Change is coming fast to the intoxicating beverage industry, thanks to innovators and visionaries who see a future filled with green—and we’re not just talking about money.
In July, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) announced its support of a “legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace.” This would include restrictions similar to those imposed on the alcohol industry, including supply chain oversight, licensing, quality control, taxation, and distribution. WSWA is the first beverage alcohol association to weigh in on the topic, but many brewers have already planted their flag.
Of course, cannabis isn’t legal everywhere (yet)—in any of its forms. That’s why Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing has partnered with Willie’s Reserve (a cannabis company owned by Texas musician Willie Nelson) and Vote Hemp (which lobbies for legalization of commercial hemp) to form the American Hemp Campaign. AHC works to rally support for changes to federal and state laws.
New Belgium, maker of The Hemporer beer, which contains hemp flavors, was inspired to fund AHC after encountering issues around including even nonintoxicating hemp components in its beer. “Beer is an agricultural product, and we see hemp as a potentially game-changing ingredient in brewing,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer in a press release. “We’re proud to take a stand…to get these laws updated to benefit beer drinkers and farmers.”
Even in states where cannabis is legal, commercially mixing or infusing alcohol with cannabis isn’t. So for beverage producers, it’s an either/or choice—ABV or THC/CBD. (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis; CBD, or cannabidiol, is a nonintoxicating marijuana extract.) In Sonoma County, Calif., Lagunitas Brewing Company has teamed with neighboring CannaCraft to produce Hi-Fi Hops, an IPA-inspired duo of sparkling waters that include THC and CBD, yet have zero alcohol, calories, or carbs.
Cannabiniers, a cannabis company operating in California and Nevada, has launched Two Roots Brewing, which will brew five traditional styles of beer, then strip the alcohol using specialized European equipment before adding emulsified THC. It’s also introduced Just Society, a line of CBD-infused cold brewed iced teas and coffees, in Nevada. (Rebel Coast Winery in California likewise touts an “alcohol removed, THC-infused” option—theirs is a sauvignon blanc.)
Meanwhile, beer giants MolsonCoors and Constellation Brands have also teamed with cannabis companies to develop new beverage options. Keith Villa, Ph.D., creator and head brewmaster of Blue Moon Brewing Company, who retired from MolsonCoors earlier this year, has announced Ceria Beverages, which will produce a line of cannabis-infused, nonalcoholic craft beverages containing THC.
With the cannabis beverage category set to explode, expect more entrants into the field.
And, of course, all this innovation has attracted the attention of traditional alcohol beverage organizations. On page 76 in this issue, you’ll find a wrap-up of the second annual Wine & Weed Symposium, presented by Wine Industry Network. Beverage Trade Network has announced its first Global Cannabis Drinks Expo in July 2019.