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Buds and Beer: Riding the New Wave of Cannabis-Infused Beverages

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The passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known simply as “the Farm Bill”) has introduced a dynamic component for the production of a whole new range of beers: cannabis. As up-and-coming beer brands endeavor to distinguish themselves from the competition with exciting new brews, consumers benefit with increasing product variety in what was once a tired industry dominated by a handful of so-called “Big Beer” corporations.

From small town mom and pops to hemp farm co-op breweries, everyone’s getting in on dank beer — particularly in states where recreational cannabis is legal.

Which cannabis extracts are most commonly used in beer?
As of this writing, the beer industry’s three most frequently used cannabis compounds are the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), as well as various different terpenes. One or a mix of these are used not only to influence the flavor or aroma of the beverages themselves, but to take a variety of novel approaches in enhancing the consumer’s drinking experience.

Does cannabis have the potential to truly shake up the industry? We certainly think so. In this post, we go over how each of the three cannabis extracts named above is taking recreational beverages — from both craft and large beer breweries — to the next level.

Adding Terpenes for Flavor, Aroma and… Muscle Pain?

Picture this scenario: you walk into a pub or taproom at the end of a hard day’s work at a manufacturing plant or construction site, hankering for a cold one (or two) to help you relax. Amazingly, the house brews aren’t just incredibly refreshing, but brimming with analgesic as well as anti-inflammatory benefits to soothe your aching back, neck and knees. Thanks to terpene-infused beers, laborers and business people alike regularly enjoy health-promoting brews at cannabis cafes in cities like Denver and Los Angeles.

Aside from their ability to aid physical well-being, cannabis terpenes can impart a wide range of complementary flavors and aromas to beer. Common flavoring terpenes within the industry include limonene for zesty, lemony infusions and myrcene for a bold permeation of mango. Terpenes are also frequently used in the mixing of designer cocktails and martinis across America and Europe.

The best part about terpenes is that they’re 100% percent legal in all 50 states, and as such are the most accessible to breweries out of the three commonly-infused cannabis compounds. Daniel Gordon, the owner of LA-based company True Blue Terpenes, is a good example of a provider with the philosophy that everyone from vertically-integrated nationwide businesses to recreational weekend consumers should have access to top quality wholesale terpenes.

Given their legality and easy accessibility to all brewers, terpenes are the cannabis compound most likely to mainstream within the beer industry first.

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Bringing the Benefits of CBD into the Craft Space

CBD is another cannabis extract whose potential medicinal & therapeutic benefits have made it a big hit with brewers. After all, what could be better for taking the edge off a particularly stressful day than a beer with added anxiolytic and antidepressant properties? It’s worth noting that CBD can be sourced from hemp, and is therefore much less heavily regulated by the federal government than THC. This means CBD-infused beers can be sold legally even in states that haven’t yet legalized recreational cannabis.

Because of its versatility, CBD infusion is particularly popular among craft and homebrewers. CBD is available in a variety of forms including isolate, powder, resin and shatter. Each of these significantly affect both the flavor and potency of the final product, allowing for a multitude of different brewing possibilities per producer. For this reason, infusing with CBD is most popular with brewers looking to establish a unique brand identity in an oversaturated market.

Are THC Brews a New Frontier for the Beer Industry?

While THC-infused beers won’t be on tap nationwide anytime soon thanks to the federal drug scheduling system, it’s safe to say they’ve certainly been good for the beer industry, which was widely considered stagnant as recently as five years ago. Cannabis legalization introduced an opportunity to merge with a burgeoning new market, as well as re-energize consumers with novel products backed by medical research and the pop culture popularity of the cannabis plant.

Aside from breathing new life into the beer space, the advent of cannabis brews complements a number of net positive industries. When a large brewery rolls out a new line of CBD-infused beers, for instance, it directly incentivizes the creation of new hemp farms — which does plenty to help the environment.

As more states legalize recreational cannabis, it’s likely that even Big Beer corporations will be dabbling in THC-infused beers. In November last year, Pabst Blue Ribbon tested the waters with their release of an experimental lemon-flavored THC seltzer, meeting with moderate success. With lawmakers continuing to push for the complete decriminalization of cannabis in all 50 states, a mass-market incentive for the beer industry to truly enter into the new frontier of cannabis beers doesn’t look to be too far off.

Beers to you, Houston.


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Beer Chronicle Team
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