? You get beer that Cheech and Chong would totally toss back. As recreational Mary Jane becomes legal in more and more states, the two industries want to capitalize on the popularity of each other. The biggest hurdle to dank brew? Good ol’ Uncle Sam, of course.

While there are several hemp-based beers on the market–which we’ll discuss in a bit–there is only one weed beer. Two Roots Brewing Co. of San Diego has successfully brewed non-alcoholic beers that are infused with micro doses of cannabis. The initial lineup includes a lager, stout, IPA and blonde ale. The company will introduce a wheat brew later that not only has the effects of cannabis, but tastes like it, too.

“The launch of Two Roots,” says Tim Walters, chief operating officer, “is the culmination of more than two-and-a-half years of research, development, planning and building of not just a product or brand, but an organization with 150,000 square feet of operations across California and Nevada.”

The brew, which the company is calling Cannabier (can-na-BEER), employs state-of-the-art brewing technology along with first-of-its-kind cannabinoid infusion to create a fast-acting, natural alternative to alcoholic beer. For now, though, it’s available only in California and Nevada. The company expects to distribute in other states where recreational marijuana is legal in the near future.

Until weed-infused beer is legal in more states, there are a few alternatives. Two of craft beer’s largest brewers, New Belgium Brewing Co. and SweetWater Brewery, have recently introduced hemp beers that are legal and provide potheads and weekend imbibers the taste of ganja without an attack of the munchies.

New Belgium recently introduced The Hemperer, an ale akin to an IPA but dubbed an HPA, or hemp pale ale. More than two years of development was stymied by bureaucratic roadblocks because hemp is still considered a Schedule 1 drug, never mind that it contains no THC, the psychoactive substance in pot that gets you high.

The original idea was for the beer to be flavored with hemp flowers or leaves, but the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau and Drug Enforcement Agency quickly put the kibosh on that idea, so New Belgium had to get inventive. They worked with plant genetics researchers to develop a proprietary brewing process that used legal hemp hearts–the meat of the seed removed from its shell–and several strains of hops. The result carries the unmistakably dank aroma of a Grateful Dead concert in a beer that’s legal in 49 states. Kansas refuses to allow it since it has hemp in it.

Atlanta-based SweetWater also has introduced a hemp brew with its 420 Strain G13 IPA. Head Brewer Nick Nock carefully selected hops with terpenes, oils that provide flavor and aroma, closely mimicking the characteristics of the herb with hemp hearts and other botanically derived terpenes.

These beverages are just the tip of the iceberg in the coming cannabis/hemp beer onslaught. As laws regulating wacky tobbaccy loosen, so will the floodgates on beers that use it as an ingredient. Let’s hope that that happens sooner rather than later.

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